Tough Questions for ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic
Pop's premier jokester on Lady Gaga and his missing penis
Much has changed in the music industry since “Weird Al” Yankovic debuted on the scene with “My Bologna,” his 1979 parody of the Knack’s “My Sharona.” But the accordion-playing jokester is still as popular as ever. Actually, scratch that — at age 52, Yankovic is reaching his peak; his latest album Alpocalypse, debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200, his highest-charting LP ever, due mainly to his video for “Perform This Way,” a parody of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” which has racked up more than eight million views on YouTube. The October DVD release of “Weird Al” Yankovic Live! The Alpocalypse Tour gave us a fantastic excuse to talk shop
The new album cover depicts you as one of the Four Horsemen, only smiling and waving. Is that what we can look forward to in the impending Alpocalypse?
We all have our vision of the end of the world and I tend to put a happy face on mine. It’ll be a bright and friendly kind of apocalypse. And I figured I’d take the place of Famine. After all the songs I had written about food in the ’80s, that felt appropriate to me somehow.
Why have you stopped doing food-centric parodies, by the way?
I still make allusions to food, but after my record label decided, “Hey, we’re going to put out an album consisting entirely of your songs about food,” that was sort of my wake-up call. I decided to put a moratorium on the food songs and try to figure out other things to write about.
That 1993 food compilation roughly coincided with your decision to become a vegetarian. Is meat-based humor just funnier?
I wouldn’t say so. I don’t think that really enters into it at all. I still sing “My Bologna” onstage even though, you know, I don’t mean it. I can still sing about lunch meat with conviction.
Would you at least consider doing an ode to Tofurkey someday?
Sure. That is a staple of our Thanksgiving dinner. If I ever go back to writing food songs, Tofurkey will probably be high on the list.
Your albums also feature original compositions. Does it ever get to you that your own songs don’t become hits?
I’ve sort of given up being irritated by it. I mean, I guess it’s always been a pet peeve that half of my oeuvre is original work, yet it’s the full-on parodies that are always the ones that become hits. But the hardcore fans appreciate the originals and actually like them better than the parodies, so I can’t complain. I’m glad that people appreciate me for anything.
The cover of your 1992 album, Off the Deep End, parodies Nevermind. So where was your penis?
I was actually wearing a bathing suit, but because of the way my body was positioned, it looked like I wasn’t wearing anything. So we decided to go with that look. I never really anticipated going full-frontal on any of my album covers.
You have an architecture degree. Have you ever built anything?
I certainly have never been hired for work. I’ve done some remodeling in my house and I might have drawn up a floor plan for a bathroom, but that’s about the limit of my practical experience. I can still print very nicely. I’ve still got that architectural lettering.
Do you think your career would have turned out the same if the fan who dubbed you “Weird Al” in college had thought you were merely off-kilter?
My name might not roll off the tongue quite as easily. That could have had a devastating effect on my entire life. Obsequious? Effervescent? There’s so many adjectives I could have been saddled with. Luckily, “Weird” seemed to be a nice handle and nobody had taken it already.
How many people over the years have misspelled the word as wierd?
Quite a few. In fact, I believe we still have that spelling registered as a domain name. Scarily enough, I checked the traffic once, and 20 to 30 percent of traffic to WeirdAl.com is people searching for it with the incorrect spelling.
Has the Smithsonian asked for your geeky glasses from the “Eat It” video?
There have been a few events called Al-Con, which is a Weird Al convention by the fans. I gave them memorabilia to auction off for charity one year, and I think somebody paid a few hundred bucks for my old glasses. Oddly enough, more was paid for a baggie of my old dryer lint. Somebody paid, like, $600 specifically because there was a stray hair mixed in amongst the dryer lint. Not that that isn’t memorabilia, but I would have thought my old glasses had a little more sentimental value than my dryer lint. I guess I was wrong.
The stray hair lets them clone your DNA though.
Oh, I suspect there’s some weird science going on there already.