The West

Weird Al turns over a new leaf
'Weird Al' turns over a new leaf

Given "Weird Al" Yankovic's penchant for hideously garish shirts, what does the king of comedy songs wear when he's in Hawaii?

"I wear everything BUT Hawaiian shirts," he chuckles down the line during a family holiday in America's 50th State, "just because I like to stand out."

The 51-year-old behind the cheesy yet classic parodies Like a Surgeon, Eat It and Smells Like Nirvana is taking a break between another extensive US tour and his first ever dates in the UK and Holland.

While Europe might be getting its first slice of Yankovic, Aussie fans will soon get their third chance to catch the oddball performer since he first toured in 2003 - the same year his daughter Nina was born.

The tour, which includes a Perth date in March, may coincide with the Australian release of his first children's book, When I Grow Up - it's due for release in the US next month.

Did Nina inspire his foray into kids' lit? "Not really, if I'm going to be totally honest," Yankovic says. "I've always wanted to write a children's book. I felt it wouldn't be appropriate for me to write a children's book until I had a kid, so I basically had a daughter so that I could write the book."

Yankovic is surprisingly earnest in interviews, although his nervous nerdy laugh is never too far away. He says When I Grow Up aims to empower kids with the knowledge "that there is a universe of possibilities out there and not to get pigeonholed into something". He wants them "to be aware . . . that you can do pretty much anything you choose to do in life and don't let anybody tell you otherwise".

The newbie author drew on his own experience of spending four years getting an architecture degree he never wanted to use.

"I always had the stereotypical rock-star fantasies but I never in a million years thought that I would have any kind of career in pop culture or the music industry," he says. "I thought, I better just knuckle down and be an adult and have a real job. So I got a degree in architecture thinking that I'll design houses for a living."

Even at high school Yankovic was putting down weird songs on a little tape recorder, accompanying himself on piano accordion. One of his early songs, My Bologna, a parody of the Knack's hit My Sharona, became his first single in 1979. Since then, any artist invading the airwaves, MTV or iTunes has been grist for his mirthful mill across 12 studio albums.

Yankovic has recorded 11 songs for the follow-up to 2006's Straight Outta Lynwood but is holding out for a mega-hit to send-up. "I'm sort of at the mercy of the pop culture gods and hopefully something will rock the zeitgeist and I'll be able to have some kind of funny take on it."

Surely Lady Gaga is in his sights, even if - as a long-time vegan - he might not wish to don a meat dress similar to the one she wore to the MTV Video Music Awards in September.

"Well, for my art I would have to suffer, I think," says Yankovic, who refuses to confirm a Gaga parody. "I can confirm that she is featured in the next polka medley."

Besides a new album and children's book, the multi-talented author and musician recently created a 10-minute 3-D movie called Al's Brain. He starred in and directed the educational yet funny film, which has screened at the Orange County Fair for the past two years, alongside his mother-in-law and Sir Paul McCartney.

"We just asked him," Yankovic laughs. "I always had it in the script, like some impossibly hard-to-get celebrity asks . . . 'So Al, tell me, how exactly does the brain work?'

"Paul McCartney was the first person we approached. Out of the blue, his publicist called up and said, 'Yeah, Paul would like to do it. When would you like him?' If I never do anything again in my life, I can say that I've directed Paul McCartney."

For the book and film he is credited simply as Al Yankovic. He explains that he's only "Weird Al" when performing either on stage, on a record or in front of a camera.

But has he ever considered dropping the "Weird" and doing a serious album of originals?

"I really have no desire to do that," he says. "I really enjoy mixing comedy with music, and that's how my brain is wired. "I think there are enough people in the world who do serious music. I'll leave that to Kylie Minogue."

"Weird Al" Yankovic plays Burswood Theatre on March 21. Tickets from Ticketek.

The West Australian

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