Music » Music Feature

Apocalypse Now: Our Q & A with Weird Al Yankovic

by

Weird Al Yankovic has written a number of brilliant parodies over the past 30 years. Songs such as "Another One Rides the Bus," "Eat It," "Like a Surgeon," "Fat," "Amish Paradise" and "White & Nerdy" are classics. On his latest album, last year's Alpocalypse, he took aim at pop acts such as Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. We phoned him recently to talk about the current tour that's coming to Cain Park this week.

In creating When I Grow Up and My New Teacher and Me, what surprised you most about writing a children's book?

I guess what surprised me most of all was the amount of time it took to come out! I'm used to a certain amount of lag time in the music business, but with a children's book there's considerable lag time. When I finished the text and sent it in, they sent back an email with a proposed release date, and I thought, "Oh no, there's a typo, you've got the year wrong!" It was like two years after I finished writing it that it was supposed to come out.

Did you have any input in how the book would come out visually?

[Illustrator] Wes [Hargis] didn't tell me how to do my job, and I didn't tell him how to do his. I basically wrote the text and sent it along to him and he did his thing. We both got a lot of input from the editor at HarperCollins, but we worked independently. I was kept in the loop and got the rough comments, but I usually didn't have any comments except for, "It looks great!"

Now that you have the chance to add "New York Times Bestselling Author" to your resume a second time, what achievement would you say you're most proud of?

It's hard to say. I mean I've done a lot of things that I never dreamed I'd be able to do. I've gotten to write and star in a major motion picture, gotten my own TV series on a major network, won Grammys and done all sorts of really cool stuff. Usually it's the little things that really stick with me. It was a huge thrill to be on 30 Rock — Tina Fey actually wrote a script that featured me as a major part of the plot, and something like that is a pretty heady thing for me. I still considerate it a high plateau of my career when I got to be on The Simpsons. I've been very fortunate in my career to do things that I never would have dreamed of as a teenager. It all continues to amaze me that I get to do what I do for a living.

Heading into the fourth decade of your career, what do you do to keep your live show fresh, especially when you're visiting the same city from one year to the next?

We don't really change the show a whole lot from tour to tour — the Alpocalypse tour is basically the same set-list. It gradually evolves, because at the beginning of the tour we're doing a lot of new things, we've got a lot of new film clips, and we kind of see what works and what doesn't work. But once we've got it down and we feel like it's a tight show with everything working, it doesn't change a whole lot from night to night. It doesn't get old for us because a lot of the audience is still having a good time, laughing and cheering. It's always an adrenaline rush for us. There are a lot of songs that we pretty much have to play. I think about half the tour stays the same because we want to play the hits.

Are there any of the hits that you've gotten sick of playing over the years?

I wouldn't say that. We have retired some things, but they may come back in the future. But we try to mix it up, so it's more about the audience getting sick of it. We don't want anybody to feel that anything's getting played out or is too dated. And there are some songs that I've literally done for 30 years, but the fans still enjoy them so we keep playing them.

Your costume changes are a big part of your live show. What was the first costume you ever wore on stage?

It was probably the "Eat It" jacket, I'm guessing. When I first started touring, it wasn't any kind of theatrical, multimedia show. I think the first multimedia was us bringing out a 16-millimeter projector and playing the "Ricky" video. That song was a duet between me and Tress MacNeille, and we couldn't tour with her but we also had to acknowledge the fact that that was our big hit single at the time, so we played the video instead of performing it. So when "Eat It" was a hit, we busted out the Michael Jackson zippered red jacket. Then it was kind of a slow slide into more theatricality, and it became more about costume changes and film clips. Now it's a full-on multimedia show.

Has it become challenging at all to do the costume changes between songs as you've added more and more to your show?

There are definitely a lot more logistics to it than the typical rock show. It means that we can't be totally spontaneous and really take requests from the audience or mix it up from night to night. Everything is planned out to the second — we know exactly how many seconds it takes to go from one costume change to the next. We figure it out and make it as lean and mean as possible so there isn't a second wasted on stage. It is a bit of a challenge, but it's something that we've gotten pretty good at doing.

Is there a costume that's your favorite from night to night?

As long as I'm not particularly overweight, I like the Jim Morrison costume. When I'm a few pounds over, the button on the leather pants keeps popping. But otherwise, it's fun to inhabit the soul of the "Lizard King." I like that character because I don't have to worry about forgetting lyrics or anything — if I do forget the lyrics it's still in character.

Is there one that you don't like?

That would definitely be the peacock outfit that I'm wearing on this tour for the Lady Gaga parody. It seemed like a really good idea at the time, but it's really hot and really heavy. Especially when we're doing outdoor shows in humid weather, it's pretty unbearable. I definitely have a new respect for sports mascots that have to wear those costumes all day long.

What's your favorite part of putting on a live show?

It's just the audience. It's the only part of my job description where I get immediate gratification. You know exactly the moment when something is going over or not, if it's funny or not, and it's that kind of adrenaline that I think feeds and informs most performers.

Are there any particular instances where a fan reaction after the show blew you away?

I'm mostly impressed and touched by people who tell me my music has helped them get through a difficult time in their lives. I just read a letter from the parent of a child who said that he had a young child with a degenerative eye disease and would be going blind in a couple years, and it was on his wish list to see one of my shows before he went completely blind. It's those kind of stories that really touch me in a deep and profound way.

comment

Add a comment