Weird Al Returns to Omaha
By Kyle Eustice
The ingenious Alfred “Weird Al” Yankovic started his career swimming in doubt. Nobody thought he would be able to make a sustainable career out of musical comedy, but he did. Now entering his fourth decade as an entertainer, he has defied the odds and made a comfortable life for himself. He’s best known for his musical parodies, which make light of popular culture. In 1982, he recorded “I Love Rocky Road,” a spoof on “I Love Rock-n-Roll,” which was originally recorded by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. From there, he was unstoppable. In 1984, when Michael Jackson was at the top of the charts, Yankovic asked his permission to do a spoof on “Beat It” called “Eat It.” Not only did the single perform extremely well, it earned Yankovic his first of three Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Recording. With his career off and running, he hasn’t slowed down yet. He’s been able to gain the permission of nearly every artist he’s ever approached—except for Prince, which he assures is a “rare exception.” His 13th studio album, 2011’s Alpocalypse, was nominated for two Grammy Awards and proved his immense staying power. Currently on tour in support of his latest album, 2014’s Mandatory Fun, Yankovic makes a pit stop in Omaha July 2 at Stir Cove.
I’ve been reading a lot about you. I’m sure you hear this a lot, but I have loved you since I was a kid.
Oh that’s so sweet!
I’m in my 30s now and I just remember when the videos for “Fat” and “Eat It” came out and how funny I thought you were. It’s nice to be able to talk to you in a professional manner all of these years later. So thank you.
Ahh, well thanks so much.
Let’s just start back with the history. I know you’ve always been interested in parodies your whole career and that you don’t consider yourself a serious lyricist by any means. So what got you into this style of writing?
I started when I was a real young kid. When I was 8-years-old, I would make fun of the songs on the radio. I would change the words around and always write poetry. It’s just a phase I never grew out of.
And it’s carried you all this way. You’re going into your fourth decade as an artist, I believe.
Does it blow your mind sometimes?
It does. I mean, when I first started out, nobody wanted to sign me to a record deal because they thought it was just novelty music. They said, ‘Nobody ever has a career doing this. You’ll be gone in two months.’ Meanwhile, my career has lasted longer than the people I parodied. My whole life has been ironic that way.
What I thought was interesting is that you get the artist’s permission first before you even write the song. Was there a situation that led you to start doing it that way?
I just always felt that was taking the high road. I know that legally I can get away with anything I want to do. I don’t like drama, I don’t want people to be mad at me and I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. If an artist really doesn’t want me to do the parody, then I’ll back off. But most of the artists realize it’s homage and some even say it’s a rite of passage. I think that’s what Lady Gaga called it.
Well, except for Prince, right?
I mean, truthfully, I haven’t approached him in 20 years. In the ‘80s, I approached him several times and he never was into it. He was the rare exception.
He seems very serious. Wax Poetics did a cover on him and he wouldn’t even do an interview. I think he does that on a regular basis.
Yeah, he’s a strange bird from what I hear.
Nonetheless, you’ve done a great job. Tell me about your children’s book My New Teacher and Me. How did you get into writing children’s books?
Well, several years ago, I was approached by an editor at Harper-Collins by the name of Anne Hoppe that was a fan of my work. She said she saw something in my song lyrics that seem to indicate I’d be good at children’s literature. She said there was nice word play. She recognized that I had a strong appeal among the younger people in my fan base and she thought I’d be good at it. Truthfully, it’s something I always had in the back of my mind. I’d always been a fan of Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss, certainly, and I thought I’d be good at writing children’s books, too. So I gave it a shot and the first one was a New York Times Best Seller.
I was just going to mention that. That’s pretty unbelievable. How did you feel when that happened?
It’s a pretty heady experience. That’s yet another thing I didn’t think I’d be doing in life. I never thought I could call myself ‘New York Times Best Selling Author Al Yankovic.’
That is pretty cool. Tell me about Alpocalpyse. Obviously it’s a play on your name, but where did the concept originate?
Well the album came out prior to 2012, which was when the world was supposed to end. And I figured I’d better cash in on all this end of days stuff when there’s still a planet. And the world didn’t end, much to my chagrin, but the album is still around.
Well, that’s a good thing. I’m glad it didn’t blow up with the rest of the world.
So what’s a day in the life like these days?
These days I’m on the road. Generally, I wake up on the bus, I eat half a grapefruit, I do some interviews, I read, I watch TV, I surf the internet, I do a soundcheck, I do a show, I go to the next town, and I fall asleep.
That sounds pretty fun though. Do you have any plans for your next parody? How does a song come about?
Basically, either an idea will come to me spontaneously or I’ll have an idea after I study the charts for awhile, and I make lists of songs that I think will make good candidates. Sometimes the songs come easily and sometimes they come after a lot of analytical reasoning. Once I come up with an idea that I think has potential, I’ll approach the original artist and see if I can have his or her blessing, and then take it from there.
What’s your live show like?
We’re calling it a rock and comedy multi-media extravaganza. It’s with the same band I’ve had since the very first album. It’s a high energy, rock-n-roll show with a ton of costume stages, and images on an LED screen. It’s family friendly. There’s never a dull moment. We do all the greatest hits, we do a lot of stuff from the new album. It’s a little over 2 hours long. It’s a good time.
I was curious about the costume changes. I can’t imagine you getting in a fat suit live.
We do that. Yeah we have three or more costumes than Lady Gaga.
I saw the spoof you did of her. Pretty funny.
Oh, thank you. Disturbing for a lot of people.
In a good way.
What does the music you make mean to you on a personal level?
Getting to do this for a living means that I’m successful. My dad always told me that the only way to be successful is finding a way to make a living doing the thing you love. I can’t imagine there would be anything more I’d love doing. I love comedy and I love music. I feel blessed I get to wake up every morning and still be Weird Al.
I’m happy to hear you say that because I believe the secret to happiness is finding a way to make money doing something you love, too.
It’s not work then. It can happen.