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By Andy Argyrakis
"Weird Al" endures by keeping musical ear to the
ground (and finger on his funny bone)
Oct. 16, 2007
The amount of genres "Weird Al" Yankovic has covered with a comedic twist throughout the past three decades ranges from rock to rap to alternative and even polka. No matter who he pokes fun at- Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Coolio, or more recently, R. Kelly and Green Day- the stand-up turned singer seems to nail every note just right and strike the perfect balance between parody and artistic praise. After all, it's often been said humor is amongst the best forms of flattery, which is a road that's earned him a consistent streak of gold and platinum albums, seven gold and platinum home videos and three Grammy Awards. But the eclectic tongue in cheek entertainer isn't just a musician and music video mogul, but also starred in his own CBS series The Weird Al Show and the cult classic movie "UHF" (which recently found resurgence via a DVD release). Yet the consistent funny bone tickler isn't willing to rest on his laurels, hitting the studio yet again for the new release Straight Outta Lynwood, backed by an extensive multi-media tour (complete with costume changes). Just prior to a show in Pennsylvania, Yankovic checked in via cell phone to talk about the fall tour, how he chooses material, thoughts on famous album covers and unlikely underground fame on the silver screen.
Livewire: After all these years, how do you find inspiration for new material?
Yankovic: My inspiration of sources is always the same. I dive big into pop culture, study the charts, follow the trends and tap into the right place. I like to see where music's heading and make it as timely and topical as possible. It's all about funny variations and the twists I can take [on an already familiar tune].
Livewire: How are you able to switch up so many different musical styles?
Yankovic: I'm not really an impressionist, but I think I'm a decent mimic with some idiosyncrasies thrown in. I'm fortunate enough to have the same band for quite some time, which is amazingly versatile and talented.
Livewire: What's the meaning behind the title Straight Outta Lynwood?
Yankovic: I am in fact from [the town Lynwood]. If you're not familiar with L.A., it's directly adjacent from Compton, which is off course where a lot of famous rappers came from, particularly [N.W.A.'s] seminal Straight Outta Compton album. So the title's no joke or gag per say, other than the artwork, in which I'm trying to be as gangster as possible.
Livewire: Speaking of album artwork, what are your favorite covers from the "Weird Al" catalogue?
Yankovic: The one where I parody Nirvana is one of my all time favorites, though they're all important in their own way. Even Worse was a direct cover duplication of Michael Jackson's Bad, Even the new one was a lot of fun and we didn't even plan to use the dog in the shot. Someone was walking that pit bull down the street when we were shooting the cover and we wound up getting him in on the shot.
Livewire: With so many projects to pull from, how do you whittle down this tour's set list?
Yankovic: It's always tough [to put together a set list] because about half of the show needs to be same. There are so many songs I have to play otherwise fans would riot in the streets, so the shows are getting longer from tour to tour. The current tour is about two hours and twenty minutes, which is especially long for a comedy show. We'll be playing a lot from the new album, all the greatest hits and a few semi-obscure oldies.
Livewire: How would you describe your concert audience?
Yankovic: [Foul language] is not my thing, and while I don't denigrate that, it's not my audience. I'm a big South Park fan, but it's not family friendly. There's a market for that and an audience, but that's not mine. My audience is everybody- teenagers, college kids, middle ages, toddlers, geriatrics- and it's family friendly.
Livewire: What are your reflections of "UHF," especially with its recent DVD re-release?
Yankovic: When it came out in theatres, it pretty much bombed big time. It was the summer of 1989 and got released the same week as "Batman," "Lethal Weapon 2," "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and "Do the Right Thing," which was the worst possible time for a small comedy movie! It disappeared after about two weeks, but found an audience on cable TV throughout the next decade to that point that when the DVD came out a few years ago, it became a top ten best seller, which surprised a lot of people in the industry.
Livewire: Do you ever get a break on the road to catch any movies or other forms of pop culture?
Yankovic: I get a little out of the loop on the road and can't plug in and watch that many movies, but I just got to see "The Simpsons Movie" and I loved that- it exceeded astronomical expectations! Book wise, I'm reading the latest from [world famous rock n' roll groupie] Pamela Des Barres...I actually have more free time on the road than I do at home. At home, I have my family life, plus someone is always hitting me up for a treatment, a pitch or meeting. On a concert day, I might do a few interviews, have the show that night and then I get to sleep in the next morning. It's a six month tour of North America and it's pretty intense, but no one wants to hear me complain about the travel because it's such a sweet job. I'm fortunate to make a living from it and it's always fun.