GayCalgary® Magazine [copy]

INTERVIEW - Prepare For Alpocalypse!

Weird Al Yankovic hits the Comic & Entertainment Expo

Celebrity Interview by Jason Clevett (From GayCalgary® Magazine, March 2013, page 46)
Weird Al Yankovic
Weird Al Yankovic
Weird Al Yankovic
Weird Al Yankovic
Weird Al Yankovic
Weird Al Yankovic

The White and Nerdy showed a crack in their Polka Face, rejoicing when the one and only Weird Al was announced as a guest for the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. In addition to a concert at the Stampede Corral on Friday, April 26th, Al will be part of panels, take photos and sign autographs on Friday and Saturday.

"It was like any other offer. My manager said, hey you’ve got an offer to play the Calgary Expo and I said Great. I can’t think of an event similar to this I have played before. I’ve been to the San Diego Comic Con but I’ve never played there. It is a madhouse, it is a lot of fun but crazy. I don’t know how similar the Calgary event is but I am looking forward to it," Yankovic told GayCalgary Magazine. "It sounds like it is going to be pretty hectic. Tours are hectic enough as is and we are wedging in a lot of other activities. Hopefully I won’t be too frazzled and be semi coherent when I am meeting everybody."

I was one of the Canadian Idiots who dropped his Lasagna with excitement at the announcement that Al would bring a slice of Amish Paradise to the expo. The music of Weird Al has been a huge part of my life, and his 1995 Greatest Hits tour remains an early favourite in my concert going memories. The opportunity to meet fans up close and personal is part of the appeal for Yankovic to attend.

"I am always touched hearing stories, it means a lot to me. It reminds me how long I have been around, when I hear I have touched people’s lives in any way it is really gratifying to me."

A Star Wars fan, Yankovic will be joined by Carrie Fisher and Ian McDiarmid as guests at the expo.

"It was quite a surprise, I didn’t expect that to happen and I expect great things about it. I am doing voices for Star Wars Detours which was unveiled awhile ago as a Lucas animated project. That has been affected by the whole thing as well. The new movies are in great hands and I expect great things. I try to do one Star Wars themed song every 20 years like clockwork."

Although new songs are mixed with classics, if you have experienced Weird Al in concert, you know to expect an elaborate and energetic stage show that will leave you laughing and singing along. Now 53, he brings the same frenzied energy to life that he did in the 1980’s and 1990s.

"It hasn’t really changed, it is as fast paced, frantic and high energy as it has always been, just now the likelihood of me dropping dead on stage is much higher," he joked. "It is the Alpocalypse tour we have been touring the last couple of years. If you have seen the Alpocalypse tour DVD or Blue Ray that is pretty much the show we will be doing: a lot of stuff from Alpocalypse, all the greatest hits, some deep cuts and pretty good sampling of the oeuvre. There are the film clips and costume changes and everything you have come to expect from a Weird Al show."

One of the classic songs included is Fat, complete with massive suit.

"I think the concert fat suit is still the same one we’ve had since the beginning, although it has been modified and repaired quite a bit. The other one was made for the video which I believe the designer has in his special effects studio. So a total of 2 have been done," Yankovic explained, laughing when I said that having a suit since 1998 in more than 1000 concerts sounded stinky.

"It is hard to clean, you can’t just take a fat suit into your neighborhood laundry to have it dry cleaned. I am not sure how they do that. It is lightweight because I have to jump around in it for five minutes and I don’t want to pass out on stage. It is mostly hollow inside, I don’t know what the fabric is. The moobs are filled with some kind of light Styrofoam peanut material, it is not as heavy as it appears."

Those that watched Al parody Michael Jackson (Eat It) and Madonna (Like A Surgeon) in the 1980’s or Nirvana (Smells Like Nirvana) and Coolio (Amish Paradise) now have their own kids who sing along to his parodies of Miley Cyrus (Party In The CIA) and Lady Gaga (Perform This Way). Expect a mixed audience at the Corral for his family-friendly show.

"[Being family oriented] wasn’t calculated, when I first started I just did the kind of comedy that I liked. It turned out to be family friendly so a lot of families would come to it. When I first started out my core audience was primarily adolescent boys. That quickly branched out and due to the simple fact that I have been around as long as I have those kids have grown up with me and now their kids are into it and it has become a real family thing. There are grandparents and kids and college aged and everyone seems to enjoy the show on a different level which is gratifying for me. I wasn’t thinking, how can I reach the widest demographic I possibly can. I just did what I thought was funny and thankfully it appealed to a lot of people."

From food to hamsters, Al has covered a variety of topics and at times the combination of song style and subject is hilarious just in contrast.

"That is something I like doing, is strange juxtapositions. When I am writing my original songs I will have a list of subject matter and a list of song styles and draw lines between the two. I looked at Craigslist and The Doors and something in my brain clicked and I thought that is just so wrong I have to do it. It is hard to say where the ideas come from, and the challenge is doing something I haven’t done before. It is easy to fall into ruts and patterns and do the same kinds of jokes over and over again. So I am always looking for different ways to be funny. I am looking for different bits of pop culture that seems to have some comedic potential that hasn’t been beaten to death."

Yankovic doesn’t accept suggestions for song ideas. Today a search on YouTube reveals hundreds of parody videos within days of a song being released. Some are horrible and some are fantastic. You can see the Weird Al influence in many of them, but it does make it challenging for the original musical parody artist.

"I try not to because I am not looking for ideas, and I know any song that comes out there will be 20 ideas for parodies of the song and I don’t want to be accused of taking someone else’s ideas so I have to kind of put on blinders. I surf the internet a lot and am bound see some of the stuff but I try and do stuff that I am not aware of; an idea that hasn’t been seen before. That is my biggest challenge these days because there are a finite number of hit songs and a finite number of feasible variations on a theme. In addition to not being able to be the only person doing a parody, it is a challenge to do something unique. Our pop culture cycles are getting quicker and quicker, it will be a real effort to put out my next album without seeming dated. The biggest songs of the last year have been parodied to death and if I were to put them on my next album people would be saying, why are you doing a Gangnam Style parody a year after the fact, that has been done a million times already? I am going to have to figure out a way to do songs that haven’t been beaten to death and try to do something that would justify releasing them after the fact. I am extremely flattered to have had any influence on people at all, which is in part due to hanging in there as long as I have. I have to assume that a lot of people doing parodies on YouTube have at least heard of me and I’ve had some kind of effect on their lives. That is very touching for me."

For many it is considered a badge of honor to be parodied by Al. Over 100 artists have been remade in Weird Al Style, and some approach Yankovic asking when it is their turn. Except for Prince, who has always refused permission to parody his songs. Yankovic doesn’t require permission under fair use guidelines but gets permission out of respect.

"To have respect from the artists is great. It means also that it is a lot easier for me to get permission which I always do for my parodies. When I first started out a lot of people didn’t want to pick up the phone.  That is the biggest perk of having been around for so long and having a reputation is people know what to expect and to get the joke and be agreeable to it. I don’t get a lot of resistance these days which is great to me. I don’t want to mention any names but I have had some fairly big artists at parties or events say hey when are you going to do one of my songs?  I seem to always be badmouthing Prince but he is the one guy who consistently over the decades has just not gotten into it."

His music has become so ingrained in pop culture that you may find yourself singing the lyrics to Fat or Bedrock Anthem when listening to Michael Jackson or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Don McLean has said that he has caught himself with Yankovic’s lyrics in his head when performing American Pie.

"I apologize if I have messed with anyone’s heads to the point where they can’t enjoy the original song anymore. That happens to me but it is my gig. Sometimes original songs start playing on the radio in the car and I have to turn it off because I don’t want to all of a sudden have the original song playing in my head when I am on stage. I am glad that people enjoy my music but I hope it doesn’t lessen the appreciation of the original artist’s music."

In many ways Yankovic opens up new music to people. A 12 year old with no knowledge of Dire Straits or The Kinks may discover them from being a Weird Al fan.

"I would hope that my parodies have lead people to music they wouldn’t have heard otherwise. I know for a fact that there are people that were introduced to artists that have become a favourite because they first heard a parody on one of my albums. I’ve been called a gateway for the young music fans to search out the kind of music they might not have ordinarily had the chance to.

Not just a musical comedian, Yankovic was a staple on MuchMusic and MTV with "ALMusic/ALTV" specials which featured his videos, comic bits, as well as edited interviews with stars like Mick Jagger, Cher, Madonna and Eminem.

"I remember pretty much living at MuchMusic for a week or so while they were put together, there was a lot of editing with the fake interviews and everything. I would go through the source material and if I found one I could pull apart I transcribed it. The way my brain works I can pick stuff out that is funny out of context and then write the interview around that. That was a fun little puzzle for me I really enjoyed doing those. I haven’t done a MuchMusic special in quite a long time, the last time we pitched them they weren’t so into the idea. Most of my promotions these days are online. Even MTV and VH1 were sort of backing off a little bit so I did the face to face interviews for the Nerdists YouTube channel. I loved doing the ALMusic specials and if they ever wanted to give that a shot again I would be totally up for it."

It is unlikely there will ever be anyone like Weird Al Yankovic. Nearly 4 decades in the music industry is an amazing feat for any artist. Yankovic is happy he proved critics wrong and continues to entertain as only he can.

"I am thankful I still get to do this for a living, I can’t imagine anything else I would want to do. Every day I marvel at the irony of my life. I was never supposed to have a career at all. Nobody wanted to sign me in the early 80’s they looked at what I did and said I was a novelty, one hit wonder, that my career would last six months tops. I am fond of saying that my career has lasted longer than most of the people I have parodied over the years. It is great that I have become this sort of novelty dinosaur."

Related Articles

Contributor Jason Clevett |

Locale Calgary |

Person Weird Al Yankovic |

Topic Calgary Expo | Celebrity Interview | Comic Expo |


Weird Al Yankovic

Comments on this Article