“Weird Al” Yankovic’s lasting appeal and the power of parody (interview)By John Wenzel | August 17th, 2012 | 2 comments
Children of the 1980s have had myriad chances to plumb the past, from music, fashion and TV to live-action film adaptations of toy lines like “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe.”
It’s essentially profit-driven nostalgia, sure, but it’s fun. So when an ’80s-indebted performer outlives that skinny-tied decade to establish a hugely successful, deeply-rooted career, it’s cause for celebration.
Especially when that performer is “Weird Al” Yankovic.
“I’m happy that anybody shows up to my concerts,” said Yankovic, arguably the world’s foremost pop culture parodist. “I’m comfortable playing a 30,000 seat arena and I’m fine playing a bar mitzvah.”
He kids, of course. The 52-year-old Lynwood, Calif. native, born Alfred Matthew Yankovic, is often noted as the top-selling comedy recording artist of all time. From his 1976 teenage start on Dr. Demento’s radio show to the present, the curly-haired, wild-eyed Yankovic has amassed platinum albums and Grammy Awards on his way to becoming a nerd superhero.
We caught up him with over the phone recently in advance of his Thursday Aug. 23 concert at the Arvada Center.
Have you been touring more lately or is it just me?
That’s entirely possible. I have next to zero control over where I actually wind up playing. I basically leave that to the professionals in charge and wherever the bus stops I get off and do a show. I guess I probably have been touring around Denver a little bit more recently.
So I’ve gotta ask: How have you been able to do this for so long without any serious competition?
With what I do, there are a lot of people certainly on YouTube that do funny videos and parodies, but I don’t think there’s anybody that’s specifically doing exactly what I do, and that’s nice. I like having the field more or less to myself, but I also feel a bit less unique in this day and age because I will never again be the first or only person to do a parody of any given pop song.
I’m assuming you mean because dozens of other people will have posted their own versions online by the time you get around to it?
Yeah, and it’s a little frustrating, but I’ve learned that I just have to keep blinders on. Whenever I think of an idea for a parody my immediate response is, “I should Google this and see if anybody else has come up with it.” And of course they have. That’s just how it works these days. Even on my Twitter feed there are a lot of jokes — especially when you’re doing topical humor — where I’m like, ‘20 other people have though of that.”
True, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone’s reading their versions.
With Twitter it’s like 100,000 people writing for the same late-night talk show, so there’s some overlap. But you just have to follow your muse.
Your first waves of fans have aged with you, but you’ve also managed to attract new and younger ones with each new album. How do you keep your appeal so broad and yet still have a specific point of view?
I try to keep it all in good fun. I have done stuff that’s sort of mean and biting — I think you can see some of that on the fake interviews on Al TV and “Face to Face” (on the Nerdist Channel) — but I try not to step on toes if I can help it. I try to stay away from political humor only because it really divides my audience. I don’t want half my audience to suddenly feel like I don’t speak for them. As a satirist I’ve been taken to task by people who think I should go for the jugular, but it’s been a challenge for me to do that.
Do you think you have a certain “type” of fan?
I think my crowd is the most diverse you’re likely to see at any given rock show, but I don’t know what to attribute that to. I think there’s something about the comedy that appeals to different people on different levels. But if I had to narrow it down I’d say the hardest-core fans would be the elderly Korean women. I don’t know why, but they seem to just really go nuts at my shows.
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