“Weird Al” Yankovic has come a long way since he mailed cassettes to the Dr. Demento Radio Show. He’s become an institution. He’s about to voice a lead in a Disney animated movie. Al’s Brain is a 3D theme park attraction. Yankovic’s Mandatory Fun was the first comedy album in over fifty years to hit #1 on the Billboard charts.
He won four Grammys gently ribbing pop culture, celebrities, and deli meat and is the biggest-selling comedy recording artist in history. History. That means he outsold Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Cheech and/or Chong. Weird Al was the first guest editor in MAD magazine’s 63-year history. Artists like Don McLean forget their own words in concert and sing Weird Al’s take-offs instead.
Paul McCartney makes cameos for the white and nerdy icon, even if he won’t touch his Chicken Pot Pie. Yankovic has stayed current, realizing how Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” was so “Tacky”, and pointing out that Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” committed “Word Crimes.”
Weird Al is about to bring his comically musical gifts to IFC’s Comedy Bang Bang when he debuts as the band leader in this season’s premiere episode, “Kevin Bacon Wears a Blue Button Down Shirt and Brown Boots.” Den of Geek had a phone chat with Weird Al about two worlds he straddles, comedy and music. His voice is deeper than the boyishly character he plays. It is almost borderline broadcaster quality. Weird Al may have traded his accordion for an electronic keyboard on Comedy Bang Bang, but he is still riffing.
Den of Geek: Both my standup friends and my musician friends were very excited that I was interviewing you. You straddle both worlds, when you wake up in the morning, do you think of yourself as a comedian or a musician?
Weird Al: I’m usually just looking for the cereal. I don’t think about that too often. I don’t really need to choose, I can do both. I like to think that I can do more than one thing at a time. I don’t often think of myself as one thing over the other so I can’t really answer your question.
You’ve had the training in both, you know your scales as well as you know the pickle is funny law, which is the tougher discipline?
Pickles or rules? They both have their disciplines. They both are a craft and a skill. It’s kind of hard to compare. There are a lot of people who probably think they are funny, or maybe that’s more of a natural talent, and musicianship is something that’s more of a practiced skill. Though comedy is a practiced skill as well. They are two different endeavors that I feel very fortunate that I’m able to do both of them.
Was it hard to step into Kid Cudi’s shoes?
Well, he’s a size nine and I’m a ten and a half, so it was really a little bit snug. It was a challenge to do Comedy Bang Bang but, at the same time, it was a thrill because every single day I got to go on set and work with some of the funniest people in the world. I loved the writes out there. I was right along with their sensibility. I always felt very protected and had a great time every single day. But it was difficult to follow Reggie Watts and Kid Cudi, because they had a standard of excellence and I was trying to maintain that standard and a the same time bring something new to it. Hopefully, I was able to pull that off, somewhat.
What talk-show bandleader sidekicks did you watch in prep for Comedy Bang Bang? Did you go back to the days of Doc Severson?
Sure, but the honest answer is mostly I watched Reggie Watts because he was specific kind of bandleader. But those were also based on the classic bandleaders of the past so I collected a kind of working knowledge of the others who’ve had the job.
You recently performed “What Is Life” at George Fest: A Night to Celebrate the Music of George Harrison. Do you have a special connection with George Harrison?
I’ve never played “What Is Life” other than at George Fest, but that was a lot of fun. I’ve always been a huge George Harrison fan and a big Beatles fan. It was a real thrill to be asked to be part of that. Dhani Harrison put it together. He’s a wonderful guy and I think he put together an amazing tribute to his father. Just to be asked to be included in that celebration was an amazing thing for me.
What are your favorite humorous songs from straight rock artists, intentional and otherwise?
There are a lot of them. A lot of what you consider “straight rock artists” sometimes come up with a novelty song, like Styx had a song called “Plexiglass Toilet,” which was a little outside their norm. The Beatles had a number of what would be considered novelty songs: “You Know My Name (Look up the Number,” even “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” verges into novelty territory. There are quite a few that would probably fit that description.
Why so many songs about food? Is it an easy go-to or are you just not getting enough to eat?
I haven’t written a lot of food songs in the last ten or twenty years, but in the eighties I wrote a lot of songs about food. I’m not exactly sure, maybe because I was a starving artist for a while, or maybe I just thought food was funny. I guess it was an easy go-to. It felt to me like if you could change a song about unrequited love to a song about food, it just felt funny somehow.
I read Kurt Cobain said you could smell like Nirvana as long as it the song wasn’t about food, are there any more weighty subjects you’ve wanted to tackle you didn’t have the stomach for?
Weighty subjects? I don’t know if there’s anything on my list that I’ve always wanted to do that I never got around to doing. I’ve got a notebook full of ideas but I can’t think of any topic that’s been burning a hole in brain for twenty years: “I wish I could write a song about this but never have been able to.” So, it’s kind of dependent on the song itself and if I can come up with a concept that works with that song. It’s not about wanting to write a song about a particular topic.
Has there ever been a song you wanted to tackle with a parody but couldn’t get it to work?
Yeah, that happens a lot. That happens a lot more than I like. Because there are a lot of songs, a lot of artists, that I think “that would be a good target. I’d love to do a parody of that.” And then I think and I come up with a thousand ideas and all of them are bad. So, it’s not always easy to come up with a parody idea that meets my standards. If I don’t feel like I can come up with something that’s really good then I’ll just walk away from it. That happens a lot more often than I’d like. A lot of those songs, actually, will go into the polka medley because I figure I have to, at least, acknowledge them because they’re so big in the zeitgeist and, you know? They sound better as polka anyway.
That brings me to the polka portion of the interview. Who are your top three polka heroes?
Oh gosh, I’m gonna go with Gary Yaeger for one. Probably Walter Ostanek. And oh, sure, let’s go with James Durf, why not?
Are there any polka groupies?
[Laughs] You’ll have to ask them. Not to my knowledge.
Will you ever release an album that was strictly polka?
Probably not. I don’t think I’ll be releasing any more albums period. But if anybody wants a collection of all my polka medleys, if they want an album of just those, they can feel free to burn their own albums.
Will we be hearing the 3-D “unplugged medley” in your upcoming tour?
Yeah, I did that medley last year and it is, in fact, the same tour this year, so it will be part of the show.
Are the cheerleaders on your tour single?
It depends. We have different cheerleaders for different shows, so you’d have to ask them yourself.
I know Madonna came up with the idea for “Like a Surgeon,” are either of you ever concerned that you might need surgery?
Yeah that’s a concern. I’m concerned that she may need surgery and I’m concerned that I might need surgery. I don’t think if I had to undergo surgery, that my surgeon would take offense at that song even if he heard it.
I read that when you met Prince you weren’t allowed to make eye contact. Did you sneak a peek?
I did yes.
Did you steal his soul?
I don’t think so.
Have you ever thought about playing a villain role on Law and Order SVU?
No, I never gave it too much thought.
What’s it like to now be a Disney cartoon?
It’s pretty cool. I’m Milo Murphy on Milo Murphy’s Law , which I think is starting in October on Disney XD. It was created by the guys who created Phineas and Ferb and it’s pretty cool to be part of the Disney Universe. I’ve got a lot of really cool people in the cast. My sister is Kate Micucci, my dad is Dietrich Vader who are both good friends of mine. It was a really fun little group.
Comedy Bang! Bang! season 5 Premieres Friday, June 3 on IFC.