Wired for Weirdness

Pop parody icon Weird Al Yankovic never tires of satire

Part of me will always be the wide-eyed 8-year-old who choreographed dances to my first cassette tape, “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D. My artistic interpretation of “I Lost on Jeopardy” was an epic journey, earning rave reviews from my parents.

I’ve since grown to admire the accordion-playing pop satirist, songwriter and best-selling children’s author, and he’s grown to become history’s biggest comedy recording artist with three Grammy Awards, four gold records and six that have gone platinum. His newest album, Alpocalypse, which includes parodies of Lady Gaga, the White Stripes, Katy Perry and several originals, was nominated for the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.

Yankovic got his start before the Internet, sending homemade cassettes into Dr. Demento’s radio show. Today he’s no stranger online, starring in a YouTube series, Face to Face With Weird Al Yankovic on The Nerdist Channel. He’s also the most recent recording artist to jump on the digital royalties bandwagon, filing a $5 million suit against Sony Music Entertainment this month.

Married with one daughter, Yankovic maintains a loyal fan base of all ages. He’s also pretty loyal himself, having worked with the same band since the ’80s. Although he’s extremely down to earth, it was tough to stifle my inner 8-year-old for a recent interview.

Many people don’t realize you write original music and direct music videos. Do you mind being pigeonholed as a parodist?

I would prefer people be aware of everything, but I understand the nature of things. Most people are reductive and think, “Oh, Weird Al, he’s the parody guy; the guy that messes up people’s songs.” I’ve come to accept that as reality. It’s nice to be known for something.

If you made an album under a pseudonym, what style of music would you choose?

I never had any real desire to do that, but my personal taste is sort of independent and alternative. It would probably still be fairly eclectic, but not as varied as my current albums, which run the gamut from polka to gangsta rap.

Is there any type of music you simply hate?

Nothing that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard or anything. Certainly I like some styles better than others, but I try to be accepting and appreciate all music.

Are your parodies based on personal taste?

I always say that personal taste doesn’t enter into it, but realistically I do tend to pick songs that I actually kind of like because in the back of my brain I realize I have to live with these songs for a long time.

It seems like your own childhood was pretty normal.

I don’t think anybody considers their childhood normal. There’s no family in the world that’s not dysfunctional. But I did have a pretty great childhood. It was a very happy upbringing. A lot of times people say comedy comes from a bitter or dark place, and I don’t have that reservoir to drain from. I’ve always been a fairly happy person in general.

What if you’d taken piano lessons instead of the accordion?

It very well might have been that one little change like that would have sent my life in a whole different direction. Dr. Demento told me on more than one occasion that the reason that he started playing my material was he thought it was a novelty to hear a teenage boy playing an accordion.

And if the Internet had been around when you were starting out?

Like everybody today, I would have been uploading my music on YouTube. But we didn’t have such a thing. Dr. Demento was the only outlet for my craziness. The Internet … it’s a positive thing. It’s wonderful that everyone now has access because 20, 30 years ago you were really beholden to the creative whims of executives and people working in tall glass towers casting judgment on you. Now if you want to be heard you can be. If your material is good, chances are people will wind up hearing you.