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Weird Al brings his silly songbook, and accordion, to Pensacola Sunday

This weekend the Saenger Theater in Pensacola plays host to one of the music world’s biggest names, and he’s in it just for the laughs. Here's a look back at his 2020 interview ahead of his Pensacon appearance.

Young Alfred Yankovic had his first accordion lesson at age 6. No one really knew at the time that it was a life-changing event. His first single was released in 1979, a parody of the Knack’s song My Sharona called My Bologna. Since then he has won multiple Grammys, appeared in movies and TV shows, toured the world, and sold millions of records. He gave himself the name Weird Al when he was a disk jockey on his college radio station. Bob Barrett asked him when he realized he could actually make a living out of singing silly songs.

“Weird” Al Yankovic: I think about a week ago. I’ve been playing around with it for the last 30 to 40 years. I’m really feeling I can make a go of this! I’ll keep at it.

Bob Barrett: Are the artists happy when you do their songs, and do some of them collaborate?”

Weird Al: I can’t say that they collaborate other than writing the music for the parodies. But generally, yeah I tend to get a positive response who I approach, or other people approach on my behalf. Maybe not so much when I first started out in the early 80s, but I’ve got a bit of a track record now so a lot of artists look at it as a badge of honor to get their Weird Al parody. It’s the true sign that they’ve made it. People know that I’m not there to step on their toes and make them look bad. It’s all in good fun. And it’s sort of like being on Saturday Night Live or Mad Magazine or being referenced on The Simpsons. It’s part of pop culture.

Barrett: Have there been any song that you’ve said you’d love to do a parody of that song and it’s just stumped you?

Weird Al: Yeah, most of the time! I can’t come up with a brilliant idea for every single song that I want to do. I can come up with bad ideas, that’s not a problem. I do have a quality bar that I try to not go under too often. So, yeah, a lot of times I really want to do a parody of a particular song and I can’t think of something that I feel would sustain the comedy for three, three and a half minutes.”

Barrett: I guess the better question might be what comes first, the idea for a parody or a song that gives you an idea for a parody?

Weird Al: Well there are some topics that I have in my notebook that I want to tackle at some point, but it’s usually driven by the song itself. I mean whatever the hook or the title is if I can come up with a variation on a theme, or a stupid pun, or turn the entire concept on its head. I try to think how I can take a song, and I generate dozens of ideas for it, and if (I think) one of those ideas has some potential then I’ll go in that direction. But it’s always a bit of a process.

Barrett: I don’t really want to make this about me, but I’m going to right now. I am a huge fan of both Star Wars and The Kinks, so when you did “Yoda”," I was in heaven. Who gave you a harder time, Ray Davies or George Lucas?

Weird Al: Well, neither one gave me a hard time but we definitely had a harder path through Ray Davies. Originally, (Yoda) was going to be on my first album because I wrote the song in 1980, and my first album came out in 1983. And I think we were able to get George Lucas’ permission fairly easily, oddly enough, and we just kept getting a no from The Kinks. And it wasn’t until I ran across Ray, I think it was backstage at the Howard Stern Show or something like that, but it was years after the fact. And I said I was sorry I couldn’t put my parody on my album. And he had never heard of it. So it was one of those things where his publisher or representative or somebody that was supposed to be forwarding this information to him just decided on their own that he wouldn’t be interested in a parody. And that’s happened more than once in my career, but that was a case where once I talked to the artist directly he said absolutely and we were able to get it finally approved. So “Yoda” wound up on my third album which came out in 1985.

Barrett: You had a similar situation like that with Lady Ga Ga recently, didn’t you?

Weird Al: Absolutely, yeah! Her manager at the time was a little bit more than unhelpful, and wound up making a decision on her behalf and turned down the parody. And once people found out about it, and Lady Ga Ga found out about it, she said ‘no, I love Weird Al, of course, he can do the parody.' So, if I have any kind of personal relationship with the artist I tend to go directly to them now if I can because a lot of times people just make these assumptions on behalf of the artist which doesn’t do anybody any favors.

Bob Barrett and Weird Al Yankovic backstage at the Saenger Theater in 2020
Georgia Barrett
Bob Barrett and Weird Al Yankovic backstage at the Saenger Theater in 2020

Barrett: Have you ever been covered? Are the Weird Al cover bands out there?

Weird Al: There are! In fact, there have been two or three full tribute albums of fans doing cover versions of my songs. I see cover versions all the time on YouTube, in fact just last week I saw a heavy metal version of my song “Dare to be Stupid” which was kind of fun. I get to see that a lot and it’s always very flattering.”

Barrett: Didn’t you just once feel like not giving them permission to do it, just to see what it feels like?

Weird Al: (Laughs) No that doesn’t seem appealing to me. I like seeing people express their creativity.

Weird Al Yankovic will be performing at the Saenger Theater in Pensacola this Sunday evening along with comedian Emo Phillips. Showtime is 7 p.m.