On the heels of the release of Alpocalypse, "Weird Al" Yankovic returns to Just For Laughs to host the Amp'd show.
Since first breaking out in the early 1980s, "Weird Al" Yankovic has sold more than 12 million albums, won three Grammy Awards, wrote and acted in the cult comedy UHF, starred on TV in the short-lived but memorable Weird Al Show and, earlier this year, even published a children’s book, the well-received When I Grow Up. Through it all, he’s also toured extensively, giving more than 1,000 shows around the world, including previous visits to Just For Laughs in 1990 and 1996.
"Just For Laughs is really a blast," says Yankovic over the phone from Buffalo, N.Y. "It’s a great assemblage of some of the greatest comics in the world and of up-and-comers. There are comedians all over the city just hanging out, working out their material and getting to know each other… It’s a great atmosphere and I’m really excited to be coming back."
This year, "Weird Al" will succeed Kevin Hearn, Craig Robinson, Reggie Watts and Beardyman as the host of Amp’d, Just For Laughs’ annual evening of music and comedy. "Everybody on the bill is somebody that I’m a big fan of. It should be a really, really fun show!" assures Yankovic, even though he doesn’t know much about the lineup yet beside the fact that it will feature Garfunkel & Oates, Tim Minchin, Bo Burnham, Reggie Watts and Tom Green. "I’ve worked out the songs that I’ll be performing, but I still have to talk to the producers about specifically the format of the show. I’ll be the host and one of the performers, but other than that, I’m kind of looking to them for direction!"
Each of "Weird Al" Yankovic’s albums, it seems, is like a time capsule of pop culture from the moment it was released. Alpocalypse is no different, with its spoofs of hits by Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Bruno Mars and T.I., plus tons more (Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, etc.) in Polka Face, his latest accordion-driven medley. "For a lot of my fans that don’t follow pop culture very closely, it’s sort of a Cliffs Notes of artists that were popular in the last few years," he says.
Even though his parodies can be sharply satirical, they never feel needlessly mean-spirited. "I try to be funny without being mean about it," Yankovic concurs. "I’ll take a good-natured poke every once in a while, but it’s all coming from a very tongue-in-cheek place. That’s one of the reasons why artists have been quick to allow me to do my parodies. Most artists look at it as a badge of honour."
Case in point: Lady Gaga, whose persona "Weird Al" perfectly sends up in Perform This Way, ended up giving high praise to it, despite initial reports that she had refused to give her consent for the parody. "You have to assume that somebody that goes out in public dressed in meat has to have a pretty good sense of humour!" quips Yankovic.
A lot of "Weird Al" songs aren’t straight parodies, but original songs that borrow the general style of an artist, like Genius in France and Pancreas, respectively pastiches of Frank Zappa and Brian Wilson. "Those are really fun to do, but they’re more of a challenge because I have to pick apart the oeuvre of an artist, figure out what exactly makes them tick and try to incorporate those points. My parodies have gotten the most attention from mainstream audiences, but I think the hardcore fans actually enjoy the originals even more."
One such original off Alpocalypse is Craigslist, a homage to The Doors that actually features Ray Manzarek on keyboards. "It really was one of the high points of my life to be able to work with him," says Yankovic. "It’s funny because a lot of people come up to me and say, ‘You sound so much like The Doors on Craigslist,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, yeah, it helps that Ray Manzarek is playing on it!’"
WHITE & NERDY
A top 10 single when it was released in 2006, White & Nerdy, a parody of Chamillionaire’s Ridin’, has also become Yankovic’s most watched video ever on YouTube, with more than 60 million views. To think that, less than a decade ago, he almost gave up on doing music videos!
"There was a period of time after MTV basically stopped playing music videos, up until when YouTube came out, when it almost didn’t make sense anymore to make music videos," he explains. "If they’re not going to be seen anywhere, why bother? But the Internet is sort of the new MTV, that’s where you go if you want to see a video."
When he heard White & Nerdy, Chamillionaire actually gave props to "Weird Al" about his rapping. "That blew my mind!" remembers Yankovic, who has also emulated MC Hammer, Coolio, Puff Daddy and Eminem in the past. "I’m pretty shameless, I’ll try anything, but to get that kind of compliment from somebody as respected as Chamillionaire really meant a lot to me."
Compliments should also be paid to Yankovic’s musicians, who have a real knack for recreating the sound of the artists that "Weird Al" parodies. "People say, ‘Oh, it’s a comedy band, how good could they possibly be?’ But they do every genre imaginable, from polka to gangsta rap, and they pull it off really well. It’s nice when people can see it live and realize that there’s a lot of talent behind the silliness!"
Amp’d hosted by "Weird Al" Yankovic
Just For Laughs at Club Soda
July 28, 7 & 10 p.m.