I’d imagine that every parody you do can’t be golden…. Which ones have you tried to execute over the years and subsequently scrapped?
There have been plenty of hit songs that seemed like they would make great parodies, but I just couldn’t think of any ideas for them that weren’t — well, lame. While working on my new album, I briefly considered and then jettisoned a lot of mediocre ideas like “Had A Bad Date” (Daniel Powter), “Holodeck Girl” (Gwen Stefani), “IRS” (Rihanna), “Hairy Back” (Justin Timberlake) — you get the picture.
R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” is almost a Weird Al song in itself. How did you come up with “Trapped in the Drive-Thru”?
I knew I couldn’t make my R. Kelly parody any more ridiculous or convoluted than the original, but I believed that I could make it more stupid. Because that’s where I really shine. So I tried to keep all the overblown drama intact–only now it’s an 11-minute song about a couple getting burgers at the drive-thru, which was the most banal thing I could think of at the time.
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What happened with James Blunt and “You’re Pitiful”?
Actually, James Blunt was totally fine with it, and “You’re Pitiful” was going to be my lead single. Then, the day after we announced the original release date for Straight Outta Lynwood, we heard from Blunt’s label (Atlantic Records) that they didn’t want the parody to come out. That was really odd — generally, if anybody has a problem with the parody, it’s the artist — the label is usually more than happy to get the free publicity and extra revenue. But they said it was”too early” in James’ career for a parody, and they were afraid that focusing any more attention on “Beautiful” at that point might lead to the perception of James as a “one-hit wonder.” I used the argument that my Nirvana parody didn’t seem to kill their budding career — and in fact I was told by an executive at Nirvana’s label that I probably helped sell them an extra million copies of Nevermind. Atlantic was unswayed — they said the timing was just really bad. They didn’t say I couldn’t do the parody — they just said they’d let me know “when the time was right.” So we cancelled our release date and waited. Finally, months later, we got the answer: the “right” time, apparently, was “never.” For me, that was the last straw. I had put too much time, effort and money into the song for it to never see the light of day. Now, I’m extremely respectful of artists’ wishes, and always have been, but since this was a bunch of suits trying to jerk me around (and not James Blunt, who had approved it) I had no problem releasing the song as a free download on the web. Within days, it was a viral worldwide hit.
Chamillionaire told Rolling Stone that he was honored that you’d chosen to parody his song. He liked your lyrics, but seemed most satisfied that it would make him more money. When did you notice that famous artists see being parodied by you as a compliment — a badge of honor, if you will — as opposed to a put-down?
I think the turning point was really Michael Jackson giving permission for “Eat It” in 1984. That made all the difference. A lot of artists have really been supportive over the years. Madonna herself suggested the idea for “Like A Surgeon.” Mark Knopfler played his own guitar tracks on my Dire Straights parody. Nelly gave me the wardrobe that I wore on stage for my “Hot In Herre” take-off. Kurt Cobain said that he didn’t realize he’d made it until he heard “Smells Like Nirvana.” Jimmy Page and Robert Plant allowed me to re-record a Zeppelin song on my new album — which I’m told is pretty darn rare. I’ve also gotten to perform my parodies on stage with a number of the original artists, including Jimmy Webb, Crash Test Dummies and the Presidents Of the United States Of America. I think at this point a lot of artists consider it to be a bit of a status symbol — like, forget how many Grammys you’ve won — where’s your Weird Al parody?
What new parody are you most excited about performing onstage?
Well, I’m really looking forward to doing “White & Nerdy” in concert, but that’s going to be a killer — it’s just a lot of words to get out in a short period of time. I’m guessing the Green Day parody “Canadian Idiot” is probably going to be the most fun to perform live — I just hope the Canadian audiences aren’t irony-impaired, eh?