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- Posted on Jun 22nd 2011 4:45PM by Pat Pemberton
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Now, Yankovic has returned with 'Apocalypse,' which includes parodies of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus. And, as always, the album will also feature wacky originals, including a White Stripes-flavored tune about '70s game show celebrity Charles Nelson Reilly.
A few years after recording his first parody, a spoof of the Knack's 'My Sharona' called 'My Bologna,' while studying architecture at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Yankovic became a novelty sensation after doing parodies of Michael Jackson and Madonna in the 80s.
But while some of the acts he had parodied have come and gone, Yankovic is still going strong, with a huge legion of Twitter followers and videos that garner millions of YouTube views. He recently spoke to Spinner about 'Alpocalypse' and his ongoing appeal.
Lady Gaga said that her song getting covered by you was sort of a rite of passage. Do artists ever lobby you for a parody?
Every now and then I'll be at a party or an awards show and somebody will come up to me and say, "When are you going to get around to one of my songs?" And I'm never sure if they're being sincere or trying to be funny or make conversation. But they have brought it up. I won't give any names, but I think artists really do look at it as an homage and look forward to the Weird Al parodies, because it does indicate that they've reached a certain plateau in their careers. I forget who said it exactly, but one of my favorite quotes was, "First you get your Grammy, then you get your Platinum album, then you get your Weird Al parody."
You've managed to outlast most of the artists you've parodied, mostly by doing current songs. How do you make sure your newer songs, like a Gaga or Bieber parody, connect with fans if they don't know what you're referencing?
One of my rules for writing parodies is my song needs to be funny even if you don't have any idea what song I'm parodying. It's got to work on its own merits. So hopefully they'll still appreciate my song.
On 'Alpocalypse,' you have the Charles Nelson Reilly-inspired song 'CNR,' which obviously would appeal to older fans. Is it important to promote Charles Nelson Reilly awareness to the younger generation?
Sometimes I just do stuff because I think it's funny. And you can't second guess what other people will think is funny too much or what people are going to get. I know if you did a Venn diagram of people who are familiar with both the White Stripes and Charles Nelson Reilly, that's probably a pretty small sliver. But for some reason that juxtaposition seemed really funny to me.
Can we expect a Paul Lynde follow-up?
You never know. That could be the sequel.
Are you always messing with song lyrics in your head and changing them to possible parodies?
Part of my brain is doing that, but I can't say that I'm doing that constantly. I'm a big music fan, and I can certainly listen to an album or listen to the radio without constantly thinking, "Hmm, now how can I screw this one up?"
Speaking of kids, we checked out the children's book you did, 'When I Grow Up' and we also read in an earlier story where you talked about wanting to write for Mad Magazine as a kid. Does that somehow fulfill your quest?
That was something I wanted to do when I was 12 years old. I was a huge Mad Magazine fan, and I couldn't think of anything better than working for Mad Magazine and being a writer or illustrator. And I told my guidance counselor that, and he told me, "Oh, I don't think your future's in comedy. I think you're a smart kid, and I think you should have a real job. You're good at drafting and you're good at math -- you should be an architect." And I thought, "Well, if you say so!" I was fairly easily swayed at that point in my life, I guess, so I went to college for four years and got my degree in architecture. But it turns out I wasn't that good at it or happy doing it. So when I graduated, I just ran as far away from it as I could. And two or three years later, I had a record deal.
We also read an old story about you going back to your old dorm at Cal Poly after a show. How did that work -- did you knock on your door and surprise the person living there?
I probably did. I went back to my old dorm and just kind of hung out for a little bit. I think I attracted a crowd pretty quickly. It was kind of fun. I hadn't been back there in some time, and it was kind of nice to see the building was still there and my room was still there. Different people living at the dorms, but it was a nice little visit to my past.
Obviously, videos have been a big part of what you do. They're not so big on places like MTV anymore but you're still very focused on them.
Yeah, but I'm not so focused on MTV. The Internet is the new MTV. When people want to see a new video, they don't sit around in front of MTV, waiting for it to come on rotation. They Google or go to YouTube and see it online. There was a period of time, maybe 10 years ago, where obviously MTV had stopped playing videos and then YouTube hadn't really come around yet. That was a short window where I don't know if it made that much sense to be spending money doing music videos because there weren't a lot of places where people could see them. But now I think it makes sense once again, and music videos are flourishing -- but just online.
Are you surprised by how big you are on YouTube?
It was surprising at first to see how many hits I was getting. I mean, 'White & Nerdy,' cumulatively, got over 100 million hits, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. There's potential for some really incredible exposure on YouTube.
We know you hear about the Coolio flap all the time, but the one thing we never heard mentioned is that his song was a cover of a Stevie Wonder song.
That's right. We got permission from Stevie Wonder as well. Fans have pointed out that irony quite a bit over the years.
So doesn't he lose credibility in having covered a song himself?
Yeah, but that's water under the bridge. That was 1996, and I happen to know that Coolio has definitely cooled off in the meantime.