Q

Weird Al Yankovic: always on the outside 'poking fun at the people on the inside'

“Nobody wanted to sign me to a record deal back in the early ’80s because I do what is ostensibly novelty music and the implication there is one hit wonder,” he says ahead of his North American tour.
Weird Al Yankovic brings his Strings Attached tour to Toronto on July 8 and to various cities in B.C. and Alberta in August. (Submitted by Jay Levey)
Listen23:32

Over the past five decades, Weird Al Yankovic has been parodying rock, pop and hip hop hits.

"I've always been the guy on the outside of the inner circle, kind of poking fun at the people on the inside," he tells q host Tom Power over the line from Los Angeles.

Yankovic released his first album "Weird Al" Yankovic, in 1983, and he hasn't looked back. The music industry has undergone radical changes, but against all odds, this self-described nerd with an accordion has won over successive generations with his light-hearted spoofs, going platinum and winning five Grammy awards along the way.

"I quit my day job the day that I found out that one of my songs was on the Billboard Hot 100," he says. "They signed me to a record deal, and this was at the time a 10-album deal. Nobody thought I was going to have 10 albums, let alone 14, but it was more like a Draconian thing where in some kind of crazy situation where Weird Al Yankovic would have 10 albums, it's like, 'we've got you.'"

In advance of his North American tour, Yankovic goes through his career and also talks about how he's managed to stay relevant into the 21st century.

"Nobody wanted to sign me to a record deal back in the early '80s because I do what is ostensibly novelty music and the implication there is one-hit wonder, just ephemeral, you know?" he says. "Most people that have funny songs hit on the radio, and you never hear from them again, they're a footnote in rock music history."

He also talks about what he considers to be his first true satirical song, Smells Like Nirvana, and how he got Kurt Cobain on the phone to ask for permission to cover it (it involved a friend who worked at Saturday Night Live). The song not only rejuvenated Yankovic's career after the unsuccessful release of his film UHF, but also gave a sales bump to Nirvana.    

"I did hear from Nirvana's record label, from one of the executives, and he told me that Nirvana sold an extra million albums after my parody came out, like a really noticeable bump just because, you know, my parody video was getting heavy rotation on MTV," he says.

Over 40-plus years, there's been plenty of ups and downs for Yankovic, but he says that's exactly how he prefers it.

"If you're lucky, your career will have peaks and valleys, and you can't get too full of yourself when you're at a peak or too depressed when you're in a valley," he says. "My wife and I have the saying, 'be the climate, not the weather.' Just ride along with it and don't get too caught up in yourself and just try to keep an even keel."

Weird Al Yankovic brings his Strings Attached tour to Toronto on July 8 and to various cities in B.C. and Alberta in August.

— Produced by ​Chris Trowbridge

Miss an episode of CBC q? Download our podcast.

 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.