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Lighten Up a Little: “Weird Al” Yankovic, September 30 at the Adler Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 26 September 2007 02:27

"Pop culture has always been with us, in one form or another," says Grammy-winning musical comedian "Weird Al" Yankovic, "and it always has its ridiculous elements. Especially in the music world."

No one should be happier about that assertion than "Weird Al" Yankovic himself. For 25 years, the accordion-playing singer/songwriter - who performs at Davenport's Adler Theatre on Sunday, September 30 - has been parodying pop hits through song, recently scoring his first top-10 album on the Billboard charts with 2006's Straight Outta Lynnwood. And so long as pop music never loses its element of the ridiculous, Yankovic sees no reason why he couldn't continue for another 25.

"A lot of people take music extremely seriously," he says, "and attach a lot of importance to it. And not to say that it's not important, but I think that rock and roll should be fun, and people should maybe lighten up about it a little bit. That's my job - to get people to just lighten up a little."

During a recent phone interview, Yankovic is quick to attribute his career longevity to others. "I think a big part of it has to do with the fact that I've had the same band since the early '80s," he says, "and they're all amazing guys. I surround myself with talented people and it makes me look good, too."

Yet there can be little denying that Yankovic has also honed a parodistic style that not only tickles his fans, but his subjects; he has managed to stay in the music industry's good graces by always working within the boundaries of what he calls "fairly good taste."

"My personal sense of humor is not that mean-spirited," Yankovic says. "When I do parodies, they're all done with a tongue in cheek, of course, but it's not like I'm stepping on anybody's toes, and artists generally have a pretty good sense of humor about it.

"In fact," he continues, "a lot of artists look at it [a song parody] as a sign that they've achieved a certain level of success in their careers, like a rite of passage. It's like getting a Grammy or a platinum album."

Or, he could add, like guest-starring on The Simpsons, which Yankovic did in 2003's Emmy-winning episode "Three Gays of the Condo." And like that show, the comedian has found considerable success by not deviating much from a proven formula - in Yankovic's case, clever song parodies and outrageous polka medleys. ("I learned early on in my life that my friends would laugh when I would play rock-and-roll songs on the accordion," he says.)

As in the early days of his fame, Yankovic continues to survey the pop-music scene for satiric inspiration, saying that "there are no hard-set rules or parameters" behind choosing his comedy fodder.

"Basically, I just start with a hook," he says. "Whatever that is. I mean, it could be the chorus or the title ... . I just see what kind of jumps out at me on the radio or on the music-video channels, or sometimes I'll scour the Billboard charts trying to get ideas. And if I think an idea is funny, I'm gonna hope that that a few million other people will think it's funny, too."

And Yankovic is careful not to venture far outside his beginnings in pop-music parody, as he understands the difficulty in satirizing subjects with what he terms "not much of a shelf life.

"I usually don't write about politics or anything that's entirely topical," he says, "because that's a bit tricky. News and politics change so quickly. I can't write a song and release the album later that week."

He adds that his musical parodies also have the added benefit of traveling well, as evidenced by the comedian's growing popularity overseas.

"We haven't done a European tour yet," Yankovic says, "which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, because I know from all my MySpace comments that we have a lot of fans in the U.K. and other parts of Europe. We're developing a nice fan base in Australia, which is great, and we played New Zealand for the first time earlier this year, but we just haven't been able to get a European tour together yet. One of these days.

"I've been very lucky that I've been able to sustain a career for as long as I have," says Yankovic, adding that he's enjoying his current tour for the chance to "shut off my antennae" for a while.

"I tend not to write when I'm on the road," he says, "because I like to focus on the live experience and just doing the show every night. People ask me, ‘Do you just listen to the radio and always think about what you can do with a song?' No, I don't. I mean, I'm a big fan of music, and I can certainly listen to a song without thinking, ‘Hmm ... how can I screw this one up ... ?'"


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