'Weird Al' Yankovic on Parodying 'Star Wars,' Joining 'Comedy Bang! Bang!'

'Weird Al' Yankovic on Parodying 'Star Wars,' Joining 'Comedy Bang! Bang!'

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'Weird Al' Yankovic on Parodying 'Star Wars,' Joining 'Comedy Bang! Bang!' news
In a new interview, 'Weird Al' Yankovic looks ahead to his summer tour, assesses the legacy of 'UHF' and estimates how many times he's performed "Fat." Andrew Hetherington/Redux

“Weird Al” Yankovic played about 100 concerts last year in support of Mandatory Fun — the first Number One album of his career — but it turns out that was just the warmup. He just announced an additional 78 shows that will keep him on the road steadily from early June all the way through late September, a pace that would make even road warriors Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson gulp. Instead of resting up, he’s spending his time right now working as the new co-host/bandleader on Comedy Bang! Bang! He somehow found time to call into Rolling Stone for a chat.

What drives you to do these long tours?
You kind of have to take advantage of the heat. Mandatory Fun was my biggest album, and it behooves me to tour as much as I can behind it. I’ve learned from experience that after two years, we see diminishing returns. If I went back for a third year, people would go, “Haven’t we seen this already?” But two years feels about right. As long as people want to see the show, I want to provide it for them.

They are long long tours. It is a big stretch and it does kind of wear and tear on everybody, but we’re still having a blast. The crowds are great. We’re selling out virtually everywhere. It keeps the adrenaline going every night.

Will the show be similar to the one last year?
It’s the same tour. It’s probably going to be the very same set list. We might change some of the film bits around to update it a bit, but it is a continuation of the Mandatory Tour. People should not be expecting anything radically different.

It’s always bittersweet whenever I announce the tour dates. People are always like, “How come you’re not playing Denver on this tour?” “Well, we played Denver twice on this tour. It was last year. It’s the same tour.” “And how come I don’t see Australia on the list?” “That’s because I was there last month.” People don’t seem to understand that I can’t be everywhere at all times.

What occupies your day on tour when you’re not onstage?
I basically take it as easy as I possibly can because when I’m doing a four- or five-month tour, the last thing you wanna do is wear yourself out or lose your voice. I lead a fairly monk-like existence. I spend most of my waking hours surfing the Internet or watching satellite TV or reading a book, resting my voice and taking it very easy. I don’t generally go out sightseeing. I made an exception when we played Europe last year because I figured, “How often do I get a chance to go out and see what Belgium is like?” But more often than not, it’s me just keeping to myself and keeping an extremely low profile.

Does your family travel with you?
They don’t come on extended runs with me. They toured with me before my daughter was of school age, but she just turned 13. Not only does that make it harder, but I certainly wouldn’t want to take her out of school to go on the road with me. And plus, it’s not the kind of thing that’s really fun for your family for an extended period of time. Going on the road is mostly travel or being backstage. The novelty wears off very quickly.

I see you’re playing two night at the Hollywood Bowl. I know those are going to be special shows.
Really special, yeah. We’re doing a shorter set because the Bowl will not let you go over. I think 84 minutes is the cutoff. It’s going to be a truncated set, but on the positive side, the show show is with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. So as we speak there is an arranger that is arranging my set for them. I’m extremely excited about it. I’m going to be playing all the hits with an orchestra. I never imagined “Smells Like Nirvana” with strings before, but you’re gonna hear it that night.

How many times do you think you’ve played “Fat” at this point in your life?
Oh, gosh [laughs]. I’d have to do that math. It’s possibly a thousand. I’ve done over 1,500 shows at this point. And since that song came out in 1988, we’re probably getting to four figures.

Why do you end every show with “Yoda?”
It’s become kind of traditional. It’s an old-school hit. It’s something that I’ve almost literally done at every show I’ve done since 1980. It generally feels good at the end of the set. For one tour, we tried it in the middle of the show, and it just didn’t feel right. It feels like a show closer.

Were you tempted to do a new Star Wars song when the last movie came out?
It’s a thought that crossed my mind, certainly, and everybody on my Twitter feed was like, “Oh! You have to do another Star Wars song.” In fact, a few years ago I teased, “You know, I do a Star Wars song every 20 years like clockwork. It could be about that time.” But I looked at it practically. I’ve already got two Star Wars songs in my set, both of which I pretty much have to play because of fan demand. If I had a third Star Wars song, it just sort of becomes the Star Wars show. So for that reason alone, I kind of feel like I probably should just keep it at two.

There’s something so great about the fact “The Saga Begins” is detailed breakdown of the plot of the absolute worst one. And I gotta give you credit for working the word “Midi-chlorians” into a song. That’s no easy feat.
[Laughs] I saw something online about a certain order you’re supposed to watch the Star Wars movies in.

Machete Order?
Yeah, that’s it. Some people have amended it to, instead of watching Phantom Menace, just listen to my song.

So your album deal is officially over? You’re no longer signed to any label?
It is, yeah. I fulfilled it with Mandatory Fun. So I signed it in 1982 and I fulfilled it in 2014.

Are you going to sign to another label or are you done making albums?
My record company came to bat and offered me quite a nice deal to sign with them again. It was very tempting. But I’ve been under contract for so long, I just kind of want to not be under contract for awhile. It’s part of my personality. I don’t like being in debt. I don’t like feeling like I owe people things. The whole time I was under my record contact, there was this thing in the back of my mind like, “I’ve got so many albums to go to fulfill this contract. I owe them so many albums.” And I sleep a little better at night just knowing that I don’t owe anybody anything.

In the future are you just going to put out songs when you feel like it?
Yeah. That’s the plan. I mean, I’m in no hurry. That’s the other nice thing. I’m not on a schedule. Nobody is breathing down my neck going, “When’s the next song coming out? When is the next album coming out?” It’s purely going to be on my own schedule. That could be aggressive or it could be very relaxed. And so far, it’s been pretty relaxed because a lot of other projects are taking up my time. The general plan is that at some point I’ll start recording songs and just releasing them online. We’ll see what happens.

I imagine that you can get a song out when the original is still high on the charts if you wanted.
I certainly have that potential now since I don’t have to wait to release music until I have 12 songs. And if I’m talking about doing something digitally, I don’t even have to wait until product is manufactured. I can just put it up online. I’ve already done that once with my T.I. parody, “Whatever You Like.” It was exciting for me to have that quick response. Hopefully when I jump back into it, I’ll be doing more of that.

You can get your music to millions of people with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, so a label really can’t offer you all that much.
My label has been extremely helpful and supportive for many years, and there’s a definitive advantage to being with a label. But if you’re a well-known artist, you can also hire third party vendors to fulfill the many tasks that a label would provide. And you don’t have to give away a large chunk of your royalties or be beholden to anybody. I’m not going to draw any hard lines and say that I’ll never do that again, but I feel like being an independent artist at this point in my career. It’s a comfortable way for me to go.

'Weird Al' Yankovic on Parodying 'Star Wars,' Joining 'Comedy Bang! Bang!' news
"Nobody was more surprised that I wound up having a career than me," says Yankovic. Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns/Getty

How is Comedy Bang! Bang! going?
It’s going great. I haven’t had “day job” in 20 years. Working on a TV series is hard. It’s getting up at the crack of dawn every morning, which is certainly going against my personal body clock, and working long days. But every day is a thrill for me. I get to work with the funniest people in the world. We do written sketches, we do improv. I am really having a blast. Scott [Aukerman] is great. He’s a genius, and the writers are phenomenal, and I’m having the best time.

Was it a hard decision to take the job?
No. It was literally the day after I got off the road from my big five-month summer tour. I didn’t have any plans going forward. I thought, “I’m going to take some time off. I’m sure something will come up. I’ll be offered something I can’t turn down.” And the next morning, I check my e-mail and the first e-mail is from Scott saying, “Hey. You wanna be the new bandleader on Comedy Bang! Bang!Comedy Bang! Bang! is one of my all-time favorite shows. How often do you get offered the chance to co-star in one of your favorite shows? I said to him, “I’m gonna have to run this by some other people that are personally vested in my career, but I’ll tell you right now this is something that I want to do.”

For once, it’s not something that totally rests on your shoulders.
It’s Scott’s show. He’s running the show, and I’m basically there to support him. But I’m certainly featured in the show. I write and play all the musical bumpers in and out. Scott has written me into a lot of sketches. It’s nice to not have the burden or everything falling on me. I’m not directing. I’m not writing. I’m just there to have a good time.

Are you there indefinitely? Are you going to do next season?
We’ll see. I’d like to. Scott actually said to me, “How are you feeling about doing this beyond Season Five?” I think I said to him, “I’ll do this show until I’m dead. And even after that, you can Weekend at Bernie’s me a few seasons after that.”

Any chance you’ll ever write and direct another movie?
I would love to. I’ve always been very open to the idea of doing another feature film. I had written a script for Cartoon Network about a decade ago. They hired me to do that and I was in the process when they had a regime change and it got tabled. It’s difficult for me to justify spending a long time writing a script when I can spend that time on so many other things. I don’t want to be just another guy in L.A. with a script in his drawer.

I mean, I would love to do another movie. If somebody made me an offer and creatively it felt like a good fit, I would love to do it. But I like to spend my time doing things that I know are going to come to fruition.

I would imagine the huge success of the last album would make it easier for you to get future projects off the ground going forward.
I certainly have a leg up on other people that haven’t had this level of success. But at the same time, it’s an uphill battle for me because I don’t have a track record in feature films. I mean, UHF was a popular cult movie, but it wasn’t a box-office success — that’s what most people that run studios look at primarily.

It must be nice to just have a single movie, and it’s one that has become so beloved.
It’s nice, you know? It was very gratifying to me, and certainly healing after the box-office failure of UHF, that it’s become such a big cult movie. I mean, the people that love it really, really love it. They have UHF tattoos. There are people that have seen it in the three digits. It’s like Rocky Horror with some people. They have the whole thing memorized. It’s nice the movie has had such a positive effect on so many people.

Wrapping up here, do you think you could have possibly picked a career less likely to give you long-lasting success then song parody artist?
Well, nobody was more surprised that I wound up having a career than me. I couldn’t have picked a more unlikely route to pop stardom [laughs] than playing accordion in my bedroom into a cassette tape recorder. That was how it all started. Then in college I got a postcard from Dr. Demento saying that “My Bologna” had been number one on the Funny Five for two weeks in a row. And I just danced a jig. I thought to myself, “It’s never going to get any better than this.”

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