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Weird Al Yankovic

Master of musical parody is returning to Cedar Rapids

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 4:06 pm   ::  

Weird Al Yankovic, that master of musical parody, is returning to Cedar Rapids, sure to shake up the Paramount Theatre with his "Alpocalypse" tour on Sunday night (4/21). We wanted to give away a pair of tickets to see Weird Al, so we hit the streets and quizzed people about some of Al's most popular songs. You gotta check out the video above to see their hilarious responses. (We're also giving away another pair of tickets on our Facebook!) Alfred Matthew Yankovic, 53, lives with his wife, Suzanne, and daughter, Nina, 10, in the Hollywood Hills and Maui. An only child, he grew up in a Los Angeles suburb, burst onto the musical comedy scene via radio's Dr. Demento in the late '70s and signed a record deal in 1982. His parody hits include "Eat It," "Smells Like Nirvana," "Amish Paradise," "Like a Surgeon," "White & Nerdy," "Perform This Way" and "Polka Face." He's also had his own TV shows, legendary MTV videos, starred in the film "UHF" and has written a couple of children's books. The details Hoopla's Diana Nollen had a 10-minute phone quickie with His Weirdness last week, while he was backstage at a tour stop in Raleigh, N.C.   Q: You grew up playing the accordion, you got straight A’s, you have a degree in architecture – now that you’re in your 50s, are you still white and nerdy? A: Yeah, that stuff doesn’t go away, it doesn’t wash off. It's to the core, pretty much.   Q: I came to know you through MTV in the '80s. What have you needed to do to grow your career in the post-music video years? A: MTV as a source of music videos is long gone -- that kind of waned in the '90s. It's segued into the Internet age, so if you want to see a music video nowadays, it's just a few mouse clicks away. It's video on demand. Music video is still alive and well, it's just on your computer screen instead of on your TV set.   Q: What has sparked your recent move toward children’s literature? A: Children’s literature is something that I'd always had interest in, and I always thought I'd be fairly adept at it. I wasn’t very proactive about it. I didn't really put myself out there too much. I was contacted by Anne Hoppe, who was an editor at HarperCollins a few years ago. She was a fan, and she said there was something in the word play in my lyrics that indicated to her that I would be good in the field of children’s literature. I took a meeting with her and we got along great. I decided that I'd give it a shot. I pitched her several ideas and the one that she really liked was called "When I Grow Up." I wrote the book, she paired me with an illustrator named Wes Hargis, and the book did very well. It was a New York Times best-seller. It was a very gratifying experience. In fact, I wrote another book called "My New Teacher," and that's going to be out in June.   Q: So have you grown up? We just see you as this big man-child, doing this fun thing. A: I haven’t figure out what I want to do for a living yet. I'm still working on it.     Q: Does (daughter Nina) think you’re cool or has she hit the eye-roll age yet? A: Both. We're starting to get the eye roll for the dad jokes, but she still thinks I’m pretty cool. She gets a kick out of the perks of being Weird Al’s kid. We head out to Hawaii when she's not in school (in California).   Q: You’ve branched out in so many ways – how much of your career is musical parody these days? A: It's still mostly the music. I've got my fingers in a lot of pies, as it were. I'm trying to do more TV and feature films. But the lion’s share of my professional life is still the recording and making videos and the live performances. That's always going to be the core of what I do. I enjoy it all, but I don't think I'd ever want to get completely away from the music part.   Q: (He says he's pretty good at unplugging, which is what he'll do after this latest North American tour ends.) So what does Weird Al like to do? A: I feel very fortunate, because I've been able to make a living doing what I do for a hobby. Comedy and music have been my two biggest passions. I feel very fortunate that I get to do that as part of my job. Other than that, it's all about being a family guy, and spending time with my wife and my daughter. We spend time in Hawaii just looking at the ocean. It's the good life and I'm very fortunate to be able to do that.   Q: Are you a surfer dude? A: I don’t think I've ever actually been on a surfboard in my life, but I can wade pretty well.   Q: What sparks your desire to parody any given song – what do you hear that hooks you and reels you in? A: It's a little something every single time. There's no way of really articulating when or how the muse is gonna strike, when an idea will hit. It's just something that will strike me as a good candidate for parody, then when I've defined that, figuring out what direction I can take with it. There are a lot of songs that seem like they'd be good targets, and yet, no matter how much I rack my brain, I can’t think of a decent idea for a parody, so you really kind of have to wait for all the tumblers to fall in to place.   Q: Legally, you don’t have to, but I understand you seek artists' permission to parody their music. How do they react? A: Almost without exception, favorably, at this point in my career. When I first started out, it was a different story. Nobody knew who or what this Weird Al guy was all about, but I've got a three-decade long track record now, and people know that when I do a parody, not only is it all in good fun and an homage, but in many cases, it's an indication that they’ve made it. Their career has reached that plateau where you've got your Grammy, you've got your platinum album, now you're going to get your Weird Al parody.   Q: Anybody say no? A: The only person who has consistently said no has been Prince, and in all honesty, I haven't even asked him in about 20 years.   Q: Anybody ever parody you? A: Yeah, I've has some fans and some other artists do some parodies of my original stuff, which is very flattering.   Q: What will we be seeing in your Cedar Rapids show – a lot from "Alpocalypse"? A: My show's certainly going to focus on the new album, but my live shows are always overviews of my career, so I'm going to go deep into the catalog and do all the hits, a few deep cuts and a few surprises here and there, but we'll be featuring a lot of material from the new album.   Q: Who's your target audience these days? A: What’s really great about my live shows is that the demographic is so wide. I would challenge you to find a more diverse crowd than at a Weird Al show. It's literally everybody from toddlers to geriatrics, and everybody seems to be enjoying the show on a different level, so I feel very fortunate that way. The show wasn’t calculated to appeal to that kind of fan base, but that's just sort of the way it worked out.   Q: You’ve won Grammys and legions of fans – at this point in your life, what are you most proud of? A: Career-wise? The Grammys are big. Being on "The Simpsons" was big for me -- that's sort of like my shot at immortality. I was thrilled to be on "30 Rock." There are a lot of shows that I respect immensely that I was very fortunate to be on. To get even any kind of acknowledgement from rockers that I admired growing up is a big deal for me. I've done a couple (benefit) shows with Alice Cooper and Steven Tyler, which still blows my mind. It's like Rock Star Fantasy Camp for me. All three of us -- onstage at the same time singing -- it's just insane.   Q: What’s next – any more movies in the works? A: Nothing currently in the works. I've got several things that are sort of in various stages of development, being pitched and bandied about, but nothing that I can really talk about right now. I learned the hard way that if you talk about things that might happen, 90 percent of the time they don't.   Q: What do you hope people get from spending a couple hours in your weirdness? A: Just a nice time out -- some laughs. It's just meant to be entertainment, and if you walk away feeling you've been entertained, then I've done my job.

 

 

 

 

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