It’s been 40 years since “Weird” Al Yankovic catapulted onto the pop culture scene, courtesy of his initial hit parody. The quirky vocalist-accordionist landed on the charts courtesy of his mock-up of The Knack’s “My Sharona” with “My Bologna.”
Since then Yankovic has effectively parodied Michael Jackson (“Eat It” instead of “Beat It”), Madonna (“Like a Surgeon” as opposed to “Like a Virgin”) and Coolio (“Amish Paradise,” not “Gangsta’s Paradise.”)
What’s new with Yankovic is that he’s performing with a 41-piece orchestra on his “Strings Attached” tour, which stops July 13 at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. The concert will pair him with the North Carolina Symphony along with costumes, props and his own band.
Yankovic spoke to The News & Observer in a phone interview from Detroit, revealing who has taken umbrage with one of his parodies, what it’s like to outlast many of the recording artists he’s parodied and why he turned out weird.
Q: How bummed are you that Mad magazine recently announced that it’s ceasing publication, and what kind of an impact did Mad have on you?
A: I am very sad about it. It’s the end of an era. Mad was an American institution. They’re a big reason why I turned out weird. It changed my life and warped my comedic sensibilities. I was a voracious Mad reader. I went into stores looking for back issues. I absolutely loved Mad.
Q: It feels like there is a common denominator between what you do and Mad.
A: It’s definitely a PG thing and it’s never contrived. What I do with parodies is an extension of my personality.
Q: You keep it clean like comics Jerry Seinfeld and Brian Regan.
A: I get the connection between the comedians you mentioned and myself but no comic wants to be viewed as safe. I cross that line when it’s appropriate.
Q: But it’s about being funny, and it’s more difficult to be amusing without have a crutch.
A: Agreed. I don’t have to worry about using shock humor to get a laugh.
Q: Your Michael Jackson parodies have been a staple in your set for years but they’re not part of this tour. Is it due to the “Leaving Neverland” documentary?
A: Yeah. I’ve been doing the Michael Jackson parodies in concert for 35 years. It was time to give them a break.
Q: How has it been touring with an orchestra, and was it inspired by your Hollywood Bowl dates, which featured you with an orchestra for the first time?
A: It’s been pretty amazing. You mention the Hollywood Bowl dates, and that’s exactly where the idea came from. I did two nights at the Bowl a few years ago, and it was like religious experience. With the orchestra, the songs sounded better than they ever did.
Q: The “Star Wars” parodies must sound great with an orchestra.
A: They do. When we first started doing the “Star Wars” songs at the Hollywood Bowl, I got a little misty-eyed. It felt like I was inside the movie. Those “Star Wars’ songs are ingrained in your head from the first time you saw the movie.
Q: How does it feel to outlast many of the recording artists you have parodied?
A: It’s pretty crazy and quite ironic. Nobody wanted to sign me to a record deal during the early ‘80s. I was told, “You’re a novelty act, you’ll be gone in three months.” I’ve been lucky but I’ve worked hard.
Q: Didn’t you once tell me that you were on a flight with Coolio, and he was upset with you because of some issue he had with your parody of “Gangsta’s Paradise?”
A: (Laughs). Yes. We were flying from Los Angeles to Toronto. We were both in first class but I hid behind a newspaper during the entire flight. I don’t like confrontations. I’m anti-drama. People recognize me and I try not to stir things up. There was a miscommunication there with Coolio. It all was resolved. Most musicians look at my work as a badge of honor. Lady Gaga called it a right of passage when I parodied her (“Born This Way” with “Perform This Way.”)
Q: Would you like to do something completely different than parodies?
A: Yes. I would love to do a Broadway show full of original songs.
Q: If you do that, you could be parodied. How would you feel about that?
A: I would be fair game, wouldn’t I?
Who: Weird Al Yankovic with the North Carolina Symphony
When: 8 p.m. July 13
Where: Koka Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary.
Tickets: $29.50 to $75
Info: 919-462-2025 or boothamphitheatre.com