by Catherine Blanch.
“Weird Al” Yankovic is the long-haired accordion-wielding American singer, songwriter, satirist, author, actor, music video director and record and film producer who has been known for his popular culture parodies and polka medleys since his first release back in 1975. History’s biggest-selling comedy artist, Al’s career has spanned four decades and has afforded him four Grammy Awards (with 15 nominations). Always with the full approval of the artists, and to the delight of fans, “Weird Al” parodies include Smells Like Nirvana (Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit), Eat It and Fat (Michael Jackson’s Beat It and Bad), Like A Surgeon (Madonna’s Like A Virgin) and Amish Paradise (Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise).
It’s afternoon at home in LA as we speak with the always pleasant “Weird Al” about his return to Adelaide with his Mandatory World Tour. Although the name may speak for itself, we ask why he chose this title for his tour.
“For two main reasons,” he begins. “One is that my last album was called Mandatory Fun and we wanted to tie the title of the tour in with that. The other reason is that it’s mandatory that people go see it; there’s no real option in the matter, you just have to go to the show [laughs]!”
You are known for creating great song titles and word plays, which brings us to the hilarious Word Crimes – your parody of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.
“It turns out that almost anyone in journalism has a special place in their hearts for that song,” Al says. “But, to be honest, I could have written a whole album about word crimes, so it was a real challenge to condense it into a single song. I had pages and pages of material for that one.”
Click HERE to watch Word Crimes
Do you find yourself watching TV and thinking to yourself that you could mess with it just a little?
“Yes, but it’s not always something that happens automatically in my brain. I guess sometimes an idea will come to me spontaneously but, thankfully, I don’t always have the switch on where I’m listening to the radio and working out how I could mess this one up. I’m a big fan of pop culture and pop music, so it would drive me crazy if I couldn’t just sit there and enjoy something for what it was.”
Another song from the 2014 Mandatory Fun album (Al’s 14th album) is Foil, taken from Lorde’s Royals. It surprisingly moves from aluminum [sic] to the secret society Illuminati.
“That was really the hook for me when I thought of the idea for Foil,” Al says. “I liked the idea of the song taking a very dramatic and dark turn in the middle. I like sucking people into thinking like it’s ‘just another one of Al’s stupid songs about food’ [laughs]. But no, this one is very different from those others.”
Click HERE to watch Foil
Al was very happy to have been asked to join the MAD Magazine team as a Guest Editor.
“I was obsessed with MAD when I was about twelve or thirteen years old,” he says. “I would subscribe to it and go to huge magazine shops and try to find back issues. So, in 2015, to have been selected as the first ever Guest Editor, that’s something that blows my mind. I wish I could go back in a time machine to my twelve-year-old self and tell him what was going to happen to him. I’m sure he would get quite the kick out of it.”
Do you recall what drew you to MAD as a kid?
“I think it was a sensibility, a sense of humour that I hadn’t been exposed to before. We’re talking early ‘70s when I was picking up a copy of MAD Magazine off the rack and thumbing through it. It’s hard to articulate what it is about MAD that made it so different from everything else that was around. I think part of it was that it was subversive; it was mocking authority figures; it was pointing at pop culture tropes and clichés and just explaining how ridiculous they were; it was pulling back the curtain, showing the Wizard being a normal man. It’s all of the above. It was basically a very irreverent kind of comedy that allowed you to thumb your nose at the rest of the world.”
So, what did you contribute in your role as Guest Editor?
“I wrote several pieces for the magazine and answered all the letters to the Editor,” Al says. “I did a six page spread called Pages From Weird Al’s Notebook which were ostensibly really horrible ideas [for songs] that were so bad that they never got made. I also got to bring out a bunch of my funny friends to write pieces for MAD including Patton Oswalt, Tom Lennon, Chris Hardwick, Emo Philips, Kristen Schaal and John Hodgman. It was very gratifying for me to be able to bring along all of these amazingly funny people for the ride… I think the Australian edition of MAD is different to the American version. But we will have some my issues available at the merchandise table if anyone is wanting a copy.”
Do you ever just write normal songs?
“No, I don’t. I think there are enough people in the world already that write normal songs, so I like my own little niche,” he chuckles. “It’s not that I couldn’t write unfunny songs, it’s just that my brain is sort of wired to go for the more satirical and bizarre stuff. I feel like that’s what I’m best at, and it’s what people expect from me, so I don’t really have any compulsion to do ‘serious music’.
“Some people get into novelty music purely as a means to get attention, writing a big wacky hit and then saying, ‘Now that I’ve got your attention, here’s my real music’ [laughs]. But this is my real music.”
“Weird Al” Yankovic concerts are always high-energy and fun and you’re not afraid to take yourself out into the audience Will this tour focus mainly on your new songs, or will you be appeasing the masses by bringing out some of the old favourites as well?
“It’s a Greatest Hits show,” Al says, “so obviously, because it’s the Mandatory World Tour, we will be featuring a lot of material from the new album. But we will play as many of the hits as we can, with a little something from every era in my career [chuckles], and a couple of treats for the hardcore fans. There will be as many surprises and hits as we can cram into a fun two hour show – which is about how long we can be onstage for without people’s bladders starting to explode.”
Besides the fact that we are wonderful [laughs], what keeps bringing you back to Australia?
“Yes, Australia is wonderful! The first time I toured there I came with my wife and then-eight-month-old daughter (she’s twelve now). Every city we stopped at, we just wanted to move there,” Al enthuses. “The people were wonderful, the places were clean and beautiful; we just felt so at home and enjoyed it so much that I told my manager that anytime they can book me an Australian tour to do it. I genuinely love playing there.”
“Weird Al” Yankovic presents The Mandatory World Tour at Thebarton Theatre from 8pm on Fri 8 Jan.
Book at Ticketmaster on www.ticketmaster.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.