The Parody and the Ecstasy
By Waleed Rashidi
“Weird Al” Yankovic’s diverse, multifaceted career includes his roles as a musician, comedian, lyricist, screenwriter, impersonator, parodist and actor. But there’s a recent addition to the aforementioned list for the 51-year-old entertainer, who’s been at it for more than three decades—he’s now a New York Times best-selling author. Say what?
“A lot of my writer friends are a little bitter because I wrote 851 words and now I’m a New York Times bestseller,” says Yankovic.
With the average novel clocking in the tens of thousands of words, landing a top slot by penning less than a thousand—Yankovic’s literary effort’s a children’s book, hence the slim figure—is quite the kicker.
“Yeah, that was a lot of fun,” he says. “It was a book called When I Grow Up and I did it for HarperCollins . . . It’s funny and it gets kids thinking about potential career opportunities.”
The career opportunities for Yankovic have been quite illustrious and continue to prosper with the June 21 release of his next album, dubbed Alpocalypse, his first long-player in nearly five years.
“I believe this is the longest I’ve gone between albums,” he says. “Well, I never really intended to wait this long. It seems like it took me longer for a number of reasons. One, I’d been getting more and more side projects to be working on at the time. I’ve also got a wife and an 8-year-old daughter and they’re my priority, of course. Mostly, I just never want to put out an album until I feel that it’s ready. I just want to come out of the box with something really strong and it wasn’t until I thought of the Lady Gaga parody that I thought I had something that would be good for a single. If it’s going to be a parody, it’s got to be a parody of a major pop cultural event, and the emergence of Lady Gaga, I think, will qualify for that.”
Yankovic hit a bump in the road to releasing Alpocalypse with his Gaga parody of “Born This Way,” titled “Perform This Way.” According to a post on Weird Al’s blog, Gaga’s management didn’t initially approve his rendition (and didn’t forward his track to Gaga). However, once Gaga heard it, she loved it, and the album’s release moved ahead. However, this wasn’t the first time he’s had approval issues with his material.
“One of my very first parodies of ‘Lola,’ by the Kinks, was called ‘Yoda,’” Yankovic says. “I did that while I was in college like in 1980. I didn’t get permission for five years because I was told that the Kinks had turned it down. In 1985, I ran into [Kinks vocalist] Ray Davies at a radio station and I asked him about it, and he said he had never heard it. It’s kind of the same thing with Lady Gaga.”
Whether he’s penning parodies of hits or original best-selling books, Yankovic seems to value the written word, especially when grammar’s used in a proper manner. The clips on his YouTube page show him correcting grammatically incorrect signage. “I’m a little obsessive that way,” he says. “I’m one of those people that even if I were on fire, I wouldn’t text the letter ‘U’ instead of writing out ‘y-o-u.’”
But how obsessive is he about his money? After all, his current tour finds him performing a few dates at casinos. Is Yankovic much of a gambler?
“No, not at all,” he says. “Here’s the thing, like, if I were to win $20, I’d be like, ‘big deal, I won $20, it’s not going to change my life.’ But if I lost $20, I’d be like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe it, I’m an idiot, I lost $20! What a stupid idiot I am!’”
“Weird Al” Yankovic at the Fox Performing Arts Center, 3801 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 779-9800; www.foxriversidelive.com. Sun, June 16. 7PM. $27-$67.