"Every time I put out an album," says Weird Al Yankovic, "people call it a comeback." Known for his parodies of pop songs like Michael Jackson's "Beat It" (which he remade as "Eat It") and Chamillionaire's "Ridin'" ("White & Nerdy"), the singer adds that the comeback talk arises no matter how long he waits between albums. "Whether it's 18 months or five years, it's always like, 'Oh, we never thought we'd hear from this guy again!'"
Yet there's no denying that Yankovic, 55, made a bigger-than-usual splash with his latest record, "Mandatory Fun," which came out in July amid a barrage of eight music videos that premiered online over eight days. With typically good-natured spoofs of hits by Lorde and Robin Thicke — whose "Blurred Lines" became the grammar-themed "Word Crimes" — the album debuted at No. 1, Yankovic's first time atop the Billboard 200. Now it's up for best comedy album at Sunday night's Grammy Awards. He discussed the nomination recently at his home in the Hollywood Hills.
A question of taxonomy: Unlike the other albums in the comedy category, yours consists of songs — catchy ones. Might it be better thought of as a pop record?
It's many things, but it's primarily, at least in my mind, a comedy album. And it's interesting how the Grammys have dealt with comedy albums over time. There used to be separate categories: a musical-comedy category and a spoken-word category. Then they combined the two. But for a 10-year period — I think from 1993 to 2003 — musical comedy was not considered part of the comedy category at all, which I jokingly refer to as the Yankovic Exclusionary Rule.
Some of the tunes parodied on "Mandatory Fun," like Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" and Pharrell Williams' "Happy," are nominated for Grammys as well. They're still unavoidable on the radio. Do you keep listening to a song after you've created your version?
I tend to pick songs that I like. And I retain my fandom; I have nostalgia for the eras in which they lived. Having said that, if they come on the radio, I'll change the channel because if I'm still doing the song in concert, I don't want to fill my brain with those lyrics. I've learned my own lyrics, and my mental RAM is easily reprogrammed.
You were everywhere in the media when the album came out. Looking back, was that the hardest you'd ever worked in a week?
More than anything, I remember it as being very emotional. By the middle of the week, rumors were flying that it might be a No. 1 album, which was so far beyond my expectations that it was sort of hard for me to hold it together, you know? I've had a long career and definitely had big moments, but I've never had that kind of attention focused on me.
With a new video every day, you were working at the speed of the Internet, and the Internet responded. Your videos got tens of millions of views. Think you'll continue to feed the beast in a similar way?
I'm at a point in my life where I don't have to do anything I don't want to do, so I'm just going to let inspiration guide me. If it feels like I'm forcing it, I won't do it. I've said that I don't think I'm going to be doing any more conventional albums, and I still think that's true — which I know sounds ironic after the success of this one. But I just feel like what I do lends itself more toward putting out singles and releasing things digitally as soon as I think of them.
You teamed with established sites such as Funny or Die and College Humor to roll out the videos. Why not create your own destination?
That's been pitched to me. I don't know. It's an option, but that just feels like undertaking a whole industry in a way. It's never been a big desire of mine to be a mogul.
The Internet has changed more than the delivery method for pop culture. It's allowed more people to make it too.
It's given people a taste of validation they never had before. Social media is very addicting. It's addicting for me, and I can only imagine what it's like for somebody writing jokes and getting hundreds of thousands of followers. And that's great. I mean, talent can come from anywhere, and it's amazing to see somebody from Nebraska being just as funny on Twitter as Steve Martin. It levels the playing field.
How does that impact what you do?
The main effect it's had on me is that I no longer go for the low-hanging fruit because 10,000 other people have already thought of it. I don't want to be the millionth person to do a particular joke.
Is high-hanging fruit hard to find? Artists seem to have more of a sense of humor about themselves today than they did 10 or 20 years ago. Eminem is practically a self-parodist.
Some of his stuff could be perceived that way. But I think "Lose Yourself" was a very serious and gritty song, and that made sense to do [as "Couch Potato"].
That's an exception for him, though. In most of his other songs, he understands his own excesses.
Right — they're more self-aware. That makes it more challenging. It reminds me of the episode of "30 Rock" I did where the Jenna Maroney character didn't want me to make fun of her, so she pre-Weird Al'd herself.
You're headed out on tour this year. What should your fans expect?
Oh, it's a whole production — five tractor-trailers with instruments and band gear and lights.
Would you ever consider doing something more stripped-down? "An Evening With Weird Al"?
My concerts have evolved in a certain way. People have expectations, and I like to fulfill them for the most part. But it's something I'd be open to. At some point in my life it might be pathetic to see me jumping around onstage in a costume.