Armed with an accordion, a really bad mustache and a penchant for parody, “Weird Al” Yankovic became one of pop’s most unlikely superstars in the early 1980s, back when “Eat It” and “I Lost on Jeopardy” were in heavy rotation on MTV. But who knew he would still be a musical force to be reckoned with 30 years later?
No, really, Weird Al is a boss. His albums chart higher now than when he first hit pay dirt. And he has doled out hits for way longer than The Knack, Survivor and Coolio, among the chart-toppers he has parodied. Hence, the legion of howling, sign-waving fans that will come out to see the undisputed King of Pop Parody April 28 at Tacoma’s Pantages Theater.
Recently, Tacoma Weekly inquired about his lasting appeal. But first …
Tacoma Weekly: Food puns have played a big role in your career. What are the most and least funny foods?
Weird Al: Hmmm, let’s see. I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked that before. Congratulations! The most funny food, I think, is probably broccoli. And the least funny food would be kale. It’s odd because you often see broccoli and kale together, but they are diametrically opposed in terms of humor.
TW: So no kale parody songs.
Weird Al: You do a kale joke, and you bomb. Most comics know that.
TW: How would your life be different now if you had started with the guitar instead of the accordion?
Weird Al: I think about that every waking moment. I may not have had the career trajectory that I wound up having, because I think the reason that I was discovered by (syndicated radio host) Dr. Demento was because I was this goofy kid playing accordion and thinking he sounded cool. Whereas, if I had submitted my tapes with a guitar I would have probably blended in with everyone else.
TW: What is your most memorable encounter with someone you have lampooned?
Weird Al: Oh, there have been so many. One of the more recent ones was Chamillionaire. He approached me at the Grammys. I was on the red carpet, and he came up to me ‘cause he had just won for rap song of the year for “Ridin',” which I had parodied as “White & Nerdy.” He thanked me, and he said my parody, he thought, was one of the big reasons why he won, because it made it undeniable that his song was rap song of the year. Which was great. I love to hear that artists have a great sense of humor, and they feel that I’ve helped them in some way.
TW: On the flip side, do you occasionally have hostile encounters? Or do you have brilliant parodies you want to do but cannot because the artist has threatened to sue you or something?
Weird Al: Well, I don't have hostile encounters because I always get permission and ... they’re not surprised when the parody comes out.
The only artist who has consistently said no has been Prince. Truthfully, I haven’t even approached him in 10 or 20 years because I got the message back in the ‘80s that he wasn’t into people messin’ with his music.
TW: You’ve been at it for a minute. But I was shocked to read that “Straight Out of Lynnwood” and “Alpocalypse” are your first two albums to chart in the top 10. How do you explain that?
Weird Al: My humor is the kind of stuff that builds, so it takes maybe 20 or 30 years to really appreciate it. So I think the rest of the world is finally catching up. And yeah, my last two albums are my highest charting ones.
It’s nice. I like the slow build, because a lot of artists that have had a career as long as I’ve had would have peaked in the '80s, and then they become nostalgia acts. When they do live shows and say “here’s something from the new album,” that means it’s the bathroom break.
TW: I last saw you at the Puyallup Fair – maybe three, four years ago – and saw just how fanatical people still are about you. Do you ever marvel that your career has lasted way longer than most of the people you parody?
Weird Al: It boggles my mind. I’m very grateful that my fans have stuck with me, and I’m continually amazed by the irony of my career. Because I was a guy who wasn't supposed to have a career at all, and then I was grudgingly given a chance thinking, “This is a novelty artist, he’ll be gone in two months.” Meanwhile, I’ve become a novelty dinosaur. I’ve hung around longer than most sane people would have imagined.
TW: That can be the title of your next album: “Novelty Dinosaur.” Your last one, “Alpocalypse” came out a couple of years ago. You have the song about TMZ on that record. Have you actually been harassed by paparazzi from TMZ?
Weird Al: I do get stopped. I go for a coffee drink, and then there are cameras in my face. But, you know, I have a pleasant conversation with them like I would with anybody. And after a while they say “thank you” and go on their merry way. It’s never gotten to the point where it’s been detrimental to my sanity.
TW: I vaguely remember from the last time I talked to you that you had a different look back then and you could kind of hide by shaving off your mustache and slicking back your hair.
Weird Al: Right, I don’t really hide so much any more. I think less people recognize me since 1998, which is when I did lose the glasses and the facial hair. In fact, to this day when kids dress up like me for Halloween they still rock the old-school Weird Al look with the glasses and the mustache and the bangs. I guess that was the iconic look. But I like to change it up every 20 years or so just to keep people guessin’.
TW: At that rate, we have another five years before the next phase.
Weird Al: And then who knows? All bets are off.
TW: Are you working on a new album, maybe a sequel to “Trapped in the Drive-Thru?”
Weird Al: (Laughs) You know, R. Kelly’s still doing that. But I think I’ve had my say. Yeah, I am working on the new album. I’ve got three tracks that are completely done. I’ve got three more tracks that are written and will be recorded in May, and then I’ll be focusing on the parodies.
Beyond that, I can’t give you any information because I don’t know when the right ideas will strike or when the big hit single concept will come to me. There’s no way of possibly anticipating, because I’m always waiting for pop culture to present me with the right opportunity.
“Weird Al” Yankovic: The Alpocalypse Tour
7:30 p.m. April 28
Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma
$36 to $68