So, Weird Al, this is like a real job, huh?

by Rodney Richey

Alfred Yankovic was a young, impressionable architecture student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo when he received his calling. In a men's room.

Perhaps some explanation is in order. The ceramic tile in the men's room made it an acoustically adequate, make-shift recording studio. There the disillusioned design scholar recorded his own version of The Knack's My Sharona. His was called My Bologna.

"Weird Al" has found himself.

"It was kind of scary for me, because I knew about halfway through architecture school that I wasn't cut out for this kind of thing," Yankovic said in a recent phone interview. He will be performing in a concert at 5 p.m. Sunday in the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis.

"I was, like, the whiz kid at my high school. I was the valedictorian, graduated when I was 16. I was this complete nerd guy, and everyone thought, 'Well, great things are ahead for him.'

"When I went to architecture school, I found out I was very average, plus the fact that I really didn't like it, plus the fact I was working 22 hours a day, and I didn't like that either."

So he tried to do something with these songs he'd been writing. Since then, the 33-year old parodist has good-naturedly lampooned dozens of popular recordings, with the most prominent motif being food. Witness I Love Rocky Road (from Joan Jett's I Love Rock 'n' Roll) or Eat It (from Michael Jackson's Beat It), or even Spam (from R.E.M.'s Stand). Other parodies include Another One Rides The Bus (from Queen's Another One Bites The Dust), Living With A Hernia (from James Brown's Living In America), Like A Surgeon (from Madonna's Like A Virgin), I Lost on Jeopardy (from Greg Kihn's Our Love's In Jeopardy) and his several polka medleys.

What began as a joke has become a career and an identification for the wire-haired, bespectacled, Hawaiian shirt-wearing accordian player.

But he never did shirk his studies.

"I finished up and actually got my degree," he said, "and to this day, I can still print pretty neatly, but that's about all I took with me from architecture school."

Perils in such a career were many, and Yankovic managed to avoid them all. Although he occasionally gets calls from weekly humor services all across the country, to write parodies for radio stations, he has declined their offers. He does not rush his muse, sometimes to the consternation of his record label.

"Luckily, the've been very good about that. I mean, before this album came out, there was a 3-year time period where I didn't have any records out. And everybody on my label was getting pretty antsy, for obvious reasons, and I wanted to have an album out, too, but there just wasn't anything I felt strongly enough about."

Weird Al paused, then added the words that changed his life: "Until Nirvana came along."

The Seattle-based alternative rock band Nirvana came out in 1991 with the smash hit Smells Like Teen Spirit, an elusive, vague riff with at times unintelligible lyrics.

Yankovic's parody, Smells Like Nirvana, complete with look-alike video, was a hit itself and reinstalled Weird Al at the top of the parody game.

Who would have thought that a recording done in a men's room and shipped off to a fairly obscure weekly humor program called The Dr. Demento Show would have kicked off a 13-year career?

"I guess, my career has lasted a lot longer than most of the people I parodied early on," he said. "Yeah, I'm continually surprised at my good fortune. I suppose at some point, when people get completely sick of me, I'll have to slide behind the scenes and do more producing, directing, or writing."

His longtime record producer, Union City native Rick Derringer, did not work on Yankovic's latest, Off The Deep End.

"I felt kind of bad about not working with Rick, because I love Rick and I love having him in the studio," he said.

"But after doing six albums with him, I felt like I was confident enough to hold the reins all by myself. Certainly nothing against Rick at all, because he's a great guy. I'd love to work with him in some capacity in the future."

As far as directing or writing films, Weird Al's not interested.

"It's just too much work, frankly, for me to start writing a script and sell it. If I start writing a movie now, if I'm lucky, maybe it will be 4 or 5 years before it would appear on the screen, whereas if I wrote a song right now, I could have it out in record stores in a couple of months. That's more immediate gratification."

Gratifying must be the key adjective "Weird Al" Yankovic would use to describe what began as a joke and has left him a reasonably well-off man who makes people laugh by screwing up other people's work.

"I guess I've kind of allowed myself to think of this as a career now, but it took a little bit of convincing for me to buy into the fact that I could do this and get paid for it.

"I was still working in the mailroom, even after my first album came out, It wasn't until I hit the Billboard Hot 100 that I gave notice at work and said:'OK, I can't be taking out the trash anymore. I'm sorry.'"

So, hey, this is actually a job?

"It beats digging ditches."