This week I got a chance to interview one of my childhood heroes, Weird Al Yankovic. Like many of us, I memorized Weird Al song parodies years before I knew the originals. Al has stayed popular and relevant for almost 25 years, and is now parodying genres that didn't even exist when he started.
Al's newest album, Straight Outta Lynwood, drops next week and features parodies of Chamillionaire and Green Day, amongst others.
What's your writing process like? Do you pick a song and then work on it? Or do you hear a song, notice a word that rhymes with pizza, and then go for it?Oh, come on, that's really unfair less than 10% of my songs are about pizza. Anyway, yeah, once I've come up with a list of songs that I think would be good candidates, I just try to think of puns, variations on a theme, incongruous applications of pop cultural references that kind of stuff. When I think an idea is strong enough, I'll approach the original artist to see if I can get permission.
What kind of day jobs did you have before you became a superstar?The last day job I had was working in the mailroom at a radio syndication company called Westwood One. Actually, I had worked my way all the way up to "office drone" by the time I quit. The only real job I had before that was part-time accordion teacher for a music school in South Gate, California. If the students quit their lessons and didn't return their loaner accordions, I was also a part-time accordion repo-man. Ah, it was glamorous work.
What was your goal in releasing "Pitiful" online? Did you hope to gain permission?Well, alienating a major record company isn't usually the best way to get permission from them. What happened was, Atlantic Records (James Blunt's label) refused to let me release my parody ("You're Pitiful") on my new album, even though James himself had agreed to it. It was extremely frustrating. So I figured if nothing else, I'd put the song on the Internet and at least let the fans hear it, so I wouldn't have spent all that time and energy for nothing.
What are some other songs you dreamed of parodying but couldn't get permission for?Actually, very few artists have turned me down over the years. Most artists realize that it's all in good fun, it's great publicity for them, and it actually helps their own record sales. In fact, it's pretty common knowledge that an artist hasn't officially "made it" until he's gotten his own Weird Al parody! The only person that's turned me down consistently over the years has been Prince there were a number of songs of his that I thought would make good parodies, but apparently, he thought otherwise.
Are you aware of any Weird Al parody acts? I've heard some parodies that have been done of some of my original songs, and I've met a number of Weird Al look-alikes (both professional and amateur) but no full-on Weird Al parody acts. Although on Mr. Show they once did a lampoon of me where Bob Odenkirk played a guy named "Daffy" Mal Yinkleyankle.
Do you ever listen to your early records and think "this is crap, I'm lucky to have recovered from this"? Well, it's kind of like looking at old baby pictures. I'd like to think I've gotten a lot better over the years, so naturally some of the early stuff is a little embarrassing but you have to look at it as a product of its time. I mean, let's face it, "I Want A New Duck" was just a lot more poignant in 1985.
What makes a song a good target for parody?There are no rules governing that I just have to go with my gut feeling. But obviously it helps if a song has a strong lyrical or musical hook, or if the original artist is a character worthy of lampooning.
Have you ever tried to parody a song only to discover it's unparody-able?I wouldn't say that any song is un-parodyable. I can always do a bad parody. I just wouldn't want to. But I'm sorry to say, yes, there have been occasions when I thought a song would be a perfect target for a parody, but I just couldn't think of a strong enough idea for it so I had to let it go.
Most comedic song writers achieve, at best, fleeting success and yet you've been releasing popular albums for almost 25 years. What do you attribute your lasting appeal to? That's really hard to say for sure, but I'm guessing it's my raw sexual energy.
What new music do you listen to? Do you ever get to listen to music for pleasure, or are you constantly thinking about parodies? I can certainly listen to music without thinking, "Hmm now how can I screw THIS one up?" I like to listen to a lot of alternative rock. A lot of quirky bands. I could start a long list, but you can probably guess the kind of stuff I'd be into.
Do you have any further aspirations in film? Well, I've been trying to convince Lucasfilm that Harrison Ford is too long in the tooth to play Indiana Jones again in the next sequel, and they should just cast me as Indy instead. I mean, come on, it's a no-brainer!
What's your relationship with Leslie Nielson? How did you end up in all three Naked Guns and Spy Hard? Okay, I wanna say right now, our relationship is strictly platonic. Those Polaroids mean nothing. And blackmail is such a dirty word, so let's move on, shall we?
Who are some other comedians that you respect and admire? Emo Philips and Judy Tenuta are two of my oldest friends, and they're both devastatingly funny. Drew Carey's an old friend too. Gilbert Gottfried always cracks me up. So does Norm MacDonald, and well this could turn into a very long list too, so I'll just stop here.
What kind of response has UHF and the Weird Al Show gotten on DVD? Would you ever consider another series or even another movie? UHF was a top 10 seller when it was released on DVD, which shocked a lot of people who weren't expecting such a surge of fan support for a film that tanked at the box office in 1989. And I know the Weird Al Show DVD has gotten a very positive response from the fans and the critics (many of whom liked the commentaries better than the actual show) but I haven't gotten any sales numbers yet. I'd love to do more feature films and television, but only if it makes sense creatively. I've turned down a lot of dumb scripts in the last several years I'd rather not work at all than be in something crappy.
What makes Al tick? Soy mocha lattes. (By the way, that's Spanish for "I am mocha lattes.")
"Straight Outta Lynwood" will be in stores Tuesday, September 26th. The album features parodies of Chamillionaire ("White & Nerdy" is already on Al's MySpace), Green Day, Usher, R. Kelly and Taylor Hicks. It comes as a DualDisc and includes six brand new animated music videos from such renown animators as Bill Plympton (legend, Oscar nominated), John Kricfalusi (creator "Ren & Stimpy"), Jim Blashfield (Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson videos) and the creators of "Robot Chicken". More info at Weird Al's official site.