'Weird Al' Yankovic Reflects On 25 Years Of 'UHF' - And Looks Forward To A Broadway Musical
It's been 25 years since "Weird" Al Yankovic's movie "UHF" hit theaters - and subsequently bombed. But in the intervening 25 years, it's become a cult classic, now complete with a commemorative Blu-ray edition hitting stores today (November 11) from Shout Factory - as well as "The Compleat Al" on DVD.
In honor of the release, MTV News hopped on the phone with the parody legend himself to look back on 25 years of "UHF," how internet fame has changed his life (or not), and to get a little tease of his next project... A Broadway musical.
MTV News: What's it like looking back and thinking, wow, we're actually having a 25th anniversary for "UHF?"
Al Yankovic: [Laughs] It's very gratifying actually, especially after that opening weekend when it didn't perform up to anyone's expectations, I thought that it would be a movie that was quickly forgotten, when it actually slowly grew into what many people call a cult classic.
The fact that now it’s now a beloved cult classic… It's nice. As much as I would have preferred a blockbuster, a beloved cult film is a nice consolation prize.
MTV: Like you said, the movie didn't do that great when it was initially released… Is that why you didn't go back to do more movies?
Yankovic: Well, that wasn't really my choice! I've always been open to doing more movies, and movie studios for some reason aren't anxious to greenlight movies from people who just had a major box office bomb.
If "UHF" had performed very well, I assume I may have had a bit of a movie career, but that wasn't the case. I've always remained open to the possibility of doing more films.
MTV: Have you explored that at all in recent years? You've certainly had a resurgence recently. Your album was number one, which was huge – so have people started reaching out at all again?
Yankovic: Filmwise, we haven't gotten any feelers lately, and it's certainly something I've been looking for. I have done cameos here and there. I did all three "Naked Gun" movies, Rob Zombie asked me to be in "Halloween 2," so like I said, I'm open to that.
I haven't put a lot of effort into kickstarting my film career again, just because I don't have the energy right now to write a script on spec, because it's a big commitment of time. And I've had many other things in my life – my recording, and my touring and all that – which seem like they're a surer thing.
I've always known that if I recorded an album, it would come out, and people would enjoy it! Whereas if I wrote a movie script, chances are better than even that I'd just be another guy in L.A. with a movie script in his drawer.
MTV: In a way, what you've been doing with your recent albums – releasing shorts through different online outlets – is very reminiscent of the short sketches in "UHF." And the more recent videos have all been hits. So do you think if you released "UHF" now, it might have gotten a different reception?
Yankovic: Hard to say. The movie is definitely a product of its era, and comedy has changed so much over the decades. I don't know if it would have the same impact if it came out today. The pacing would probably have to be different. Certainly the pop culture references would have to be different.
There were things that were topical when the movie came out in the late 80s that some people may not even remember. The whole Geraldo fiasco with Al Capone's vault, things like that…
But it has been brought up to me that the movie has a very YouTube sensibility, someone even said it was a little prescient and foreshadowed the whole YouTube phenomenon.
MTV: Playing "what if" a little then, if you did the movie now would it have to be focused on Internet culture, versus a public access station?
Yankovic: It would have to be. For one thing, UHF is an anachronism. I don't think that word would even exist for public television anymore. When I was a kid, that was the only place you could go to see weird television. You'd use the UHF dial, and you'd find the PBS stations, and the Spanish speaking stations, and the weird stations.
If you want strange now, you go straight to the internet. If it were to be rewritten now it would have to be some kind of internet based phenomenon, as opposed to a terrestrial broadcast.
MTV: This is tying together a few things we've been talking about, but your recent success, the celebration of the anniversary of "UHF," and everything that's been going on around you for the past year – is this internet culture finally catching up to you, or is it something you're doing differently on your end?
Yankovic: It's hard to say. A lot of people have been trying to figure out, "Why is Al still here?" [Laughs] You could point to a number of things. I certainly never anticipated that my last album would go to number one, that's beyond my wildest dreams.
I've been able to hold on to most of my fanbase over the years, and with every album I put out I acquire a few more fans. There's been a little bit of a snowball effect. A lot of people have pointed to the fact that my last album was marketed very well. My idea of the eight video premieres in eight days seemed to be hugely effective, and it created a bit of an internet phenomenon, which was the whole intention – and got people talking about the album during release week.
And I do think as an artist I'm getting better. I honestly think, though I'm a bit biased, that my last album is my best album. There's a lot of things you can point to, but I can't say for sure what the actual reason is.
MTV: One of my favorite albums when I was a kid – and I don't think you've done anything like this since – was the double-sided "Peter and the Wolf/Carnival of Animals" album. Would you ever want to do something like that again? Something more experimental?
Yankovic: Absolutely, I'm always looking for different ways of doing things while still maintaining my sensibility, and my brand so to speak. The "Carnival of Animals" project was a lot of fun, Wendy Carlos was terrific, I was honored to work with her.
There are things I'm trying to get off the ground… I probably shouldn't talk about it, because things that are in the developmental stages don't always come to fruition. But I'm talking with some people about possibly writing a Broadway musical. Things like that, which are a bit outside of my comfort zone, but where I could put my own personal stamp on it.
MTV: I have to imagine doing a Broadway musical – unless it's original music – if it's a jukebox type musical of your parodies, the rights for that must be a nightmare.
Yankovic: They probably would be. That's something we had talked about and considered, but I'm actually more interested in doing something original. If somebody else wants to do a Weird Al jukebox musical, I'm all for it!
MTV: So while you’re doing all this, are you also working on a new album?
Yankovic: I'm probably not going to be doing any more conventional albums persay, because now that my record contract is fulfilled – "Mandatory Fun" was the fourteenth album on a 14 album contract – so it's been a 32-year-long contract… Now that I'm free to do what I please, I'm probably not going to do albums. Just because I think releasing tracks as singles is a better way for me to stay topical.
I'm not quite focusing on that yet. I'm slowly starting to put the tour together, because that's the next thing on my schedule. We're going to start touring next year, probably starting in May but that's not confirmed yet. I'm putting together the multi-media video package, and figure out the set list and work with a band.
MTV: Beyond "UHF," Shout Factory is putting "The Compleat Al" out on DVD. Looking back on that, what has changed in parody music since that was released.
Yankovic: In the '80s, I was the only game in town, I was the only one getting that kind of exposure in any rotation on MTV. Now with internet culture it seems like everyone is doing music parodies.
And they're not all good! [Laughs] I choose to think the good parodies still rise to the top and people find out about them, it's just something that's become more a part of the everyday lexicon. It's not such a novelty, let's say, to see any kind of a music video parody because it's omnipresent.
MTV: So for you, people would discover your music by listening to Dr. Demento. Where do you go now to find musical parodies?
Yankovic: YouTube is kind of your one-stop shop for that kind of thing. I have to say that I try not to expose myself to a lot of that. I'm aware of what's out there, but I don't watch a lot of other people's parodies because I don't want to be unduly influenced.
In fact, when I come up with an idea for a parody I try to resist the urge to Google the idea to see if someone has done it already because the answer is almost always, "Yes, of course they have, they've thought of it!"
I do take care these days to not just go with the most obvious idea, and try to think a little outside the box. For example when "Blurred Lines" came out, there were a million parodies and most of them revolved around making fun of how misogynistic they perceived the original song to be.
So my choice was to go in a completely random direction and make it a song about the proper usage of grammar. Which I have to assume not many people chose to go down that road.
MTV: I only saw five, six of those. So what are you listening to now, then? When, say, Taylor Swift's new album comes out, do you pick it up and start riffing? Or can you ever pick up an album and just say, "I'm going to legitimately enjoy this!"
Yankovic: Almost always, it's the latter. I'm a music fan, and I can listen to the radio, or music, without thinking, "How am I going to screw this up?" [Laughs] If I'm really actively trying to think of a parody, then I'll have my antenna out, and be a little more proactive about it.
But I'm not even trying to think about that so much right now, because I figured I'm not going to put out any new material until after the holidays at least, because I want to support and encourage people to get "Mandatory Fun."
Starting early next year, I'll be more interested to figure out my next direction.
MTV: Before I let you get, in the 25 years since "UHF" have you ever been able to look at a firehouse in the same way?
Yankovic: No, that completely changed my perception of fire hoses! [Laughs]
The 25th Anniversary "UHF" special edition, and "The Compleat Al" are both available from Shout Factory now.