Lyrical Assassin: The Weird Al Yankovic Interview
Weird Al Yankovic, is arguably both the world’s greatest lyricist and one of the best live performers working today. His shows include multiple costume changes, video and light shows, Van Halen-level accordion shredding and Yankovic’s near double-jointed ability to kick above his head. In his mid-50s, he still brings an energy that most performers in their 20s couldn’t match.
To preview his performance at Britt on Wed., September 2, The Messenger spoke with Yankovic about his plans for dubstep, whether we’ll ever see a sequel to his cult hit movie UHF, and how much he stands by lyrics from first album in 1983.
RVM: Is there anything that can’t be parodied? Slayer? Wagner? Dubstep?
WAY: I wouldn’t say that. There’s some genres that are easier to parody than others. The thing with dubstep is there’s not a whole lot of words. But it’s on the list. One of the reasons I do a lot of rap parodies is there’s a lot of words to play with. It’s just a matter of finding out what works best comedically.
RVM: Do you feel your parodies ever replace the originals in public consciousness?
WAY: Well, I hope not. Out of respect for the original artists, I wouldn’t want to do any damage to the original work.
RVM: Some of your biggest hits have been parodies of black artists that reframe the song into a comical white context. Do you ever fear that might be Pat Booning black culture a teensy bit?
WAY: Well I hope not. I don’t give it a whole lot of thought. I don’t consciously say I’m going to make fun of black artists. But I do a lot of rap, because there’s more words to play with. So rap is a fertile ground for me. I write stuff from my own perspective, which I guess is fairly white. I’m sure there’s a negative YouTube comment or two, but there hasn’t been any major blowback.
RVM: Do you ever parody songs you don’t like?
WAY: I will say that whether or not a I like a song personally, has very little influence on my decision to parody it. It’s more about the comedic potential it offers. But that said, I prefer to pick songs I like because I ‘ll have to live with them for awhile. I also can’t say I hate any kind of music. At a certain point as you age, you get opinionated. But luckily I never went through my indie record store phase. I never had any animosity. If I didn’t like a song, I’d just shrug and say ‘that’s not for me.’
RVM: Do you consider yourself a comedian or a musician first?
WAY: It’s hard for me to pick. I travel in both worlds. I don’t feel that I’ve been entirely accepted in either. It’s sort of like, it’s difficult to pigeonhole me in a way. In record stores, a lot of people never knew whether to rack me in the comedy or rock section. The rock and roll hall of fame doesn’t consider me a musician when they’re considering nominations. It’s okay. I enjoy my outsider status.
RVM: Do you still stand by the lyrics from “I’ll be Mellow When I’m Dead,” from your first album?
WAY: Well, I guess I wasn’t a vegetarian when I wrote that. And I do enjoy being mellow from time to time. Like pretty much all of my songs, that was written from a perspective of a character that was not necessarily me. I probably share some opinions with some of the characters. But I don’t generally write specifically from my own perspective. These are basically character studies. I wouldn’t really decapitate anybody, for example. Even “Word Crimes.” I share some traits. Bad grammar annoys me, but I wouldn’t crush someone’s skull with a crowbar. It’s exaggeration for the sake of comedic effect.
RVM: So you’re saying there wasn’t a real Mr. Frump?
WAY: There wasn’t actually a Mr. Frump who had an iron lung. at the time I wasn’t even sure how iron lungs work when I wrote it. That’s the only song I know what was written around the sound that an air button on an accordion works.
RVM: Are there any plans for a sequel to UHF?
WAY: There’s no plan for a UHF 2. I’d like to do another movie. I can’t see UHF 2 would be anything other than a disappointment. The original UHF has a place in people’s hearts. There’s a lot of nostalgia tied into it. I tend to leave their memories and nostalgia alone. A lot of things in pop culture get remade and it taints people’s original memories. If someone else wants to do a parody of UHF, I’d welcome it.
RVM: You do a lot of interviews, what does no one ever ask you about?
WAY: No one ever asks about electron microscopy.
RVM: Do you know much about electron microscopy?
WAY: No. But no one’s ever asked me about it.
Weird Al Yankovic
8pm, Wed., September 2
Britt Pavilion, 350 First St., Jacksonville
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Weird Al Yankovic