Weird Al on career longevity and No. 1 album 'Mandatory Fun'

Weird Al Yankovic. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Weird Al Yankovic. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

John Williams, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:32 PM ET

Things are getting kind of weird these days, even for Weird Al Yankovic.

With a newly released 14th album, Mandatory Fun, and with eight ridiculously popular videos that preceded it, it seems the Godfather of Parody is a little taken aback from the newfound online fame that has been thrown his way.

"It’s kinda blowing up," says the 54-year-old comedian. "The response has surprised even me. I really like the videos and thought they’d have a big impact, but this has been beyond my wildest expectations. This is the most attention that has ever been focused on me probably ever. I’m quite overwhelmed by it all.”

The man behind the hits such as Eat It, Fat, White & Nerdy and Smells Like Nirvana, tried his best to break the Internet last week with the viral videos for Tacky (based on Pharrell Williams’s Happy) and Word Crimes (the take on Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines). And it gets even weirder for Al — Mandatory Fun has hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts – the first chart topper of his long, storied career.

 

Chatting down the line from Los Angeles where he’s in the middle of a whirlwind press tour (he had just left Google headquarters and was on his way to a meet-and-greet while conducting this interview), Yankovic talked to QMI Agency about the key reasons for his longevity, on outlasting the artists he parodies, and his Canadian connections.

Eight videos in eight days… it was a very ambitious undertaking. How long did it take to complete from start to finish?

It was all coordinated so that they would be all ready to go at the same time. The animated Mission Statement video had been in the works for well over a year, and some of the others came together pretty quickly. I didn’t have permission to do Iggy Azalea’s Fancy (Handy) until about a month ago and we finished that literally two hours before the premiere, so it was a bit of a logistical puzzle.

Is there any particular video that stands out as the most pleasant one to make or the least pleasant?

They were all great… none of them were unpleasant. The most fun I’ve ever had on a video, though, was for Tacky, which I did with Jack Black, Aisha Tyler, Margaret Cho, Eric Stonestreet and Kristen Schaal. It was one extended shot as we walked through a building in downtown Los Angeles, and everyone was just having a blast – it was like a party.

Do you think the video for Word Crimes will be used to keep kids engaged in English class one day?

That would be nice but there are a few innuendos in it that might not fly in your typical English class (laughs). I was proud that I took a song (Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines) that was getting a lot of flack for being misogynistic and turned it into a song that can essentially be used as part of a school curriculum.

The irony in your career is that you’ve been around longer than some of the artist’s you’ve parodied.

That is the big irony of my life. Nobody wanted to sign me to a record deal in the early ‘80s because they didn’t think I’d have a career in it because what I do is considered novelty music. So, the fact that I’ve been around for so long has kind of bucked the trends.

Did anyone initially grant you permission to do their song and then took offence to it?

No, that’s never happened. I’ve never had somebody come back and say, ‘What did you do to my song!’ They usually have a pretty good sense of humour about it and it’s never scathing; it’s all in good fun. I’m not there to step on anyone’s toes or make them look bad…it’s meant to be an homage and the artist’s realize I have a track record of doing that kind of thing.

Being a proud "Canadian Idiot” myself, did Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong ever give you feedback on the track (from 2006’s Straight Outta Lynwood)? What about the response from Canuck fans?

He signed off on me doing the song, and I don’t think I ever heard any response from him after it came out. Most Canadians realize that the song is ironic. It’s actually a love letter to Canada (laughs), so unless you don’t understand irony, there’s really no reason to be upset.

Can you pinpoint a reason why you’ve had such a long career when initially, as you said earlier, you were thought of as a fad?

I’ve always managed to surround myself with talented people. I’m also very tenacious and have a strong work ethic, I don’t burn my bridges, and even though ostensibly what I do is silly, I spend a lot of time and put a lot of effort into it. That, plus I’ve been somewhat lucky over the years, it all adds up to a pretty long career.

Email John

 

Weird Al’s most notable rejections

For Weird Al, it’s not all rosy when it comes to snagging permission to parody someone’s tune.

Here’s a list of the more notable rejections from music stars (with the parody followed by the real tune):

  • Couch Potato, Eminem’s Lose Yourself (Em gave him permission to parody the track, but asked him not to release it as a single)
  • You’re Pitiful, James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful (initially accepted by Blunt, but denied by his label)
  • Chicken Pot Pie, Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die
  • Every single Prince song parody request has been nixed
  • Polka medley of Led Zeppelin tracks

Videos

Photos