By Joshua Maloni
“Weird Al” Yankovic is a five-time Grammy winner and the top comedy recording artist of all time. He has sold millions of records parodying Michael Jackson (“Eat It,” “Fat”), Madonna (“Like A Surgeon”), Queen (“Another One Rides the Bus”), Nirvana (“Smells Like Nirvana”) and Coolio (“Amish Paradise”). Yankovic is a pop culture legend recently seen as a T-shirt on “Stranger Things,” and paying homage to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway masterpiece with “The Hamilton Polka.”
Yankovic will headline the July 23 “Tuesdays in the Park” concert at Artpark in Lewiston. Tickets are on sale now. For more information, visit www.artpark.net, or stop by the box office at 450 S. Fourth St.
An edited Q&A follows.
Q: I’ve got to ask you if you were binge-watching the third season of “Stranger Things” yesterday?
“Weird” Al: I finished last night about 5 in the morning. (Laughs)
Q: Very nice. Yeah, I finished about 12:30 myself. What did you think? Were you pleased with the third season?
“Weird” Al: I was. I mean, I can't really talk about it. Actually, you know, I posted online I make two appearances in it. Dustin’s wearing a T-shirt with my face on it, and Mr. Clark was listening to “My Bologna” in episode two. I was very happy to make those appearances. But I just mentioned that, and everyone was like, “Spoiler, spoiler!” That’s not really giving away the plot, really, to say somebody was wearing a T-shirt. But people get very sensitive about, “Don't give away anything!”
Q: You're coming with “The Strings Attached Tour.” Last year, you did a very different kind of a tour, “The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.” Was that a nice change of pace for you?
“Weird” Al: You know, it was, honestly, it was the most fun I've ever had on tour. It was scaled down. I really didn't know how it was going to go, because it was huge kind of roll the dice. It was a big experiment. I didn't know that anybody would even want to come to a show like that. But we wound up selling out pretty much everywhere. The fans kind of went nuts for it. A lot of people said, “This is my favorite tour ever.”
And it was just as simple of a tour as we could possibly make it. It was just very intimate and organic. The whole vibe was supposed to be, like, me playing in people's living room. It feels like you're just kind of hanging out with me. And I really enjoyed that vibe.
I like doing the big shows, too. I'm having have a great time this year. But, someday I want to go back to the “Vanity” tour. That was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but I had too much fun.
Q: With that show, you did original material. If we look at the course of your career, I mean, you have all of the components of a legitimate musician, right? You've got the talent, you've got the creativity, you can play instruments, you can sing, you can do the whole thing. So, I'm wondering what sent you down the parody path? You could’ve been a straight-up musician – like so many of the other musicians we see at Artpark.
“Weird” Al: By legitimate, I assume you mean one who doesn't play funny music. (Laughs)
Yeah, I mean, my band is a top-notch band; they can play any genre imaginable. You know, I've got some chops myself. And, you know, we certainly could do music that isn't funny, but I think there are enough people in the world already that do that. And this is what I enjoy doing.
I'm just following my muse. This is exactly, specifically, the kind of music that I want to put out into the world.
Q: Obviously, we love the parodies. We love the creativity. We love the humor – and that's what we're going to see with this tour. This one is being billed as your “most extravagant” yet. What makes it so extravagant?
“Weird” Al: Well, you may have noticed none of my other tours featured a 41-piece symphony orchestra.
Q: That’s a fair point.
“Weird” Al: That's a big giveaway right there.
On the “Vanity” tour, we were playing the deep cuts. And on this tour, we're back to playing the hits. And we're back to doing the costume changes and props and a big video screen. And on top of that, we've got female background singers – and these are the same women that I’ve recorded with in studio for decades. I mean, these are like top-notch singers. And we have a full symphony orchestra at every show. Local musicians. And it's a big show.
You haven't really heard “Amish Paradise” until you’ve heard it with a full symphony orchestra.
Q: Why did you decide to go out with the 41-piece band when, like you said, you’ve got great musicians that back you up? Why take it to this extra level on this tour?
“Weird” Al: Yeah, it sounds kind of ironic, because you wouldn't necessarily think “Weird” Al Yankovic and “symphony orchestra.”
But the impetus of it was, a couple years ago, I did two nights at the Hollywood Bowl; they invited me to headline a show with their orchestra. They had like an 85-piece orchestra. And I did the show with them. And it was such a – almost a religious experience – it was kind of mind-blowing. And we did our “Star Wars” songs. And they started off the “Star Wars” theme, and it sounded so huge. I mean, I felt like I was inside the movie. And, you know, I got a little teary-eyed. I was like, “This sounds amazing. And wouldn't it be great if we could do a whole tour like this?” And somehow we were able to put that together. So now, we get to give people the whole “Weird Al” orchestral experience.
Q: You have so many great hits; you have so many great songs. There's so much material you can pull from on any given night. When the theme of the tour is “extravagant,” do you just kind of say, “Hey, we're going to do everything”?
“Weird” Al: Well, we can’t do everything. I’ve got 14 albums, and it’s only a 90-minute show. We're kind of limited by what the union will allow the orchestra to play. So, we really had to whittle it down. So, it was a matter of how many hits can we put in the show and how many fan favorites can we put in the show? And can we throw in a few songs that we've never done live, just because we need an orchestra. So, the focus for me was on hits, and songs that I thought would sound just really amazing with an orchestral accompaniment.
Q: It seems like, with the hits and the parodies, you generally get good response from the artists you're parodying. Has that always been the case? Were you surprised by the positive reaction you got from the original hitmakers?
“Weird” Al: Well, it's always gratifying. I was very surprised, in the beginning, when people first started giving me the thumbs up. Now it's become sort of a rite of passage. That's exactly how Lady Gaga described it. You know, it's been a badge of honor for some artists, because they’ve got their Platinum albums and their Grammys, and now they’ve got their “Weird Al” parody. It’s like the trifecta. It's something that I'm glad the artists appreciate it. I'm happy to find that most artists actually do have a pretty good sense of humor about it.
Q: When I was talking to the people at Artpark about this season – and why they booked some of the acts that they did – one of the things that they said about you that they really admire is the fact that, for the whole length of your career, you've always been really good at staying relevant. And not just relevant, but really ahead of the curve. Why is that important, and why do you think you’re so good at it?
“Weird” Al: Relevant is a tricky word. It's like cool. You can't really try to be relevant, or try to be cool. If it happens, it happens. I don't like consciously think, “Hmm, what can I do today to be relevant?” You know, I just do what I do. And I hope that people will respond to it and react to it in a positive way. And I just go about my business.
Q: What excites you about performing in 2019, with all the social media that we have, and the emphasis on pop culture?
“Weird” Al: Performing is a whole different animal. I still enjoy it, pretty much the same way. The audiences haven't changed, per se. I mean, they've got a lot of other options other than going to a live show. But if they're there in front of you in their seats, that means that they're engaged, and they want to be entertained.
So, just the act of entertaining a live audience has always been exciting to me, and that particular thing hasn't changed all that much over the years. I mean, the audiences have changed a little demographically. And the audiences have gotten larger over the years. I’ve been fortunate enough to amass a nice fan base over the last few decades. The act of performing has pretty much stayed constant. We just try to make it bigger and better every time out.
Q: You have second and maybe even a third generation of fans. Do you find you have different kinds of fans at the shows? Or do you find that you have, you know, parents bringing their kids and saying, “I saw him when I was younger, and he was amazing”?
“Weird” Al: Well, that's a very common reaction, because, you know, I've been touring since the early ’80s. And a lot of those original fans still come to the shows, and now they bring their kids and, in some cases like you said, their grandkids. So, it's really a multigenerational audience. And the great part is, everybody seems to be having a good time. I mean, the kids are enjoying it just as much as the parents and grandparents.
You know, it's not intended to be some kind of like, squeaky-clean show. But it is, you know, it falls under the umbrella of family-friendly. So, everybody has a good time.
Q: I love you “UHF.” “UHF,” to me, is one of the most underrated, amazing films of all time. I'm sure you get asked about it a lot. Nowadays, when people ask you about it, what’s the first memory that comes to your mind? What's the first thing that excites you, when you think back about that project?
“Weird” Al: It's bittersweet, because I remember distinctly the excitement of making a movie, and the excitement of waiting for it to come out. And it had gotten very good test scores, when they tested the movie. And so, we were anticipating it to be a major hit. And then it came out, and it was not (laughs) a major hit in any way. …
So, there was a little bit of a sadness over that. But then, over the years, people discovered it through cable TV and home video and DVD sales. And it's become a huge sort of cult classic. So, it's definitely had a bit of a rollercoaster ride, in terms of public perception.
I'm very happy that it's a beloved film among the fans (laughs), and I've kind of gotten over the pain of the initial theatrical release.
Q: When you think about that movie, and how much, I guess, sort of similar content is out there nowadays – and how much similar content is so popular on platforms like YouTube – like you said, it wasn't initially hit, but it’s become certainly a cult classic. Would you ever consider doing any sort of a follow-up to that project?
“Weird” Al: Well, I would love to do another movie. In fact, I was – I can't go into details, but right before I left on tour – I was actively pitching another “Weird” Al-based feature.
I'm not excited to do a sequel to “UHF.” I don't want to trade in on the nostalgia for that movie. And I don't want to try to monetize that. And sequels to comedies, in general, don't do that well. So, I would like to do another movie, but I would shy away from doing anything that would be “UHF”-related.
Q: So, in the meantime, we'll just have to enjoy it on VHS and various other mechanisms, I suppose.
“Weird” Al: That’s right.