When “Weird Al” Yankovic sings one of his countless sidesplitting songs or dons one of his crazy costumes at the Arlington Theatre on Tuesday, August 2, you will just have to laugh — yes, you really will have to. It’s mandatory.
Coming to town on tour for his hugely successful Mandatory Fun — the first chart-topping comedy album in 50 years since Allan Sherman’s My Son, the Nut in 1963 — fans will have no choice but to laugh uproariously, giggle profusely, and sing along with great gusto. Yankovic’s career has spanned many decades and touched on so many cultural references with a comic twist, and the world can’t help but continue to love the perennially parodic pop of the great accordionist, who launched his career as a 16-year-old 40 years ago with a debut on Dr. Demento’s radio show.
“I’ve been doing it at a long time, and by the Malcolm Gladwell rule, I’m much better now than when I started out,” Yankovic said in a recent phone interview. But nowadays, the comedy music game’s a lot different. “These days I’m competing with the whole YouTube generation; there are a million people also doing comedy videos. I am not threatened by it, but it is a challenge — it’s sort of like I need to step up my game a little bit. I can’t go for low-hanging fruit. If there’s an idea that’s obvious, someone’s already done it.”
Sustaining a career has meant constantly finding “new and different ways to be funny, not to repeat myself, or rely on old tropes and comic ideas.” One of Yankovic’s most artful forms, his pastiches — not direct parodies, but stylistic riffs and blends of hits — takes new form on his latest work, such as the song “Mission Statement,” where Yankovic sings corporate buzzwords in the style of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. (The opening lines: “We must all efficiently / operationalize our strategies / invest in world-class technology / and leverage our core competencies.”)
Career advances and innovations have been many for the Lynwood-born performer, including recent authorship: 2011’s New York Times best-selling children’s book, When I Grow Up; 2012’s illustrated biography Weird Al: The Book; and another for youngsters, 2013’s My New Teacher and Me! He also released a line of retro Al action figures this spring. Also this year, he joined in on Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang! as cohost and bandleader.
Some things, meanwhile, have remained continual comedy themes, like food. When asked what the funniest food is, he replied, “Oh, gosh. I guess eggplant.” He continues to receive praise from the artists he parodies, too. “I’ve had a lot of great comments over the years, some wonderful flattering quotes from Kurt Cobain and Lady Gaga and Chamillionaire and Mark Knopfler — a lot of artists are very supportive, and it’s thrilling,” he said. Earning Michael Jackson’s adoration, he said, might have been the biggest celebrity compliment he’s received.
Serious and dramatic work has never been Yankovic’s focus, and he maintains it’s not a direction he’ll take any time soon. “It’s not that I’m incapable; it’s just not where my passion [is], and I don’t think that’s where my talents are, really. I’ve always loved comedy,” he said. He did, however, take a surprising turn lending voice-over work as the villainous Dollmaker for the animated Batman and Robin series. “It’s a very, very dark role, and I don’t think people would even recognize me in it,” he said.
As for what the future holds, Yankovic said he hopes one day to realize his dream of writing a Broadway musical. Otherwise, now that his record contract is expired and his tour of humor domination soon to wrap up, it’s a time for both continued success and reflection. “I’d like to just keep doing what I’ve been doing in the past but do it better,” he said. “There are a lot of things that are open to me, and now that I’ve finished my record deal, which was 32 years, I have an opportunity to do virtually anything I want. Once the tour is over, I’ll take stock of my life and see what’s next.”
“Weird Al” Yankovic plays Tuesday, August 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington Theatre (1217 State St.). Call (805) 789-6684 or visit thearlingtontheatre.com.