A Q&A with Weird Al Yankovic | Chronogram Magazine

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Send in the Clown

A Q&A with Weird Al Yankovic Ahead of His Bardavon Appearance on April 26

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Weird Al Yankovic plays the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie on April 26.
  • Weird Al Yankovic plays the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie on April 26.

The world has certainly been bleak as of late, and we could all use a dose of humor wherever we can get it. But take heart, people, because, along with the easing of COVID guidelines, the laughs are on the way. This month, as if on cue, the one and only Weird Al Yankovic reemerges to bring a much-need booster shot of levity to concert stages with his “Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Vanity Tour,” which will come to the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie on April 26 at 7:30pm (Emo Philips will open the show; tickets start at $69). The accordion-playing, five-time Grammy winner is easily the most well-known popular song parodist of the age—see his uproarious, smash takeoffs of hits by everyone from Michael Jackson to Nirvana, Queen, Madonna, and Chamillionaire—as well as a successful producer, video director, and actor. The clown prince of parody answered the questions below by email.

—Peter Aaron

Radio host Dr. Demento introduced your music to the world via his “The Dr. Demento Radio Show” in the late 1970s, but before you got to know him you were already a long-time lister to his program. What was it about the show and the music that Dr. Demento played on it that appealed to you as a teenager?

Dr. Demento exposed me to bizarre music that I’d never heard before in my life. You have to remember that in the ’70s there was no internet, no YouTube…you couldn’t just do a Google search for Tom Lehrer and Stan Freberg and hear whatever you wanted immediately. Dr. Demento was alternative radio in the truest sense. The rest of the week the station would play standard contemporary rock fare, but for those few hours every Sunday night, I would be transported to a different world.

Your music has been famously inspired by your own era; i.e., your parodies of contemporary hits or your original songs lampooning modern pop culture. But to some observers, your style feels also like it’s rooted in the comedic musical work of figures like Allan Sherman, Spike Jones, or Fats Waller, and can even be traced back to the vaudeville era. Do you ever feel like you are part of that tradition, and have you seen your influence reflected in the work of any younger artists? If so, who?

Those artists you mentioned are my musical heroes, the people who directly inspired me—so of course I would feel deeply humbled to be considered part of that lineage. I’ve been told that a number of younger comedy music acts like the Lonely Island grew up listening to my music—so if I was any influence at all to them, I’m extremely honored.

Besides its being popular, what else, to you, makes a makes a song ripe for parody? What qualities do you look for when you’re considering material to spoof?

It’s hard to articulate exactly what makes a song a good candidate for parody. I tend to pick songs that have a strong musical or lyrical hook—something that feels unique, and really jumps out at you when you hear it on the radio. Hopefully the song isn’t too repetitive—I need to have enough words to play around with (which is why rap songs have always been fertile ground for parodies). And it also helps if the lyrics are overly sincere or heartfelt—it’s a lot easier to tweak those for comic effect.

You’ve had a pretty surreal career in the music business. Looking back on things, what would you say was the most surreal moment of your career?

Oh man—I’ve had so many surreal moments in my life so far, way more than my fair share. But honestly, if I had to pick, I’d say shooting the movie we’re currently making WEIRD: The Al Yankovic Story. It’s beyond surrealistic to drive to a movie set and see Daniel Radcliffe made up to look exactly like me from the ’80s and recreating moments from my career. Really, if you ever have a chance to have a big Hollywood biopic made about your life, I highly recommend it.

Not only are you playing Carnegie Hall on your “Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Vanity Tour,” you’re also playing—"ta-da!—Poughkeepsie. Will you be tailoring your set list and routines for each venue? For those of us in the Hudson Valley who’ve heard your hits and watched your videos but have never experienced you live, what should we look forward to at the Bardavon?

Every single one of my 133 shows on this tour will have a different set list, which is one of the reasons why the band loves doing the “Vanity Tour”—it never gets old for us. We love doing the big multimedia shows as well, of course, but out of necessity those need to have the exact same set list every night, and it starts to feel a little like Groundhog Day after a while. This tour gives us much more flexibility, and we’ll definitely tailor the shows to the venues we’re playing. For instance, when we play Poughkeepsie, I’ll start out the show by saying, “Hello, Poughkeepsie!” That’s just for the Bardavon audience—I promise you, we’re not doing that ANYWHERE else.

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