There’s a little-known adage behind the closed doors of the halls of the music industry that you know you’ve really made it when Weird Al Yankovic does a parody of your music. For more than 30 years, Weird Al’s been turning out doppelgangers of some of the biggest singles in contemporary music, picking up a hat trick of Grammies along the way for his takes on Michael Jackson’s “Beat it,” and “Bad,” (“Eat it,” and “Bad,” respectively). He also nabbed a Best Comedy Album Grammy in 2003 for his eleventh album, Poodle Hat, which featured send ups of Ben Folds Five, Avril Lavigne and Eminem, along with his staggeringly comprehensive “Angry White Boy Polka” medley featuring bits from Papa Roach, System of a Down, Rage Against The Machine, Staind and The White Stripes, to name a few. Though his work is Constitutionally protected under the Fair Comment doctrine, Weird Al goes out of his way to ensure he gets the blessing of the artists he parodies, which has earned him as much a seat at the celebrity table as his Grammy awards have. And let’s not forget that the out-of-print cult classic movie he wrote, called UHF, which flopped at the box office in 1989, despite being one of the funniest things ever put to film…
French Davis: First, and most importantly: When is UHF 2 coming out?! I still count that among my all-time favorite comedies.
Weird Al: I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. A lot of fans have asked that, and it’s very sweet, but the hard fact is that UHF didn’t make money when it came out in 1989, and even though it’s acquired a rabid fan base and cult following, I don’t think movie studios are in the habit of doing sequels for films that flopped at the box office. Thanks for asking, though.
FD: Your American Psycho video was genius. How did that all come together?
WA: Thank you. That was Funny or Die.com; I wish I could take credit for writing that ’cause I thought it was a hilarious concept, but they came to me with a full script and said Huey’s on board, you wanna do this, and I looked at the script and said, “absolutely, great.”
Click here to watch the video. Note: it contains (minimal) graphic content.
FD: How is it you’re still relevant decades after so many artists you’ve parodied have faded into obscurity?
WA: I don’t know, there is no way I can answer that. I just keep doing what I do and I like to think that I’ve gotten better at it over the years. I’ve had a very loyal fanbase and I’ve had the same guys with me on the road since the very beginning. You know, it’s sheer tenacity and luck, I think.
FD: So there’s no secret sauce?
WA: No secret sauce as far as I know. I don’t have any kind of protein supplements that’s doing the trick for me.
FD: Do you ever listen to music without thinking about how you’d send it up? Or is it always there?
WA: Oh yeah, I’m a huge music fan and I can certainly turn that part of my brain off. I can listen to music for hours without once thinking, “Hmm, how can I screw this one up?”
FD: So what do you like to listen to?
WA: A little bit of everything. I mean, I don’t like to give laundry lists of band names that I like, but most of my favorite music is – alternative is such an odd term these days, but just stuff that is a little left of center, stuff that is a little different and quirky. Not necessarily funny or humorous, but just a little twisted.
FD: What’s your process like? Do you start with a funny word that rhymes and let that develop, or look for a specific angle on the artist him/herself…?
WA: For parodies, I try to attack it from different ways, sometimes I will see if there are any variations on a theme for a song title, sometimes I will see if I can conceptually turn a song on its head. Sometimes I will reverse-engineer a song, meaning instead of having a topical song, I’ll come up with a topical subject and find maybe a classic rock song to go along with it. So there are a number of different ways I can tackle any given parody and I try not to repeat myself too much or get stale by retreading the same ground over and over. Which is becoming challenging now that I’m working on my fourteenth album. It’s hard not to fall into old patterns.
FD: How do you select whom you’re going to parody?
WA: You know, there are no hard-set parameters on that. I generally just make a list of songs that have topped the billboard charts, songs that have had some kind of impact on the zeitgeist, and I tend to pick songs that are immediately identifiable because they have a strong musical or lyrical hook to them. But at the end of the day it comes down to me finding a popular song that I can come up with a clever enough idea for.
FD: What started you down the path of writing children’s books? How has that been going for you?
WA: That was something that I had always sort of had rattling around in the back of my brain but I never was terribly proactive about it. But several years ago an editor from Harper Collins named Anne Hoppe approached me out of the blue and said she was a fan and appreciated the word-play in my songs. She said, “You know, you’d probably be pretty good at writing children’s books,” and I told her, “Well yeah, in fact that is something that I’d always considered.” And she basically made me a blanket offer: “If you ever want to write a children’s book we’d love to put it out.” And I held on to that for about a year and a half thinking, oh I should probably do this. Finally I pitched her several ideas and the one that she sparked to was When I Grow Up, and that became my first book. She paired me with the illustrator Wes Hargis, and the book went on to be very popular; it made the New York Times Bestseller List and now I’m doing book number two. It will be in stores on June 25 and you can preorder it now.
FD: Any favorite spots in the Denver area you’ve enjoyed visiting?
WA: I don’t get a chance to do a lot of sightseeing when I’m on the road, so I’ve been to Denver many times and it’s a lovely place but mostly I get to see back stage.
FD: Any back stages that you’ve liked?
WA: There was one that had the cheese cut into these little isosceles triangles, I really liked that place.
Weird Al Yankovic performs at the Boulder Theater on July 21 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $32+. For more information, check out www.bouldertheater.com
Deb Flomberg contributed to this story.