Lt. Frank Drebin walks across the tarmac to the podium. He launches into a tirade, chastising the throng of reporters waiting for him.
“Frank,” Capt. Ed Hochak interrupts. Drebin is taken aback. “Frank, they’re not here for you. ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic is on the plane.”
Thing is, even though the joke in The Naked Gun is that a goofball like Yankovic would be more popular than a puffed-up wannabe hero cop, it was absolutely true in 1988 when the movie was released and Yankovic was riding “Fat” to a gold record for Even Worse. It couldn’t even pass for a joke now, after a 2014 that was The Year of ‘Weird.’ There’s no gulf left for irony.
It was like some bizarre “Donna Martin graduates” moment last summer when, in the week leading up to the release of his 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun, Yankovic released eight videos in eight days, and the pop culture Internet, all at once, collectively exploded. It became the first No. 1 album of his career, which includes In 3-D, the album with “Eat It.” If you don’t remember MTV in 1984, you should A) stop Instagramming your food for a second and B) recognize that “Eat It” in 1984 got more air time on MTV than “Beat It.”
“I never felt like I was in the spotlight as much as I did that week of [the Mandatory Fun] release,” Yankovic says. “My career has obviously been hills and valleys, and I know when I’m in the spotlight and when the heat is on me. But I’d never felt quite as hot as I did that week. There are stars who have to live like that their whole lives. That would be uncomfortable for me. During that week I kind of felt myself feeling, ‘Oh, I’m too famous right now.’”
Now, after years of appearing mainly in Las Vegas-area venues such as Primm’s Star of the Desert Arena, the Cannery and—way back in the day—the Aladdin, he’s kicking off his Mandatory World Tour with five consecutive dates at the Planet Hollywood Showroom beginning May 12.
Any and all Las Vegans, including Coolio, are welcome.
“If he wants to come to the show, I’ll be happy to put him on the list,” Yankovic says. Fair warning, Coolio: There’s a pretty good chance “Amish Paradise” makes it onto the setlist.
Yankovic’s shows are a dizzying display of quick-change costumes, music video integration and infectious genre-hopping. Yet he doesn’t get half the credit for it that Cher did, and Cher never had to climb into an inflatable fat suit.
When he kicks off the Mandatory tour, he’ll have to figure out which aspects of the new album to incorporate into the live show, which is always a challenge, he says. The big setpieces tend to revolve around his videos. Of the eight videos for Mandatory, five of them are live action, which narrows the costumed numbers some.
One of those videos, for “Foil,” Yankovic’s parody of Lorde’s “Royals,” featured cameos from Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant. Those writers/comedians are formerly of the sketch group The State, whose stars David Wain, Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, etc., did Wet Hot American Summer, a movie that spawned a prequel series currently being shot for Netflix, on which Yankovic will appear.
That might be a little convoluted, but it’s indicative of the way Yankovic has influenced—and in turn been absorbed by—the alternative comedy scene of which The State crew are part and parcel. It never would have happened if Yankovic didn’t run into Lennon at a Staples one afternoon. Just two influential comics shoppin’ for toner at the same time, who go on to be best friends. It’s basically Sleepless in Seattle for parodists. Regardless, Yankovic became part of the fabric of the Los Angeles comedy scene.
“I don’t know if there was always that exact scene when I started out, but I always felt like I was alternative, I was an outsider,” he says. “There’s nothing more punk than playing the accordion.”
Last May, when Yankovic went on Comedy Central’s @midnight, host Chris Hardwick and his old comedy partner Mike Phirman geeked out so hard for Yankovic’s appearance on the show that they quoted verbatim the entire Don Pardo section from 1984’s “I Lost on Jeopardy.” It was, even indirectly, the biggest moment Greg Kihn has had in 30 years.
“It’s pretty emotional,” Yankovic says. “Those guys are friends of mine, but I guess they were also fans of mine since they were teenagers. It’s pretty great to think I meant that much to people like that.”
It’s not just that Yankovic had such a profound effect on a generation of comedians. It’s that he was a totem for an entire generation of oddballs and weirdos. Those super sexy Joe Strummer-as-polka-god metaphors don’t only apply to Yankovic himself. (Just, uh, trust us on this one; there was a lot of Polka Party in our childhood.) When you go to a Yankovic show now, you see second-generation fans watching with their parents. Young misfits learning at the knee of their elders. It’s why Mandatory Fun’s rise to the top of the charts wasn’t just nostalgia; it was catharsis.
“It’s hard to comprehend,” he says. “It’s a pretty heady concept to realize that I’ve had any kind of impact on people. I’ve been around long enough that people listened to my material when they were growing up, and it had some kind of formative influence on them I had to assume. It feels wonderful, but it’s hard for me to take in.”
As far as the fervor with which any contemporary artist is beloved, Yankovic may clock in behind Zayn (1D4EVA!), but he’s got to be able to hang with damn near anyone else. If anyone’s in a position to make a solid go of it without record-label backing, it’s Yankovic.
Without the monoculture (Bruno Mars excepted), the targets might not hit as hard as “Like a Surgeon.” But Yankovic wants the flexibility to get something out there when a song breaks big (Bruno Mars very much included), to be able to compete with the throngs of YouTube parodists crowdsourcing their way to a bland middle. It’s why he was, despite serious temptation, able to turn down a new record deal.
“They offered me enough money that made me go, ‘Ohhhh, really?’” he says. “Ultimately, I feel great knowing I’m not beholden to anybody. Hopefully fans will embrace what I do going forward even if what I do going forward isn’t as popular as what I’ve done in the past. Because I’m doing it independently, it doesn’t need to be as popular.”
Doesn’t seem like that’ll be an issue with a dedicated fanbase. Although no matter how dedicated the fanbase is—and it hurts to wallow in this kind of bad news—it’s not going to be enough to get him to do a sequel to his cult-fave flick UHF.
“I would love to do another movie,” he says. “But that would not be my first choice or my 20th choice.”
Aw, c’mon. Now how are we supposed to drink from the firehose?
8 p.m. May 12-16, the Showroom at Planet Hollywood, $59-$89, 1-800-745-3000.