He's the guy who sang "Eat It." And back in 1984, when "Weird Al" Yankovic hilariously skewered Michael Jackson's "Beat It," no one would have guessed the longevity of the comedic performer's career. Not the record companies, who initially didn't offer him contracts as they deemed him a one-hit wonder, and certainly not Yankovic.
But just last year, the accordion player's Mandatory Fun, which took on everyone from Lorde to the Pixies, was the first-ever comedy album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Not only has the now 55-year-old family man outlasted many of the artists he once parodied, he's busier than ever.
We caught up with Yankovic via phone over Labor Day weekend.
INLANDER: The kids know who you are again, every generation rediscovers you, but you're still doing the same thing. How does that feel?
YANKOVIC: It feels great. My audience is very multigenerational. I challenge you to find an audience or fan base more diverse than mine. I hear from parents that their children are saying things like, "Hey have you heard of this 'Weird Al' guy?" and they then have to explain to them that I've got a lot of other records, too.
Did you call yourself weird, or was that from someone else?
I don't remember who exactly, but someone in my freshman year dorm did refer to me as Weird Al. It wasn't exactly mean, but it was a derogatory. I don't know, I was majoring in architecture and I've always been a little odd — I brought my accordion to college! Eventually, I decided to own my weirdness and fly my freak flag, and I hear from my fans that I have helped them own up to who they are, too.
What is so exciting about a Hawaiian shirt?
It's colorful. I like it 'cause it's flashy and stimulating, and I've always liked loud shirts. My wife is trying to tone me down now. She says I don't have to grab attention every time I walk into a room, and I'm working on that.
Talk about the music video, especially [as it relates] to the success of your career. MTV long ago stopped showing music videos, but do you think the art form itself is dying out?
I think music videos are a huge reason why my last album was so successful. For one week in July last summer, we rolled out eight different videos to go along with my album, and people responded well. Music videos are as important now as they were ever, I'd say more so now. Just because it's not on MTV, that doesn't matter. YouTube actually allows you to watch whenever you want.
Do you listen to pop radio? Do you listen to it for research or for enjoyment?
I wouldn't say I'm constantly listening to pop radio; it's not what I'd listen to for my own amusement. I surf online and keep my finger on the pulse, paying attention to the Billboard charts. I look for songs that will spark my interest.
You started young, but what drew you to the accordion as a kid?
I was 6 years old. I don't have a sharp memory, but I'm going to guess I wasn't begging my parents to let me play that instrument. I think my parents chose that for me. But it ended up that being totally different made me stand out in a sea of guys playing guitars.
What are the criteria for selecting a certain song?
I'll ask myself two questions: Is it a popular enough song, and do I have a good idea for it? There a lot of good songs out there and I can always generate bad ideas, but those one or two clever ideas, I have to grasp onto them and not let go.
Why do you keep your songs pretty family-friendly?
No, no, no. My stuff isn't G-rated, it's not squeaky clean. There's sexual innuendo, which I think will go over most kids' heads, but I'm sure if you played my music for your 5-year-old daughter, she may pick up something bad. Overall, I try to stay clean. It's just a personal decision; it was kind of the way I was raised. I didn't want to write anything that would shock my family, and now I don't want to do something that my own family would be shocked by.
What's the protocol for asking permission to parody an artist's work? Do you tell them the concept first?
That's about it. I'll come up with a concept, and that's how I know I can write a good song on it. I've gotten entire albums green-lit without writing a word, and that's what I'll come to the artist with, and 99 times out of 100 they'll say yes. The one artist who has said no to me is Prince. He just said he doesn't like the idea of parody with his material.
What's next? After you're done with your 100 tour dates, what do you do?
Everything that's coming up I can't really talk about, like some TV shows and projects. I'll have some time to relax after the tour and spend time with my family, but there's always something going on.
Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer: What was that like to be a part of?
I was thrilled to be a part of that. I loved David Wain and the entire cast, and it was such a wonderful thing. Not to give everything away, but it was a lot of fun to be cut in half, only to find out I'm really Jon Hamm.
So is that true?
Yes. I'm really Jon Hamm on the inside. ♦
"Weird Al" Yankovic • Sun, Sept. 13, at 7:30 pm • $35/$45 • All-ages • Northern Quest Resort & Casino • 100 N. Hayford Rd., Airway Heights • northernquest.com • 242-7000