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Let us consider, for a moment, the career of “Weird Al” Yankovic.
In 1976, at 16, he handed a homemade tape of accordion-accompanied original songs to Los Angeles DJ Dr. Demento, who thought it clever enough to play the first track — “Belvedere Cruisin’,” about his family’s black Plymouth Belvedere — on his show. In 2014, at 54, his 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun, became the first-ever comedy album to debut atop the Billboard 200. And for the last four decades Yankovic has watched the throne he ascended in 1979 with his first single, “My Bologna,” ruling as the undisputed king of song parodies.
Even more impressive, he’s done it all without once punching down, without so much as a whiff of scandal, just 40-plus straight years of being a wholesome, genuine, nice dude. (As a copy editor, I also appreciate the consistency with which he’s maintained the quotation marks around “Weird Al.”)
You’ve heard the phrase “rule with an iron fist in a velvet glove”? Al has not. His velvet glove is filled with a nesting succession of smaller, velvetier gloves.
On Monday, Yankovic will finally receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is about as overdue as his Mark Twain Prize. The ceremony, which will stream live here beginning at 11:30 a.m. PT, will feature speeches from his early champion Dr. Demento, aka Barry Hansen, and Yankovic’s friend Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, The State), as well as Al himself. And it’s probably the fairest of bets that no one will ever take a sledgehammer to his square of black and red terrazzo.
Yankovic, who has kept up a robust touring schedule for most of his career, wrapped his 77-date Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour in June and is already prepping to hit the road in 2019 for what he says will be his biggest tour ever. Last week he sat down with THR to talk about those plans, his first and only foray into filmmaking and, uh, skin care.
Where are you in the world right now?
I am at home in Los Angeles.
So you’re done with the 2018 tour?
The tour is over. We had a great time. It was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but we all had such a wonderful time and it was such a successful tour that I think we’re probably gonna bring it back at some point in the future, but not for several years. Actually right now we’re all getting geared up for the 2019 tour, which is going to be completely different. This last tour was a very bare-bones tour without any kind of costumes or props or anything. It was as low-fi as we could possibly make it. And next year we’re gonna go the whole other direction and we’re gonna do our biggest-ever tour — every single show is going to be with a full orchestra. And it’s called Strings Attached. We don’t have any dates confirmed yet. It’s probably gonna be some time around summer next year. I think the plan is that we’re going to be able to announce dates probably around late October of this year.
People my age, who’ve been fans of yours since they were kids, are now growing up and old enough to bring their kids. When you’re doing these tours for your hard-core fans, are you noticing that there’s still those younger generations that are familiar with you through your more recent stuff? Is it people that are my age that are bringing their kids?
This last tour I noticed it kind of skewed more toward the older fans because the tour was really a love letter to people that have been following my career for 10, 20, 30 years. So, as a result, I think the demographic was a little older on this last tour. But in general for most of my tours and certainly for next year’s tour, it’s a big tent. I think kids and teenagers and college-age and middle-age and parents, grandparents, everybody. And they’re all enjoying the show. Maybe they’re all enjoying it on a slightly different level or they react to different things, but everybody seems to be having a good time, which is very gratifying.
I was having a conversation with a friend, who’s a musician and another big fan of yours, and we were talking about how, like, saying that you’ve had such a lengthy career and that you’ve “stayed relevant” is underselling the point that we were trying to make that you, I guess, haven’t adapted to the new-media, new-distribution-model environment so much as you were built for it.
(Laughs.) I guess so. It seems like kind of an empty quest to try to stay relevant. I’ve never consciously tried to do that. I do what I do and hopefully people enjoy it. But also, you need to embrace new technology and realize when the paradigm shift is happening, and certainly I don’t make and distribute music the way that I used to do in the ’80s.
Do you prefer the current ways of distributing music?
I mean I think there are certainly pros and cons, but more than not I think that there are a lot more good things to be said about the way that music is consumed these days. I appreciate the fact that because of digital distribution I can get my material out quickly. I don’t have to be beholden to any kind of physical media. It allows me to be more spontaneous and contemporary and also because of social media I’ve got immediate input from the fans. The one big drawback is the fact that nowadays people don’t seem to be buying music as readily as they did in the ’80s and ’90s.
And yet! Your last album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
I did, in fact, sell over 100,000 units of the last album, which was good enough for number one that week, so that was a big deal for me. I never dreamed that I would have a number one album ever in my life, so I’m still very happy about that.
When you’re a consumer of music and have to be, like, what are you into these days? What do you listen to for pleasure?
I hate to give a laundry list of bands that I listen to. I mostly listen to whatever my family listens to in the car. So my daughter listens to the satellite hit stations, so that’s how I kinda keep current on the new music. But usually music is like my comfort food, so I listen to a lot of music and a lot of artists and a lot of albums that I listened to in high school and college for nostalgic reasons, I suppose. And there’s some new bands out, again, I don’t want to start listing a bunch of names, but bands out that also I’m very excited about because they harken back to some eras in music that I quite enjoyed personally. I mean, they’re always making good music and you just have to seek it out.
Let me ask about the “Hamilton Polka.” That was a situation where, did Lin-Manuel Miranda reach out to you about that?
Yeah that’s kinda funny ’cause normally I would reach out to the artist and ask if it’s OK, but I’ve known Lin for a number of years where I guess at this point you could say we’re old friends. And about a year ago he said, “Hey I’m doing these Hamildrops and would you be interested in doing a Hamilton polka?” And that was one of those ideas that was sort of rolling around in the back of my head, and the fact that he actually approached me on it kind of cemented it, like, well yeah, that’s an obvious idea. Of course I’d like to do that. But then like a year went by and I didn’t hear from him again and I thought, “Oh, well this is not happening.” And then at the beginning of this year he said, “OK, we’re doing it! We can do it right now!” So I dropped everything and spent a month just arranging and producing and recording the “Hamilton Polka,” and we got it out I think right under the wire or right around the time when we needed to release it.
And the recent remixes with Portugal. The Man, as well. How did that come about?
The same way. They just reached out and said, “We would love for you to do a remix of a few songs.” And that wasn’t something that was in my wheelhouse, per se. I mean, I’m not a remixer. I said, “Well, do you want me to do something like a cool kind of techno thing?” And they go, “No, no could you put some accordion on it?” I go, “Oh, no, I know exactly what you want.” (Laughs.) “I’ve done this before; I know exactly how this works.” So I basically did polka remixes of their two songs [“Feel It Still” and “Live in the Moment”] and they were very happy with it. It’s kinda weird: That happened in January, too, so January was like my big polka month. I was working on the “Hamilton Polka” plus those two Portugal. The Man remixes.
Are you working on anything else now, a new album or anything?
I’m not currently working on any new music. We’re preparing and getting geared up for next year’s tour, and also I’m developing a pilot for an animated show for Amazon. I’m partnered with The Jim Henson Co. So we’ll see if that goes anywhere. And there’s a few other things that are sort of in various stages of development but nothing that’s far along enough that I can really talk about it right now.
I told your manager a story about how in the late ’90s I spent like $75 or some ridiculous amount on eBay buying a video store-used copy of UHF because it wasn’t out on DVD and I really wanted a copy. I have to ask about —
Do you want your money back?
No, the opposite! It is funny though because I was just thinking about how I was, I don’t know, eight or something. So it’s one of those things like The Simpsons where as a kid you laugh at the jokes but you don’t get the jokes until years later when you finally see Gandhi or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Do people still talk to you about that movie all the time and tell you really boring stories about buying copies off eBay?
(Laughs.) The movie has gone on to cult status, I suppose. It wasn’t any kind of box-office hit when it first came out in 1989, but over the years it built up a fan base through people watching it on cable TV and VHS tape and eventually DVD and now Blu-ray. And it has really been gratifying to me that the movie has gained such a fan base because it was very disheartening when it came out, ’cause we all thought that it was a funny movie and that it was going to be a hit and it was certainly not that. Every now and then I’ll go to screenings of the movie around the country and do Q&A sessions, and it’s just so wonderful to watch people watching the movie that are big fans and they’ve got the movie memorized — they’ll chant along with the dialogue like it’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show or something. It’s an amazing thing to see, and like I said it means a lot to me after all these years that people still care about it.
When did that start to happen that you sensed it had become a thing?
It’s kind of hard to say exactly when the tipping point was, but I’m pretty sure that the DVD came out 13 years later, so that would’ve been —
2002. I know because I had an Amazon alert set for if it ever came out and I remember getting the email in college and being like, “You guys! It finally happening for me!”
Something like that. So the DVD came out and it was a top 10 best-selling DVD, which took everybody by surprise because MGM put out the DVD as a fluke ’cause they knew that this movie’s got some fans, we might as well put this out, and they were not expecting it to be a top-10 DVD, so that was a nice surprise for everybody.
I don’t know if you saw on Twitter but people were talking about Angela Bassett had turned 60 last week, the great Angela Bassett, and how like absolutely incredible she looks at 60. And there was the Tom Cruise-Wilford Brimley thing. And it occurred to me, you know who else looks great? “Weird Al.” (Laughter.) And you’re 58. I don’t know if you have any skin-care tips you want to share?
Yeah I’ve been pretty lucky, thanks. I don’t have any big skin-care regimen. I guess I’ve got good DNA. And I also stay out of the sun a lot — I think that has something to do with it maybe.
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