Catching up with Weird Al, king of pop parodies

His Royal Weirdness arrives at the Smith Center on July 6.
Chris Bitonti

Your Vegas show will be at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Do you play many Broadway-style theaters? A few here and there. I’ve played at a lot of places where stage productions take place. In fact, our show has been described as more of a Broadway play than a rock show sometimes, because there are a lot of elements. There’s a lot of costume changes and film clips and moving parts—there’s always a lot of stuff going on. It’s logistically a very involved, intricate show that’s put on. [So] it’s not unusual for us to wind up at a place like that.

I saw you last year at the Cannery. Will this show be similar to that? It’s exactly the same show, which is the reason why it’s in the new venue. They actually wanted us back in the Cannery, but I told them as much as I love the Cannery, I didn’t want to do the same show three times in a row in the same place. (laughs) We decided at least we’d change the location.

What else does Weird Al Yankovic do when he is in Las Vegas? I don’t, unfortunately, get a lot of sightseeing time or local color. When we’re on the road we’re usually doing five or six cities a week and even if I have a little bit of free time, generally I try to keep to myself and stay on the bus and get sleep and try not to wear myself out, because I save every ounce of energy I’ve got for the stage.

I couldn’t believe how active you were onstage. What is that keeps you going like that after more than 30 years? It’s the audience. I mean, as long as I get the same kind of energy back from them, it’s easy for me to put it out there. I’ve performed some of the songs on my set well over a thousand times, [but] they never get old or boring to me because if people are singing along and having a great time, it’s still exciting for me.

Do you have a “white whale” song or artist that you’ve been trying to parody without success? Well, famously Prince has never allowed me to do anything. There’s nothing in the last 20 years that I was dying to do, but in the ’80s there were several things that I would have like to have taken a stab at. And there are a lot of artists that for one reason or another just have kind of slipped between the cracks—either I couldn’t think of a good enough idea or I thought of an idea and by the time my album was scheduled to come out it would have appeared dated. I mean, I don’t want to give you a laundry list of names, but there’s a lot of people that for one reason or another have narrowly escaped the Weird Al treatment.

Has there been a period or genre of pop music that has been your favorite to parody? I wouldn’t say a favorite. You know, my favorite music is a bit more alternative so I was very excited when I got to do bands like Nirvana. But having said that, my taste is fairly eclectic, and I do like a lot of Top 40, contemporary and mainstream music as well. I’m thankful that, as part of my job, I get to tackle virtually every genre imaginable. A lot of artists are known for a certain kind of sound and a certain kind of music and have to stay in that niche, and I am able to go from gangsta rap to polka to country to zydeco and anything that comes to my mind.

I’m curious how you feel about YouTube, and how it has affected your music. I love YouTube, it’s wonderful and I think it’s very exciting that anybody can upload anything they want, and if it’s good people generally find out about it. YouTube has made stars. It’s the new MTV, and I think its great. It has made what I do a little more challenging in the sense that I’m not the only game in town anymore, parody-wise. And for any hit song that comes out, they’ll be 10,000 parodies of it before my pencil hits the paper, so I just have to acknowledge that and keep doing what I do and hope that I can be the best at what I do. But I’m certainly not the only parody game in town anymore.

Do people ever ask you when you’re going to start writing “serious” music? (Laughs) That’s actually not one of my most common questions. At this point I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and people have kind of figured out that’s not really my direction. I’m not using this comedy thing as a means to, like, do my serious music. This is what I enjoy doing. I love doing this, and I don’t think my brain would be comfortable working like that. I’ve always been a little twisted and a little warped, and I have no real interest in doing unfunny music. I think there are enough people in the world who do that already.

Besides music, what do you spend your time doing? I just wrote my second children’s book, so I do that from time to time. That just came out, called My New Teacher and Me. In fact, I’m on a book tour right now, I’m doing a seven-cities-in-seven-days book-signing tour to support that. And you know, most of my free time when I’m not actively working on career stuff is filled up with my family. I’ve got a wife and a wonderful daughter, and I try to spend as much time with them as I can.

Weird Al Yankovic July 6, 7:30 p.m., $29-$99. Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall, 749-2000.


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