A Weird Al Yankovic concert is more than just a concert. It’s an experience as Yankovic does a bit of everything. He changes into a countless number of different outfits and shows funny, home-made videos in which he takes clips of celebrity interviews and inserts his own colorful commentary, drawing from stand-up comedy and theater in the process.
“We just want to give people as much entertainment as we can possibly cram into a two-hour show,” he says via phone from a Louisville tour stop. He brings his Return of the Mandatory World Tour to the Akron Civic Theatre at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 24. “First and foremost, it’s a high-energy rock show with the same band I’ve had since my first album. We have a big screen video projection and a ton of costumes and props. We try to make it as theatrical as possible and make it a real production. It gets bigger and better every time out. My very first tour was very primitive. We had an 8mm projector, and we played the ‘Ricky’ video on it. The next time out, ‘Eat Out’ was a big hit so I wore a Michael Jackson jacket. It’s evolved into a full on multi-media extravaganza.”
Yankovic says he never imagined that his career would take off the way it has. In the beginning, he started performing on Thursday nights at his college coffeehouse. Students would go and sit and have a coffee and watch local artists and students perform. Nine times out of ten, some guy would play an acoustic guitar and sing a Dan Fogelberg song. Then, Yankovic would come up with his accordion and sing “some goofy song in a strangled voice and freak everyone out.” It would always get a huge reaction because it was just so different. That’s when he got his first love of performing and realized he could make people laugh. By the time he graduated from college, he didn’t think he would do architecture for the rest of his life, but he thought he could maybe become a performer.
Initially, Yankovic released “My Bologna,” a sendup of the Knack tune “My Sharona.” That was the first of many Weird Al songs to become hits on a novelty radio program hosted by Dr. Demento. It became No. 1 for several weeks on Demento's Funny Five. The guys in the Knack even heard the song and liked it.
“I had been doing dumb parodies since I was 8 years old,” Yankovic recalls. “Like every other kid in the universe, I would make fun of the songs I heard on the radio. In my early teens I became fixated with the Dr. Demento Radio Show. He played comedy and novelty and weird things on the radio and I fit right in with that. I sent him my homemade tapes. ‘My Bologna’ was something I recorded in the bathroom across the hall from my college campus radio station. It even got released on Capitol Records — the original bathroom copy.”
From point on, Weird Al set his sights on pop’s biggest tunes. Throughout the ’80s, he was a staple on MTV as he parodied pop stars such as Michael Jackson. When grunge hit in the ’90s, Yankovic was there to poke fun at Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and when hip-hop became huge, he delivered “White & Nerdy,” a sendup of "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone.
“I was very lucky,” Yankovic says. “I was an outlier in the Malcolm Gladwell sense. When MTV started out, artists weren’t in the habit of making videos. MTV needed music videos. Artists weren’t in the habit of making music videos. If you had a video, they’d play it. My first couple of videos weren’t that great. They were cheaply produced but just because they existed, they got some airplay. When ‘Eat It’ hit, that made me an overnight celebrity, and I was being recognized on the streets. I had lived my whole life in relative anonymity until that day when I became the ‘Eat It’ guy.”
With his latest effort, 2014’s Mandatory Fun
, he proves that he’s still at the top of this game as he turns Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” into “Word Crimes,” Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” into “Tacky,” Lorde’s “Royals” into “Foil” and Iggy Azaela’s “Fancy” into “Handy.”
“The thought process is similar to every other album,” he says of the release. “I wrote the originals first because those can stay in the vault and not become so dated and musty. I tend to write the parodies at the last minute because it keeps them more topical. It’s a puzzle. Half of the material is parody, and you don’t want it to be old news. I let the voices in my head tell me what to write an act accordingly.”
The disc also provided Yankovic with another Grammy, and critics have described the album as Yankovic’s best work. He agrees with that assessment.
“It’s a personal thing so it’s hard for me to be objective about it, but I do think of it as my best work,” he says. “I could pick and choose songs from my various albums that I like. My best album is probably more The Essential Collection
. Those tracks are from all the albums. As an original studio album, I would go with Mandatory Fun
also comes at the end of the 14-album contract Yankovic had with his record label. Now that he’s no longer obligated to put out albums, he says he might not continue to put them out. After all, we live in a world where timeliness is everything. Songs become hits and then quickly fade so any attempt at parody has to be swift.
“I don’t think it makes the most sense for me to wait until I have 12 songs and release them all at once,” he says. “I would like the opportunity to record and release it in a short amount of time. I haven’t been proactive because I have had other projects come my way, but that’s certainly the plan.”
Weird Al Yankovic — The Return of the Mandatory World Tour, 8 p.m., Friday, June 24, Akron Civic Theatre, 182 S. Main St., Akron, 330-253-2488. Tickets: $37.50-$55, akroncivic.com.