Here’s an interview I did with “Weird Al” Yankovic for Crawdaddy! in 2011. “You asked some very interesting questions,” he remarked when we were done, which for sanity’s sake I must interpret as a compliment. Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP.
For three decades, one name has reigned supreme in the field of parody-based musical comedy: “Weird Al” Yankovic. From “Eat It” to “Smells Like Nirvana” to “White and Nerdy,” Yankovic has won the hearts of millions churning out strange, funny twists on Top 40 hits, his appeal spanning various generations, genders, social strata, and pickle preference. Al was kind enough to grant us a few minutes on the eve of his thirteenth full-length release, Alpocalypse, so we could regale the Pride of Lynwood, CA, with queries about his rumored fight with Billy Joel’s relatives, his implied “Family Ties” obsession, and what he knew of Macho Man Randy Savage’s unexpected hamster aversion.
Okay, let’s clear something up right now—did you not release your early ’80s parody “It’s Still Billy Joel To Me” because Billy Joel’s family strongly disapproved and there was some kind of altercation on a red carpet somewhere?
[Laughs] No, no, no…I never put it out because by time I got a record deal the song seemed too dated. It wasn’t topical anymore, there were a lot of references in there I thought people wouldn’t get, and also, it was kinda mean spirited, you know, and that was a little out of character for me. I wrote it in college, never thinking that Billy Joel would actually ever hear it, but eventually some local TV show played the song for him…and he was clearly a little put off by. So, I felt bad.
You have a lot of quasi-legendary unreleased recordings from your early years like “Billy Joel,” such as “Belvedere Cruising” and “Pacman.” Would you ever consider releasing an Al rarities record?
No, because I think the people that would appreciate those songs have already managed to track them down. You can bit torrent all those early horrible tracks I did. [Laughs] I wouldn’t say I’m embarrassed by those songs, but I wouldn’t want to promote them now because they don’t represent my current level of work.
Not to harp on this angle, but everyone knows Prince has steadfastly refused to sign off on your parodies of his work, and it seems from time to time that there’s legitimate anger on your part about that. Was he rude to you about your ideas, or was there an incident?
Yeah, [Prince] has become my scapegoat over the years, but to be fair I haven’t asked him to parody anything in the last decade. Back in the 1980s, though, he obviously had a few hits that I thought leant themselves to parody. Every time I asked, he responded with a flat no, but he never gave a reason. [Sighs] It was frustrating, but there’s no hard feelings. I mean, he never personally threw a drink on me at a party or anything like that. Prince is just a very talented but ostensibly humorless artist.
Has anyone ever been on fence about your ideas? Like, have you had to gently nudge anyone into agreeing?
Hmmm, my manager would be a better person to ask about that, as he’s the one who’s usually in contact with these people. As far as I know, everyone’s usually very receptive. What i can tell you is a lot of the time [the] management of the people I’m interested in parodying don’t return our calls, like in this recent Lady Gaga incident, so I’m sent on a quest to find original artist. That happened with Kurt Cobain, it happened with MC Hammer—and with the few known exceptions they’re always more than happy to agree to it.
How did you track down Hammer? Did you find out where he shot all those Pepsi commercials and just show up?
[Laughs] No, it was some kind of awards show, like the American Music Awards or something. I went there specifically because I knew he would be performing and I hung around back stage so I could “accidentally” bump into him. And, of course, he was totally cool and receptive to the [“U Can’t Watch This”] parody.
Have you ever had the perfect parody in mind for a song that wasn’t really popular enough to parody?
Well, generally, if a song isn’t popular enough it doesn’t make it on my radar. I’ll tell ya, when Nirvana came on the scene, I didn’t immediately have an idea but I thought, Wouldn’t be cool if they got popular enough to make fun of? Then the album went to number one, and that was that.
Did you have anything on deck in case Nirvana didn’t blow up?
No…if that didn’t happen, I would have just waited for the next cultural movement.
Did you get to hang out with all those celebs in Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” video, or was all that filmed at separate times?
I got to hang out with a lot of them, but not all of them. Dan Aykroyd was there, so was Steve Guttenburg. Michael Jackson wasn’t there, but I had met him previously.
Has any parody of yours ever been a hit that you personally felt was maybe a little subpar, or vice versa? Have you ever had something you thought was amazing that just didn’t go over?
I never really know how things are gonna go. “It’s All About the Pentiums,” I thought that was gonna be a much bigger hit than it was. We had a great high budget video, some hot video vixens, some great celebrity cameos…I thought it was going to be huge. But then it came out, and it wasn’t. Now, when I did “White and Nerdy” a few years later, I knew it was a great song but part of me thought, “This is the same basic subject as [‘Pentiums’],” and then “White and Nerdy” turned out to be my biggest hit ever.
Your new album Alpocalypse is scheduled for release on June 21, which is the joint birthday of “Family Ties” stars Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross. Did you do that on purpose? Is there some kind of hidden “Family Ties” subtext within the album that true fans have to decipher?
Well, everything happens for a reason. No, I can honestly say I didn’t plan that, but I’ll have to look into it, do some research.
Is it true that the late Macho Man Randy Savage almost backed out of his appearance on “The Weird Al Show” in 1997 when he found out he was supposed to lose his wrestling match with Harvey the Wonder Hamster?
Things were definitely touch and go with Randy Savage. He was not sure he should lose to a hamster, and we had to explain to him, you know, “That’s the joke,” that you wouldn’t expect this heavyweight world champion to lose to a hamster. So he said, “Well, alright…it’s not a girl hamster, is it?” [Laughs] And we said, “No, it’s a boy hamster, don’t worry.”
Below I decree the best original songs (i.e. songs not specifically parodying another composition) “Weird Al” Yankovic has ever recorded. Amazingly, a track from the Post-Mustache Era sneaks its way in (the Mustache Era of course being 1979-1997).
“I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead”
“Nature Trail To Hell”
“Dare To Be Stupid”
“This Is The Life”
“Stuck In A Closet W/ V. White”
“You Make Me”
“Everything You Know Is Wrong”
These are my absolute faves, obviously, and I think if you stuck ’em all on one disc and threw that disc into a time capsule future generations would have no problem understanding why we dubbed this frizzy life form “weird” (and why we angled to save his greatest hits). Before anyone pipes up to argue that “UHF” doesn’t work outside the context of UHF the film: yes it does. It’s a song about television as mind control.
Also, “UHF’s” generic rock riff is ten times more satisfying than any other generic rock riff of its time period. That riff, it rustles my jimmies!
Honorable mention: “Let Me Be Your Hog,” which isn’t really a song, just part of a song, but still manages to be fucking hilarious in under, what, twenty seconds? That’s the true mark of genius.
– Mandatory Fun’s cover is funny, but not as funny as the fact we could go to war with North Korea over that James Franco movie
– my issues with late period Yank: he doesn’t scream as much as he used to, and rarely do any songs break mid-tempo (even the polka medley here speeds too safely); in Al’s defense, he’s creeping up on 55, and he went plenty nutso on his older albums
– I want to say the Lorde parody “Foil” should be longer to milk more out of the subject twist, but laborious college fight send-up “Sports Song” proves brevity is the soul of wit
– “Word Crimes” is disappointing because Al spends more time just shitting on the grammatically ignorant instead of trying to educate them; it’s very “get off my lawn,” but at least his heart’s in the right place
– Mandatory Fun’s polka medley may be caught in second gear but it’s also plenty fun, as most of his medleys prove to be
– while I appreciate Al taking the piss out of Frank Black on his Pixies style parody “First World Problems,” the song itself is nowhere near as clever as the first world problem rap that mush-mouthed teen posted to YouTube a few years ago; this could be because mush-mouthed teen legit feels the struggle and Al is (generationally?) removed from that kinda thing
– a few of Mandatory Fun’s originals lean alt country, which makes one wonder what a non-weird Yank album would be like at this point; maybe like Wilco, with more references to boogers and socket wrenches?
– “Weird Al” has some major cajones calling out other people for being tacky (“Tacky”) when you consider the fact he’s worn nothing but Hawaiian shirts for his entire career
– overall, Mandatory Fun is limp; not one song is on par with classic Yank, and the album’s closing ballad “Jackson Park Express” (a tale of love and miscommunication on public transit) could be the least engaging song Al’s ever done; of course, it’s all lightyears better than whatever Dr. Elmo’s doing right now, and what do you want from a guy twenty-six years after “Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White?”
– this would be a great place to post a link to the interview I did with “Weird Al” in 2011 where he clears up that rumor about getting punched by Billy Joel’s wife; alas, evil forces have taken it offline
– yes, I am bragging that I interviewed “Weird Al”; career lulls aside, he’s still “Weird Al,” American comedy god, hero of my youth, the Gozer of parody
Or “Writer Rehashes Content You’ve Already Ignored Once.”
Estonia officially adopts the Euro as its national currency. The singer from an nth generation rockabilly band accuses a toy conglomerate of stealing her identity. The Green Hornet is theatrically released, but I hear mixed things, so I decide to wait until it’s on DVD.
The White Stripes break up, allowing me to finally admit I was always a fan. I get food poisoning at my own Super Bowl party from a batch of eggplant-based dip. A computer beats Ken Jennings on “Jeopardy!”, shaming this country’s entire Mormon population.
I interview Mike Watt at the suggestion of my Crawdaddy! editor; the chat goes well, but I later regret not asking more questions about “Piss Bottle Man.” Zoogz Rift dies. Yuppies have a collective hissy fit when it’s announced the new season of “Mad Men” will be delayed until 2012.
Prince William marries Kate Middleton. I commemorate the early ’90s advertising ubiquity of MC Hammer. I also attempt to finish writing “We Didn’t Start The Fire” for Billy Joel. Yuppies have a collective hissy fit when this month sees the end of both LCD Soundsystem and Steve Carrell’s tenure on “The Office.”
I issue not one but two lengthy feature reports on forgotten Star Wars disco song “Lapti Nek”; unfortunately, they come too late in the year for Pulitzer Prize consideration. A personal trip to Minneapolis fails to yield any Prince sightings.
I discover via Twitter that the little kid from Cop & A Half is a rapper. Seth Putnam dies. Super 8 is released, and the scene were the children all sing “My Sharona” strikes me as not only grating but historically improbable; while I am researching this story, my boss calls to tell me Crawdaddy! is folding.
I interview “Weird Al” Yankovic, fulfilling a life-long dream. I see The Green Hornet and my distaste for Seth Rogen is cemented.
It is revealed that Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols didn’t really play on The Great Milenko. The original Star Wars movies are released on Blu-Ray with even more ridiculous CGI scribbling. A personal trip to Denver fails to yield any Sinbad sightings.
I publish my investigation into the Atari Landfill legend after it’s clear no one from the former video game giant can sue me. My favorite soda Vault is discontinued. Anthrax finally release Worship Music; riots erupt nowhere in response.
Steve Jobs dies, ostensibly before hearing a single note of Lulu. I interview Raj from “What’s Happening!!” and discover he’s a cool guy. After several seasons of speculation, Dr Pepper announces that they have no affiliation with “South Park.” The best song of the year is released.
The Justin Bieber Christmas album drops and gives the world a moment to reconsider Busta Rhymes. I eat pizza for Thanksgiving.
Americans suspect Coca-Cola of flavor treachery. Universal Studios Florida announces the closure of their Jaws attraction. An image surfaces that proves noted UFOlogist Giorgio Tsoukalos once combed his hair. Kim Jong-Il dies. I live the cliché by getting socks for Christmas.