The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Weird Al Yankovic. For a musician who has made his living from parodying the works of others, Weird Al is a monster in his own right — able to force open discussion about his vast catalog, beginning with his 1983 self-titled album, to 2011’s Alpocalypse, while invoking a sense of joviality and meaningful contemplation. After all, when your albums sit on shelves belonging to both adolescents and adults, it’s hard to deny that Al’s humor is universal. Thirty years after debuting his Another One Rides the Bus on the Dr. Demento Show, Weird Al can safely say that the science behind his success hasn’t changed much.
VC Reporter: With a career spanning more than three decades, have you changed much for your live performances?
Weird Al: In the beginning, it was basically just me on stage with my band — a great band by the way — but it was a scaled-down version of a regular rock show. One of our first hits was “Ricky,” basically a duet with me doing the role of Ricky Ricardo and Tress MacNeille doing Lucille Ball. But Tress wasn’t touring with us so we weren’t able to play our big hit at the time live, so we had to play the video on a 16mm projector to appease the people who had come to see it. The next tour, we had the Michael Jackson hits, so I wore the zipper jacket with a lot of costume changes. Now it’s like a Broadway show, there’s a costume change for every single song, there’s a lot of production, the video element is used with the songs. Really, there’s never a dull moment.
You released the Internet Leaks EP before Alpocalypse, in a sense to get ahead of the piracy, kind of doing a trial and error on the digital age. Now the moment a new song is released, someone can upload a parody to YouTube. How have you adapted?
Experimenting! We’re trying to figure out what works. I want to take advantage of digital distribution as much as I can, because often doing the kind of material I do, it’s important to be timely and topical. I found when I did my T.I. parody, “Whatever You Like,” I was able to go from concept to it being on iTunes in less than two weeks, which is really exciting to me. I had never been able to release a parody while the original was still No.1 on the charts. There were pros and cons of the Internet Leaks EP. Some fans were disappointed when Alpocalypse was released because they felt that they didn’t get the experience of an entirely new album, though. If I had the chance to do that again, I probably wouldn’t. If I get a really topical idea for a parody, I might.
Did you see yourself, 30 years ago, being where you are now?
I never gave it a whole lot of thought. In fact everybody back then were browbeating me, telling me I wouldn’t be hanging around very long. I did novelty music. Nobody has a career doing that kind of thing — here today, gone tomorrow. I was always anticipating that I wouldn’t be around the next year. That’s why I was releasing an album every year in the ’80s, partly out of fear that it would be my last album. I was always trying to grab the brass ring while I could. I like knowing now that I’ve established myself to the point where I can pretty much release albums for as long as I like, because I have a fan base and a track record and people who sit by my side. It’s nice to not have that kind of pressure all the time.
Do you feel that you may have spawned millions of illegitimate humor children?
I’ve had a lot of artists and comedians who have told me that I’ve been an influence and listen to my records. It’s extremely gratifying. Some of my favorite artists tell me that I inspired them at one point in their life, so that’s very nice to hear, obviously.
To what do you attribute your longevity?
It’s hard . . .. I get asked that a lot and it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly. Part of that is pure luck and tenacity. Part of it is to expect quality writing and I don’t burn bridges. But most importantly, I surround myself with talented people. I’ve had the same band for 30 years. They’re very cool, very down-to-earth kind of guys. Put that together, it’s a very good base to work on.
Weird Al Yankovic will play the Ventura Theater on Sunday, Aug. 26, as part of the Alpocalypse tour. Tickets are $40 – $55. For more information, visit www.venturatheater.net or www.weirdal.com.