Whether you love or loathe Weird Al Yankovic's myriad parodies, Weird Al, himself, is difficult to hate. Just watch the "Behind the Music" special on the lovable lampooner, and you'll have a whole new take on him, assuming the old one was dubious. It was there the world first became aware that Weird Al won't parody an artist unless the mark gives his or her approval--a courtesy he doesn't legally need to extend. "That's the reason that I've never done a Prince parody," he says today. "I haven't asked him in the last 20 years, but all through the '80s I asked him and he never thought it was a good idea."
Weird Al is now three decades-plus into a career that essentially catapulted once Michael Jackson's career did, with send-ups of songs like "Beat It" ("Eat It") and "Bad" ("Fat") that became MTV staples -- back when MTV played music videos.
Since then Weird Al has parodied everyone from Nirvana and Queen to Madonna and Coolio, and be very successful in doing so. Touring in support of 2011's "Alpocalypse" -- which includes parodies of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus -- Lowcountry Current caught up with the Polka King before his April 16 show in Jacksonville to chat about parody regrets, why he remains relevant and enduring the public's song suggestions.
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Question. Have you ever had an idea to parody a song once the song was no longer relevant?
Answer. Yeah, that's happened, or because of the way the album release cycles happen, sometimes I'll have an idea too early in the cycle, and the parody will be too dated by the time the album comes out. I think maybe I wanted to do a Vanilla Ice parody, but it was two years before the album came out, so by that time it would have been a little too dated.
Q. When you decide on a song to parody, do you ever consider whether the original has the potential to be timeless?
A. To some extent. It doesn't need to be a timeless, live-in-the-Smithsonian kind of song, but also I don't don't want to do something that's so ephemeral that it's only funny for a few months, which is one of the reasons I've stayed away from political humor. That changes so rapidly, and political jokes don't age very well. Songs about grapefruit and Amish people (do). I kind of pick subject matters that I think will be at least funny five years from now.
Q. Why do you think your parodies have endured for so long, especially since radio DJs have been doing them for years and now anyone with a cameraphone and video-editing software can too?
A. I don't know. I've been very lucky. I surround myself with very talented people. I spend a lot of time and effort (making) everything I do. I'm a little bit OCD in that I spend a lot of attention to detail. And even though they're ostensibly silly little songs, I'll spend months working on them and getting every detail just right. I'm not sure everyone on YouTube does that.
Q. To do your job well, you must be very plugged into pop culture. Are you a pop culture fan or is it merely a career imperative to be so?
A. Both. I'm definitely a pop culture fan but sometimes I'm not as plugged in as others. I'm writing the originals on the (new) album right now so I don't need to be listening to the Top 40 station all day long. I do enjoy pop culture, even though, for my own listening amusement, I'd probably be listening to more alternative or indie music, but I definitely have an appreciation for all kinds of music.
Q. I would imagine your job got harder now that MTV doesn't play music videos anymore, and they were so tied to what you did for a long time.
A. Well, I would be much less inclined to do a shot-for-shot video parody for the reasons that you just mentioned. I think that video is still an important part of promoting your music, and for that reason I'm still planning on putting out music videos. The budgets have dried up. The record companies don't want to pay for videos anymore, so I'm trying to figure out different ways to be creative and to get my vision out there without paying a lot of money for them. I'm working with animators. I'm working with people who are more about the art than the money.
Q. Is any artist off limits to parody?
A. No, I don't think anyone is sacred or beyond parody. There might be particular songs that are too emotional or too touchy or wouldn't be cool to make fun of. But, in terms of artists, I don't think anyone is off limits.
Q. Have you had artists suggest you parody them?
A. Yeah, I don't want to give you any names, but I've been at the occasional party or awards show and someone would say, "Hey, when are you going to do 'blank'?' And I say, "Well, take a number." (laughs)
Q. I always thought you missed an opportunity with Guns n' Roses' "Patience" You should have done something with hospital patients.
A. That would have been good. Those kind of opportunities come up all the time. I wish I had a time machine.
Q. Do people come up to you and make recommendations?
A. Well, that's sort of the bane of my existence. I can't go anywhere in public without someone coming up to me with an idea, because people hold on to their parody ideas. I'll be shopping for groceries, "Yeah, I had this idea in third grade, you should have done ..."
Q. Generally when they give you the ideas, are they any good?
A. Oh, well, about 99 percent of the time they're pretty bad.
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