INTERVIEW: Weird Al Yankovic
I’ll preface this by saying that I, like millions of others, grew up listening to Weird Al Yankovic’s parodies. I still have VHS tapes of his greatest hits somewhere at my parents’ house, and I once got in trouble for flipping the bird at my neighbors when I didn’t know what it meant, after seeing the “Amish Paradise” video. So when I got the opportunity to interview Weird Al, I couldn’t pass it up. We talked about Milwaukee, his latest album, “Mandatory Fun”, and a whole lot more. Check it out:
B&E: So, you’re playing Summerfest on Wednesday night at the Uline Warehouse. Do you ever get a chance to see Milwaukee when you’re in town?
Weird Al: Yeah, I’ve been to Milwaukee many, many times. I try to hit Milwaukee once or twice on every tour. I can’t say off the top of my head how many times I’ve played Milwaukee, but it’s way in the double digits at this point (laughs). I’ve been able to spend some time there and I enjoy it quite a bit.
B&E: When you play big festivals like Summerfest, do you ever get a chance to go out and see the festival?
Weird Al: I used to in the early days, like in the 80s, I could walk around and check it out. These days, it’s a little harder to just mill about Summerfest. I try to if I can, but it’s a little tough. But from what I hear from backstage and in the bus, it’s very enjoyable.
B&E: Let’s talk about “Mandatory Fun”. At this point, I’d assume that if someone says “Weird Al wants to parody your song”, they’re completely willing. Do you still have artists that don’t really get it?
Weird Al: By and large, my track record has been a lot better these days. When I first started out, it was a little more difficult, because people didn’t really know who this Weird Al guy was, or what my modus operandi was. Now that I’ve done it for a few decades, people understand the joke. A lot of artists look at it as a right of passage, or that they’ve achieved a certain level of success in their career, and they’re a lot more admittable to it. A lot of the artists realize that I’m not there to make them look bad, or have fun at their expense. They’re in on the joke, so it’s just something these days that the artists enjoy and look forward to.
B&E: The album was released with eight videos on YouTube. Doing what you do, it’s gotta be a little bit harder to make a parody stick when somebody has the opportunity to hit record on their laptop and have it on the Internet very quickly. Does that affect your process?
Weird Al: Yeah, I mean, there’s pros and cons. I mean, YouTube is essentially the new MTV. It’s where people go to see music videos now. What’s nice about YouTube is that it levels the playing field. I mean, anybody could release whatever they feel like with just a few mouse clicks. I don’t have to get the blessing of some executive at MTV or anybody else to see my material, I can just upload it myself and there it is. The downside, as you alluded to, is that anybody else can do that as well, and now I’m competing with a million other people doing funny music videos. It just makes me want to step up my game a little bit, and hopefully I’ll be able to rise above.
B&E: I’ve read that this might be your last “traditional” album, and that you might be moving towards more EPs and single releases. Is that true?
Weird Al: Well, that’s still the plan. This tour’s gonna go on for another three months or so, and then I’ve got a big empty space on my calendar. So that’s probably when I’ll be more proactive about coming up with new material. I feel like I don’t really want to do any more traditional albums. I want to do more things digitally, you know? More singles, EPs, things like that. But I think conventional albums aren’t really the best way to get my stuff out there at this point.
B&E: When people see you out in public, do you ever feel pressure to be “on” all the time?
Weird Al: Well, I don’t really feel compelled to be “on” all the time. I mean, certainly on stage I’m always “on”. When I’m meeting people, I try to be pleasant and nice, but I don’t feel the need to have to perform for them, you know? I’m an engaged version of myself, but I don’t think there’s too many performers that feel they have to be that way all of the time. I think that would be exhausting, and frankly quite annoying for people (laughs).
B&E: Switching gears, you’re also on “Comedy Bang! Bang!” now. How is that process different for you from when you’re doing something musically?
Weird Al: Well, it’s very different, you know. It’s working with a large team of people. It’s basically having a day job, where I’d get up in the morning every day, and work long hours, but you get to decide those hours (laughs). It’s a very collaborative experience, and it was a lot of fun. I really had a blast doing it. It’s kind of apples and oranges. But working in the studio, you have a much smaller team. Working on the set, you’ve got an army of people. In the studio, sometimes it’s just me and the engineer, or sometimes it’s the full band, and maybe some other people but it’s a much smaller group. It’s a little more flexible in terms of, well, everything (laughs).
B&E: Lastly, any fun stories related to Milwaukee?
Weird Al: Oh gosh, let me think. It was years ago, but it was a whole thing when Linda Ronstadt was playing, and I think instead of “Hello, Milwaukee” she said some completely different city, like Indianapolis or something, and I used to do that just for fun. Just as a joke, I would say the wrong city, and it’s never funny to people. They all take offense at it, so I learned from Linda not to do that (laughs). I did that at some of my very early gigs, but she did it on a big scale. It was a big news item, like, “She doesn’t even know where she’s at!”. But you can’t really blame people when they’re on the road like that. Sometimes at a show, I’ve had to run over to my drummer and ask, “where are we?” (laughs).