Weird Al to play Centennial Terrace on June 14Written by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A funny thing happened when MTV aired a three-and-a-half-minute video called “Eat It,” a shot-for-shot parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” in 1984.
“MTV changed my life. It made me into a celebrity I’d have to say, literally overnight, which you don’t think that’s the case, but MTV was so powerful back then. So many people were watching it that I remember very clearly the day after my song ‘Eat It’ went into heavy rotation on MTV; I was immediately recognizable everywhere,” Weird Al Yankovic recalled.
“It was the oddest thing to go from virtual anonymity to being the ‘Eat It’ guy. Like everywhere I went, people would stare at me and they’d recognize me from MTV.”
More memorable videos starring the curly-haired leading man followed: “Like a Surgeon,” a parody of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” in 1985; “Fat,” which mocked Jackson’s “Bad,” in 1988; “Smells Like Nirvana,” set to the grunge rockers’ “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” in 1992; “Amish Paradise,” à la Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” in 1996; “White & Nerdy,” a spoof of Chamillionaire’s 2006 song “Ridin’”; “Perform This Way,” which imitates Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” in 2011.
“I can tell you what I think the elements of a good parody are,” the singer-songwriter-comic said during a call from his Los Angeles home. “Obviously, a song that’s either topical or timely in some way. One of my big rules of parodies is it has to be funny even if you’re not familiar with the original source material that it’s based on.
“And it just has to sustain throughout the entire song; it can’t be a one-joke song or it can’t lag after whatever the joke is in the chorus. It’s got to still be funny in the second verse and still funny in the third verse.”
He may have lost the glasses and mustache, but Yankovic’s comedic musical genius rages on. His 2011 disc, “Alpocalypse,” debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 charts. Pretty amazing considering his first parody, “My Bologna,” a sendup of The Knack’s “My Sharona,” was released in 1979.
The secret to his longevity?
“It’s sheer tenacity; I mean, it’s just me refusing to stop,” Yankovic said and laughed. “I’ve managed to surround myself with wonderful, talented people. I’ve had the same band since the very beginning. I’ve had a lot of the same people in my life for almost as long, and we make a good team.
“And the fans have been wonderful and very supportive, so it’s all just kind of worked out. A lot of it is just luck — sheer, stupid luck.”
Luck, really? Yankovic is the No. 1 comedy recording artist with sales of more than 12 million albums. He’s been nominated for 14 Grammy Awards and has won three of the statues.
It must be his accordion playing. And that zany sense of humor, affinity for pop culture, ginormous talent and, oh yeah, hard work.
The Lynwood, Calif., native has a reputation for thoroughly researching subjects before penning a song. He studied ducks for one week before writing “I Want a New Duck,” a parody of Huey Lewis and The News’ “I Want a New Drug,” according to fellow parody artist Dr. Demento’s liner notes from “Permanent Record: Al in the Box.”
Asked what the most extensive research he’s done for a tune is, Yankovic laughed and said, “Well, it depends what you call research. I mean, a song like ‘White & Nerdy,’ I’ve been doing research for that my entire life.”
It doesn’t hurt that his spot-on humor is spotless.
“I don’t even use profanity in everyday life, so I certainly wouldn’t include it in my music. It’s just the kind of humor that I’ve chosen to put out in the world,” he said.
Politeness does have its perks. Yankovic gets permission from the original songwriters of the tracks that he lampoons.
“I try not to burn bridges. Even though I could get away with doing things even if the artists aren’t happy with it, I don’t want the drama; I don’t want the ill feelings. I want to make sure the artist is OK with the parody before I even start writing it,” he said. “I think that’s another reason I managed to hang around as long as I have.”
Throughout his career, Yankovic has also written original songs with funny lyrics and catchy melodies: “Attack of the Radioactive Hamsters From a Planet Near Mars,” “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” “Craigslist,” “The Night Santa Went Crazy,” “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” “Don’t Download This Song,” “Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me.”
Don’t forget another staple: polka medleys. For “Polka Face” on “Alpocalypse,” Yankovic squeezed together splices of Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Flo Rida, Kid Cudi, Lady Antebelleum, Justin Bieber, P!nk, Katy Perry, Jamie Foxx, Jay Sean, Taio Cruz, Frankie Yankovic (no relation, by the way) and Ke$ha.
“Weird Al” will bring it all to Centennial Terrace in Sylvania for an 8 p.m. concert June 14. Tickets range from $25 to $49.50.
In 2011, the pop satirist started a new chapter in his storied career with a children’s book, “When I Grow Up.” The follow-up titled “My New Teacher and Me!” is due out June 25.
“I was always a big fan of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, and I always thought that I would probably be fairly adept at children’s literature, but I never really was terribly proactive about it. But I was approached several years ago by Anne Hoppe, who is (a former) editor for HarperCollins, and she was a big fan of my music and said that she found something in my lyrics, in the word play, that seemed to indicate to her that I would have a natural ability for children’s lit,” he said.
“I was thrilled and amazed when [‘When I Grow Up’] became a New York Times best-seller. It was a wonderful experience working on it.”