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If his childhood home videos are any indication, people knew Al Yankovic was a funny person early on. In 1979, more people found out he was funny when the Dr. Demento radio show played his parody of My Sharona ("My Bologna"), a recording he made in a toilet block.
But it was his second album, In 3-D, which smacked an international audience upside the head with the Michael Jackson parody "Eat It", and its accompanying video, an MTV hit in 1984. The album was also his first featuring a full band, and the first to include one of his trademark polka medleys.
Al's latest album is Poodle Hat, and the Poodle Hat Tour plays Melbourne tonight. We spoke to Al at his hotel, overlooking St Kilda's picturesque Esplanade. Al was wearing a very brightly-coloured Hawaiian shirt in comparison to Jake, whose locally-purchased "Hawaiian" shirt was less than eye-popping...
Jake: Let me start off with: how many Hawaiian shirts do you have?
Weird Al: You know, I don't know offhand, several hundred, I'm sure. I've got a closetful at my house. My wife, when we moved in together, she wouldn't let me keep all my Hawaiian shirts in the house because there were just too many of them so I got a storage facility.
J: I want to go to that garage sale. [Al laughs] I have, like, five. How many is a perfect number?
AL: Oh yeah... [laughs] It's a prime number, probably, but other than that I can't tell you which one.
J: Where is a good place to get Hawaiian shirts?
AL: I could tell you in L.A. I'm not sure in Australia.
J: There aren't any good ones here.
Dave: Hawaii would be a good place to get them.
J: What I'm wearing is kinda standard of [locally produced] Hawaiian shirts, but they only get darker from here.
AL: You should come to the States, there are quite a few floating around up there.
D: You said that you weren't sure if you'd ever get out here.
AL: Yeah, I wasn't sure, and we've been trying for many years and I wasn't sure for what the hold up was, but for one reason or another a promoter would fall through or the figures wouldn't work out. You know we didn't want to come out to Australia and lose money, as much as we wanted to play here, so we had to wait until, you know, everything worked out and all the planets lined up correctly and it was time to come out. I don't know why it's taken so long but we're happy to be here now.
D: I understand that it's very expensive...
AL: Yeah, it's not like bringing out a rock band over because there's, like, costumes and film clips and there's kind of a lot of logistics to work out to get this big act overseas. Like you said, it finally happened.
D: You [pointing at Jake] wanted to ask a question...
J: Yeah -- how many fat suits have you gone through? And if you're using the original, what does it smell like?
AL: It's not the original. The suit we use on stage is not the one we used for the video. It was recreated -- the one we used in the video was not constructed well enough to be sustained for going on the road and being packed up night after night after night. So we made one for concert use and I believe that's the one we've used since the beginning although it's been repaired and refurbished.
J: Has fat technology improved?
AL: Yes, it has improved.
D: Do you have to enjoy a song to parody it?
AL: I don't have to. I tend to pick songs I at least like, because I realise I have to live with these songs for a long period of time and in many cases perform them night after night on stage so I don't, you know, do a song that would drive me crazy.
D: Yeah, because I didn't like the parodies as much on the album, but I realised that it's because I don't like the songs. [Al laughs] It's nothing to do with your lyrics or anything, it's just that I don't like Avril Lavigne or stuff like that
AL: Most of the songs that I really like aren't popular enough for me to do parodies of.
D: What songs would you do parodies of?
AL: Oh gosh, off the top of my head, um, I don't know, I like a lot of more quirky music and alternative bands that most mainstream radio stations wouldn't play.
D: I was going to ask you about Oingo Boingo.
AL: Huge fan of Oingo Boingo.
D: I've been getting into them.
J: Frank Zappa, as well.
J: Did you get to meet him ever?
AL: Yeah, I met him years ago when I was still working in a mail room. I worked in a mail room for a company called Westwood One in California. They did a lot of interviews with celebrities and rock stars. Frank Zappa came in one day and I got to say "Hi" to him and he signed my tattered copy of Freak Out, and this is after I did Another One Rides The Bus and it was on the Dr. Demento radio show but before I really had a record deal. And Frank knew me from that song and he went "Oh, I should get your autograph for Dweezil, he loves that song." It just blew my mind that Frank Zappa was asking me for my autograph -- I just couldn't comprehend it.
J: When you go to awards shows like the MTV Music Awards, have there been any celebrities you've just wanted to punch out? And if so, have you had the chance?
"There's nobody I want to punch."
AL: That I want to punch out?
AL: No, there's nobody I want to punch.
J: Really? Because I've seen people like 50 Cent and others like that and think they just can't be like that all the time, and if he was he wouldn't survive long enough being in a room with other celebrities. Are they really like that?
AL: I can't speak for 50 Cent, I've never met him, but you know. I'm not really close with any of the people I would meet at the MTV Music Awards but they all seem you know OK nobody I had an impulse to want to punch out, certainly.
J: Have there been any celebrities you've wanted to punch out or have violence towards them?
D: And that you're willing to tell us about?
J: We can pause the tape.
AL: No no, I'm a pretty Ghandi-esque non-violent kind of guy. So even if someone was really irritating I wouldn't have any impulse to punch them in the face.
J: I read about what happened with Coolio with Amish Paradise and him cracking it over the song and you've responded to him, has he still not responded back?
AL: No, I haven't had a response. I believe he's been asked about it in interviews over and over and I have to assume he's calmed down since then -- now, it's been seven years ago at this point. So you know I think he's fine with it but to this day I still don't know what happened there. He claims he didn't give us permission for the song and my record label claims they asked him in person and he was fine with it so I don't know who's lying.
J: Have there been any celebrities you've tried to parody and they've gone "no"?
AL: Yeah, it's pretty rare, but for example, Prince never let me do parodies.
J: He's touring now.
AL: That's what I hear. He wouldn't be my opening act, I was heartbroken about that.
D: You sort of got big in the early '80s in Los Angeles, where there was a big sort of punk and metal scene. I was wondering if you sort of hung out with those guys or hung out with the comedy guys or hung out with any of them?
AL: I don't typically hang out with celebrities...
D: Yeah, I know, but at the same time you were getting big all these other bands were getting big, I was wondering if you were friends with them?
AL: Yeah, not close, but some people I would say hi to if was at an awards show or something like that, but probably more with the comedy guys. Emo Philips and Judy Tenuta have been friends of mine for a long time and I'm friends with Drew Carey and people like that. And I know a lot of heavy metal guys from back then but nobody I'd go bowling with, probably, at this point.
D: Nobody you'd parody?
AL: Well not at this point, it might have made sense back then in the early '80s.
J: Are you going to do an entire album of polka music?
AL: Probably not
J: I think there may be a small market for that.
AL: Yeah, very small. [laughs]
J: I think if you did it people might buy it.
AL: You know, I've done enough polka songs on my albums over the years that if you really want a polka collection you could take them all and burn every polka song onto your own CD.
D: I believe I have.
AL: There you go. I tried that and after a while my head started to swell and throb.