Weird Al Yankovic: I don't think I have any true enemies
For more than three decades, Weird Al Yankovic has turned pop music parody into high art. Always ready to turn a song into a witty commentary on the excesses of society and its stars, he has skewered everyone from Nirvana to Michael Jackson to Coolio to Miley Cyrus over the years.
While Yankovic isn't as prolific in releasing records as he once was, he remains a relevant figure both in an out of comedy. In recent years, he has penned two children's books and appeared on the Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
Gimme Noise caught up with Yankovic ahead of Saturday's show at Mystic Lake to discuss his daughter, and some of the ways his life has changed over the years. And hand-fart noises.
Gimme Noise: You're playing at Mystic Lake Casino on Saturday. On the topic of casinos, what was the last thing you gambled on?
Weird Al Yankovic: Heh. I've played at a lot of casinos over the years but I generally don't gamble too much. I mean, if I gamble it's really low stakes. If they have any dollar blackjack I'll do that, or maybe some quarter blackjack machines, but I'm not a good gambler. If I win 20 bucks, I say, "Big deal, I won 20 bucks, who cares, it's not going to change my life," but if I lose I say, "What an idiot, I just lost 20 dollars!"
You have a new children's book that just came out in June called My New Teacher and Me. Has your daughter Nina been a big influence on your writing?
Sure, she's an influence on everything that I do. When I first decided to start writing children's books, part of me was like, "Oh good, I'll have something to read to her at bedtime," not realizing that the process of actually publishing a children's book can take years. By the time my first children's book came out she was old enough that she was reading it to me for my bedtime story.
She's 10 years old now, right? What does she want to be when she grows up?
She's talked about a bunch of different things, as was the subject of my first book. She's not in any hurry to really decide. She's got a lot of interests and is talented in a lot of areas. She can do anything she wants to, really. There are a lot of options open for her and there's no rush, obviously.
Is she still really into dinosaurs?
She likes dinosaurs. She's a big animal lover, particularly birds. At one point she was saying she wants to be a bird trainer. She's a great artist and has shown a lot of skill in a lot of things. There's no shortage of things she can do if she puts her mind to it.
I read a quote in a recent interview about the industriousness you had in the '80s -- "If I stop, it will all go away." You said as you've gotten older, that phrase has stopped repeating in your head. What do you think changed? Having a family and a different point of reference, or are you just at a point where you are satisfied with your accomplishments?
Both of those things. My family is my priority now. In the '80s, I was really all about my career. And also, I am satisfied with my track record, and partly because of it I've realized that I have a bona-fide fan base that will stick with me. If I go a few years between albums, I'm not as concerned about people falling by the wayside. I realize that there are people that will gladly welcome me back whenever I do come back, hopefully.
You're a brilliant vocalist and it's one of the most incredible things about what you do. Has that always come naturally to you or are there times that you really struggle to perfect that tone?
Well, I'm not an impressionist like Rich Little or Fred Travalena. I give it my best shot and I try to change the timbre of my voice to approximate the original artist but I never contend that I sound just like them. I just give it my best shot. The simple fact that I've been doing it for as long as I have counts for something. Malcolm Gladwell had a theory that if you do anything for 10,000 hours that you become an expert at it. I never was a trained singer, I just have always been an amateur doing as best as I could. But I've been doing it for 30 years so I must've acquired a skill during that time.
My two favorite artists are probably Nirvana and Weird Al. But everything else I listen to is mostly distorted guitar and yelling, so I fall more on the side of Nirvana. I know you're a Nirvana fan, but are there other similar bands that you're into?
[chuckling] Yeah, I tend not mention names and give people a list of my favorite artists, but I like a lot of those guitar/yelling groups. The '90s were a great period. I loved a lot of the garage bands and grunge bands and DIY bands. I think that's still my favorite kind of music. I like a lot of what was classified as "alternative" although that label doesn't mean much anymore.
I was reading an interview with your bassist, Stephen Jay, and he was talking about how when you practice something too much, it loses a certain feeling. I thought that was an interesting concept to hear him talk about.
It's true, I guess. If you want to be spontaneous... there's also that you can practice until it sounds spontaneous, but that's a whole different set of skills, I guess.
Weird Al, does anyone dislike you? Not necessarily famous, but maybe some guy from the third grade that you threw a pencil at who still harbors some anger towards you?
I've got a lot of good will and I don't think I have any true enemies. Not that I'm aware of, anyway. But certainly not everybody likes me. There's nobody that everybody likes. There are some people that hate the Beatles. There's always going to be detractors and people that don't care for you, and that's part of life.
But no one that's personally saying, "that Al Yankovic guy, I'm going to get him."
[laughing] Not that I'm aware of, no.
So I've heard of a lot of celebrities who wear disguises in public -- like Bill Murray is apparently known for it. Have you ever worn a disguise in public?
I don't think so, or if I did, I found out quickly it didn't work. I'd wear the dark glasses and the hat and people would still say, "Oh hey, Al! How's it going?" It's kind of hard to hide. Basically, if I want to keep a low profile, I just make sure I'm not wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
Last few questions. Have you ever regretted the amount of hand-fart noises in your early work? I have a co-worker who was very upset by them a long time ago.
[laughing] Oh really?
He said, "I love Weird Al, but there were too many hand-fart noises early on."
If you've noticed, I've kind of gotten away from that. But I don't regret the early days! I think they worked quite well on "Another One Rides the Bus" and everywhere that Musical Mike Kieffer added his contributions. And there are people out there who miss him and ask, "How come you're not doing that anymore?" The music's evolved a bit and we haven't really gotten back to that. But no, I'm not ashamed of it and I think they worked well for what they were.
Lastly, how much would it cost you to play my wedding and my funeral?
[laughing] As a package deal? We could talk! I don't know. Call my agent!
Weird Al Yankovic. 8 p.m. Saturday, August 3, at Mystic Lake Casino. $31-$39. Tickets here.
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