Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
October 9, 2006.
Some artists – Nirvana, for instance – didn't feel
that they had truly made it until Weird Al Yankovic had parodied them.
Right on – the man who got his start with his silly
but rockin' accordion, mailing homemade audio tapes to The Dr. Demento
Show on radio is now His Absolute Royal Dementia. He's the
non-negotiable go-to guy for pop music song parody, and it's not always
good being king.
He makes it seem simple, but it's so not. Although
morning-zoo deejays and internet clowns give it a shot on a regular basis,
and the ignorant masses often mistake this mediocrity for an official
Weird Al offering, nobody holds a candle – or anything else.
Now, with pop music being stretched, fragmented and
pulled in all directions, Al faces new challenges, most nagging of which
is being able to parody a song that we all recognize collectively as a
Let's face it – most of us are not listening to the
same FM station anymore. We've turned away from the radio and withdrew
inward – and then plugged into shuffle mode. Quite the conundrum for the
man who makes his living spoofing what we are all supposed to recognize.
Gone are the days when we immediately made the cultural connection to
"Like A Surgeon," "Another One Rides the Bus" and "I Love Rocky Road."
His latest effort, however, has defied these odds and
hit the mass-market bull's eye straight on. Straight Outta
Lynwood (Volcano Records) features parodies of – as the K-Tel
announcer would have once said, "today's most beloved music stars,"
including Chamillionaire, Green Day, Usher, R. Kelly and – most deserving
of parody – Taylor Hicks.
The album had debuted in the Billboard Top Ten (a
first for Al!) and has hit the internet like a mother-effer. His music
video offering, "White and Nerdy" (based on the Chamillionaire song "Ridin'
Dirty) has burned a hole through YouTube.
is his first release since 2003 – a long time to wait, but during that
time Yankovic dealt with a tragedy that would test the mettle of even the
most lackluster sense of humor: his parents died accidentally in their
home, in their sleep, due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Al does not talk about this event (except for one
heartfelt message to his fans on the internet:
http://www.weirdal.com/msg.htm), and we respect his privacy and feel
In the meantime, this is Al's millennium. With the
DVD release of his 80s TV series The Weird Al Show
(Shout! Factory) and a clever parody of his bad self on
The Simpsons , Al has entered that stage of his career where he
gathers the props.
Here, he talks to us about how the latest technology
has taken him a long way from his bedroom tape recorder, and how he wraps
his arms around the pop music scene these days, among other things.
on Straight Outta Lynwood,
especially “White and Nerdy.” It's brilliantly funny. The world has been
starving for a new Weird Al collection. Welcome back! How does it feel
to be back?
Well, to me it
doesn’t really feel like I’ve gone anywhere – but I have been
taking more time between albums, so every time I put something out now, a
lot of people call it a “comeback.” Anyway, it’s great – the reaction to
the new album has been amazing. I’m just happy that I’m still able to do
this for a living.
How has the
Internet changed the way you get your work out to the public?
Radio stations and
music video channels are still extremely important, of course, but it’s
nice to know that artists aren’t completely beholden to them now to get
exposure. With portals like MySpace, YouTube and Google Video, it’s
easier than ever for new artists to get noticed and build a fan base. In
many ways, the Internet is the new MTV. I was amazed when I uploaded my
“White & Nerdy” video to YouTube, and within a couple weeks it had several
an entire song as a free download?
Well, actually two
songs… I’m offering my James Blunt parody (“You’re Pitiful”) as a free
download because his record label (Atlantic Records) wouldn’t let me put
it on the new album. And I’m offering “Don’t Download This Song” as a
free download because… well, I just couldn’t resist the irony of it all.
you for "White and Nerdy?"
Come on. I spent
my entire life doing research for that song. I know whereof I speak.
How in the
world did you snag Donny Osmond – AND Seth Green – for that amazingly
I was working with
Seth Green on another one of my videos. Seth, of course, is one of the
coolest guys in the world, as well as one of the creators and executive
producers for the show Robot Chicken on the
The folks at Robot Chicken did a hilarious stop motion-animated
piece for my song “Weasel Stomping Day” (which is one of six new music
videos on the DVD side of my album). I just told Seth I was doing a video
for “White & Nerdy” and I had a quick shot that involved action figures –
and he signed on immediately. And as far as Donny Osmond goes… I mean, if
you want a white & nerdy icon in your video, who else do you call? I
needed Donny Osmond to be my Krayzie Bone. And I gotta tell you, he was
phenomenal. Everything he did was just hysterical – I wish the video was
longer so I could have used more footage of Donny Osmond.
Tell us about
some of the other standout songs on the album.
A lot of people
are reacting very strongly to “Trapped in the Drive-Thru,” which is my
epic 11-minute long R. Kelly parody. There are also parodies of Green
Day, Usher and Taylor Hicks on the album, as well as several original
songs, some of which are in the style of other artists. A couple of my
favorites are a Rage Against the Machine style song about frivolous
lawsuits (“I’ll Sue Ya”) and an homage to both Brian Wilson and internal
How do you feel
about the current state of pop music?
actively trying to come up with parody material, I generally don’t have
the Top 40 radio station on in the car – I’m more of an alternative rock
guy. That’s not to say that I’m not a fan of popular music – some of it
is really good – but in general, well… as I’m teaching my three-year-old
to say, “It’s not my favorite.”
people today more or less apt to appreciate music satire?
I think people
always appreciate irreverence toward pop culture. We’ve seen a lot more
of it in the last couple decades, so there may be a bit of a burn-out
factor, but I still think people enjoy musical satire now as much as
aspect of entertainment so segmented these days, is it still easy to
strike a common, universal chord when it comes to the songs you choose for
satire? Are all pop songs still familiar to all kids? Is everybody still
on the same page when it comes to recognizing the songs you parody?
That’s a very real
concern – the music scene has gotten very compartmentalized, so it’s not
easy nowadays to even discern what constitutes a hit record. I tend to
find myself going with my gut feelings more than the charts. Plus, I
figure if I hit enough different genres on the same album, I’ll have my
Is the pop
music scene always ripe for parody?
Always. Pop music
is always changing, it’s always different than it was the year before, but
it’s always ridiculous on some level, and deserving of a spanking.
What is your
creative process like? How do you go about setting out to find the songs
you feel can deliver on humor? How do you create your own original songs?
When I’m doing
parodies, the only two real criteria are (1) is it a popular song, and (2)
can I think up a clever enough idea for it? If the answer to both
questions is yes, I’ll try to get permission from the original artist to
do the parody - and if that’s successful, I’ll spend several days writing
and obsessing over the lyrics. For the original songs, it’s a much longer
process because, obviously, I have to come up with the music as well.
Oftentimes I’ll write an original composition in the style of another
artist, and that’s the hardest of all, because it involves studying
someone’s entire body of work, notating musical quirks and idiosyncracies,
and then coming up with something that feels like it was written by that
artist (while not being overtly plagiaristic). Plus, of course, it’s
supposed to be funny.
Do you have any peers in the music industry? It doesn't seem that
anybody is doing the same thing as you, at least with the same consistency
There are tons of people doing parodies – it seems like every other wacky
morning radio show has somebody who does topical take-offs – but I think
it certainly could be argued that over the last few decades, I’ve been the
most visible and well-known parody artist out there. My name has
been so firmly entrenched in people’s minds when it comes to this kind of
material that for better or worse, I tend to get the credit (or blame) for
any new parody that people hear on the radio or find on the Internet.
Briefly explain how your career began. And tell us how Dr. Demento
was a huge influence on you.
started sending in tapes to the Dr. Demento Radio Show while I was in my
early teens – just awful stuff that I recorded in my bedroom on a tiny
little cassette deck. It was just me singing and playing the
accordion – that was it. And Dr. Demento, bless him, played those
tapes on the air when no other right-thinking disc jockey in the world
would have dreamed of it. As it turned out, the tapes got better and
better over the years, and by the time I had graduated from college I had
a cult following and a couple of nationally released singles.
than Demento, who have been your influences?
I’ve been influenced by a lot of the artists I was exposed to through the
Dr. Demento show – people like Stan Freberg, Allan Sherman, Spike Jones,
Tom Lehrer, Frank Zappa and Shel Silverstein.
What – in general -- do you find funny?
Alpacas wearing lipstick.
The world is in dire need of polkas. Any plans for an updated version of
“Polkas on 45”?
There is, in fact,
a polka medley on the new album called “Polkarama!” which contains
accordion-fueled versions of a dozen or so hit tunes – everything from
Coldplay to 50 Cent.
If you weren't
doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing instead?
I have no idea.
Maybe working at Kinkos. I’m pretty good at collating.
Tell us about
your hot new look for the oughties. Did you hire a stylist, or did you
change your appearance completely on instinct?
I didn’t realize I
had a new look. I lost the glasses when I had the LASIK surgery in 1998,
and my facial hair kind of comes and goes… Or are you talking about the
whole gangsta thing? If so, well, I just wanted to represent and show
that I had a little street cred. When you’re white and nerdy, you need
all the street cred you can get.