(The following interview is featured in the new 54th GRAMMY celebration issue of GRAMMY magazine. Read the full issue online.)
After 30-plus years of music making — including 13 albums and three GRAMMY wins — it doesn't feel quite right to refer to "Weird Al" Yankovic as a novelty act. In fact, the polka-loving parodist has become something of a music industry institution. Perhaps one of the clearest signs that an artist has arrived is when Yankovic has deemed their work worthy of a comedic makeover.
Yankovic has made a career of not taking our favorite stars too seriously, with targets ranging from the Knack ("My Bologna") and Michael Jackson ("Fat," a GRAMMY winner for Best Concept Music Video in 1988) to Nirvana ("Smells Like Nirvana") and Green Day ("Canadian Idiot"). Last June, Yankovic released Alpocalypse, giving the funny treatment to the likes of B.o.B ("Another Tattoo"), Miley Cyrus ("Party In The CIA") and Lady Gaga ("Perform This Way"). Across decades of shifting popular tastes, there's still a method to his patented weirdness.
After a five-year recording hiatus, Alpocalypse picked up two GRAMMY nominations, including Best Comedy Album. That's a nice "welcome back."
It's a very nice feeling, actually. When I put out an album I want to believe it's my best work to date, and it's become more difficult to top myself, at least in my own mind.
For a while it looked like "Perform This Way" might not be part of the album. Are things OK with you and Lady Gaga now?
Absolutely. Normally, when I write a parody it's after I've already gotten the blessing of the artist. But this was an odd situation where I was asked to submit lyrics to her first. Then I was asked to submit the finished track to her. Then she said no. Except that she never said no and didn't even know I'd asked about the song. It was a manager who had me jumping through hoops. Once Gaga found out about it, she was totally onboard.
In the video for "Perform This Way," you digitally transplanted your head onto a rockin', scantily clad Gaga-style body. Is it safe to say this is one of the most disturbing things you've ever done?
I would hope so. I was aiming for something "disturbilarious" and I think that was achieved. Another of my contributions to society: nightmare fuel.
You now have 14 GRAMMY nominations and three prior GRAMMY wins. Is GRAMMY night getting a little blasé for you?
Uh, no. There's nothing as exciting as that first win when you are suddenly transformed into a "GRAMMY-winning artist."
Food has figured prominently in several of your parodies: "Eat It," "Lasagna" and "Girls Just Want To Have Lunch." What's the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
In my movie UHF I ate a Twinkie-wiener sandwich. You split a Twinkie lengthwise like a hot dog bun, put a wiener on it — tofu dogs are acceptable — then cover the wiener with spray cheese. I ate seven of those during the shooting of the movie, and I believe they're still with me.
After more than 30 years of parody experience, how would you rate the music industry’s sense of humor?
The artists have always had a pretty good sense of humor. It's a badge of honor for a lot of them. Management and record labels and various people who are supposedly protecting the artists sometimes get in the way, but I've got a good track record now. I've been told that after I did the Nirvana parody, Nevermind sold an additional million units. See? "Weird Al" can be an important part of your business plan.
Any advice for young, weird children dreaming of a career in parody?
It's dangerous work — let a professional handle it. And by that I mean: the job's taken.
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)