Parody is his specialty and the accordion is his "ax" of choice. And for 20 years, he's been using both to lampoon pop music's biggest hits. "Weird Al" Yankovic's popular music parodies have showcased him taking on scores of comedic, even outrageous, characters. That made it surprising to find him so downright normal during a recent telephone chat from his Los Angeles home. He wasn't exactly a walking endorsement of his craft, emitting little resembling humor.
Maybe he prefers this serious, straight-forward tone for the printed press, or perhaps that new look of his has gone to his head. Thanks to laser surgery, he finally ditched his trademark geek eyeglasses (for a period after the surgery he wore fake eyeglasses at the suggestion of his manager, just to appease those who preferred the older look). That mustache is gone too.
Or maybe Yankovic is just trying to save up all the laughs for paying customers who come out to his Khorassan Ballroom concert Wednesday night.
Wisecracker Yankovic, 40, has been doing this routine for 20 years now, taking hit songs and twisting them into funny new shapes and sounds. He's known for signature hits such as "Like a Surgeon" (from Madonna's "Like a Virgin"), "Eat It" (Michael Jackson's "Beat It"), "My Bologna" (the Knack's "My Sharona") and "Amish Paradise" (Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise"). He also lays claim to two Grammy awards and platinum albums an d he's directed videos for the likes of Hanson, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the Black Crowes.
His newest CD is "Running With Scissors," which includes "It's All About the Pentiums" (Puff Daddy's "It's All About the Benjamins"), "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi" (the Offspring's "Pretty Fly for a White Guy") and "Grapefruit Diet" (Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot," which picks up where "Eat It" and "Fat" (Michael Jackson's "Bad") left off.
The new CD also includes originals like "Germs," "My Baby's in Love With Eddie Vedder," "Your Horoscope," an 11-minute stream-of-consciousness opus titled "Albuquerque," and polka medley "Polka Power!" which recasts popular hits by the Backstreet Boys, Smash Mouth and Marilyn Manson into polka mode.
During the interview, Yankovic talked about which celebrity was ready to beat him down over a parody (and it's not Puff Daddy), who is most ripe for future parody treatment, his new look and where his novelty act fits in today's music world.
Post-Dispatch: Are you still able to get your parodies on MTV and the radio or has the market changed too much?
Weird: "The market hasn't changed much. It's always been difficult. I can get on the radio, but it's hard to get into regular rotation. Back in the '60s you could put out a novelty single and have a Top 10 hit and it's played in regular rotation like a real song. Now funny songs are relegated to morning drive radio.
"MTV has picked up the ball, been supportive where radio hasn't. But comedy tends to burn more quickly. Within three or four weeks it's run its run."
P-D: How does doing parodies today differ from doing parodies, say, 15 years ago?
Weird: "Pop culture is different. There are different styles, and they're always going to change. The mechanics of doing parodies are not that much different. But they (his parodies) used to be more about food. I burned out on that. "I think of different ways to be different. There's more rap now, more boy bands, less synthesizer-fueled music. I'm doing what I can do to find a way to turn something on its ear and make it funny."
P-D: What's your favorite parody of all time?
Weird: "I can't narrow them down to one favorite parody. But I can narrow them down to five -- "The Saga Continues," "It's All About the Pentiums," "Smells Like Nirvana," "Amish Paradise" and "Fat."
P-D: Has a celebrity ever been upset with a parody?
Weird: "I used to be able to say no. Then I had a misunderstanding with Coolio. He claims he never gave permission to use the song ("Gangsta's Paradise"), and the record label claims he did. He was a little unhappy. Someone asked him about the song backstage at the Grammys and he went off. He felt I desecrated his music, and that I should stay away from him."
P-D: You did a parody of Puff Daddy. Any regrets about doing that in light of all we've been hearing about him lately (firearms charges)?
Weird: "I have no regrets at all. And after the thing with Coolio, I wanted to make sure I didn't have another rapper mad at me. But I called him and he wasn't mad at all."
P-D: Is there an artist you've always wanted to parody but haven't?
Weird: "There's tons of artist I haven't gotten around to yet, tons of artists who are fodder for the next album. They'll all get their treatment eventually."
P-D: Any ideas on whom you're looking to parody next time around?
Weird: "All you have to do is watch MTV. Boy groups, teen acts, rap/metal, there's lots of stuff out there that would work.
P-D: What do you look for in a song?
Weird: "It's obvious that a song has to be really popular, with strong musical or lyrical hooks. It has to jump out at you when you hear it on the radio and see it on TV. I tend to pick songs I like, because I realize I have to live with those songs for a long time. And I generally pick an up-tempo song by a male artist. It's easier for me to emulate a song that way."
P-D: What would be an example of a song or type of song that just wouldn't work as a parody?
Weird: "I think I can do a parody of just about anything."
P-D: Why do a polka medley again?
Weird: "That's a staple of my albums. Very few haven't had a polka medley. I used to play rock 'n' roll songs on my accordion. I started doing that to amuse my friends. They said everything I used to play sounded like polka. And I thought maybe there's some humor to be gleaned from this."
P-D: It looks like you've done a mini-makeover by ditching your trademark eyeglasses and mustache.
Weird: "I hate to refer to it as a makeover. That sounds calculated. But it's cool to not have to wear eyeglasses. After a while I felt silly wearing the fake glasses. I lost the mustache and grew my hair out a bit to look different. Fans have to get used to it."
P-D: Your press release says you've sold more comedy albums than anyone else. Is that really true?
Weird: "Dr. Demento (a nationally-syndicated disc jockey whose show features zany music) tells me so, and he should know. I've sold 11 or 12 million CDs. That's not too shabby."