Interview with Weird Al Yankovic: King Of The Nerds

Weird Al YankovicAs is the case in the rarest of instances, it’s worth skipping the lengthy introduction and going right to the Q&A—first and foremost because, as it’s Weird Al we’re talking about, you don’t need it. You know who he is and you know what he’s been doing since 1983 when he released his first album. So, short of mentioning that the man and his band will hit PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel on Aug. 12 to support his Grammy-nominated latest record, Straight Outta Lynwood (the first Al release to break the Billboard Top 10, bolstered by the smash Chamillionaire parody-turned-geek-anthem, “White & Nerdy”), I think we’re pretty well covered. As such…

Does it seem strange to you to be reaching new levels of success at this point in your career?

(Laughs) It seems ironic, but I’m thrilled with it. I’m extremely happy that, cranking away since the early-’80s, I finally got my first Top 10 single and Top 10 album. It’s nice to get that kind of validation at this point in my career.

What do you think it is about one single over another that catches on?

It’s hard to say. I think something like ‘White & Nerdy’ just struck a responsive chord because it tapped into the zeitgeist a little bit. I think there’s some kind of nerd-empowerment thing going on right now that I maybe subconsciously have tapped into. It just seemed like it was the right song at the right time.

I kind of see your fans as divided into two groups, where you get the casual fans vs. the harder core Weird Al contingent. Is that how it plays out at the shows?

Yeah, you can see which people are there because they’ve been following the tour and this is their 100th show and they know every word and they’re singing along, and some people are casual fans and they’re familiar with my stuff and they think it might be a nice night out. Then there are the girlfriends of the guys (laughs), who really don’t want to see the show and are kind of trying to figure out what’s going on. Everybody’s in various stages of fandom, which is also fun.

Are you insinuating, sir, that your fanbase is perhaps unbalanced to the male side?

(Laughs) Did I imply that? It really is a pretty mixed audience, but I think the hardest core fans are probably male.

Is there something specific you look for in a song to take on as a parody?

It’s hard to really figure out what the parameters are that I look for in a song to parody. My general response is I look for a song with a good musical or lyrical hook to it that jumps out of the radio, but I mostly just use my gut instinct to tell me if a song has a target on its back. Once I have my short list of songs I think are potential parodies, I think about what kind of different comedic angles I can take with it and see if there are any variations on a theme I can do with it that would justify writing a whole song about it.

I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know when I say there’s a lot of really bad pop out there. Do you ever get tired of listening to the radio all the time?

I don’t listen to Top 40 radio all the time, mostly just when I’m trying to figure out what my next batch of parodies is going to be. For my own amusement, I listen to a lot more alternative rock and a lot of the stuff I used to like to listen to in college: new wave, British Invasion stuff. It’s not like I’m listening to Top 40 radio constantly. It does sometimes feel like a job when I have to listen to the local Top 40 radio station for like five months.

I would think that could be taxing.

Yeah. (laughs)