‘Weird Al’ Yankovic on Being ‘Comedy Bang! Bang!’s New Bandleader
When IFC announced that “Weird Al” Yankovic was going to join Scott Aukerman as the bandleader on the TV version of Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, it was a head-smackingly obvious choice. If Al has proven anything over his 35-year career, it’s that his comedic sensibility is twisted, but in a good way; the chance to join what he calls “one of my all-time favorite shows” seemed like a natural fit.
It’s been a busy couple of years for Al. In 2014, Mandatory Fun became his first number one album on the Billboard Top 200 chart after he released videos for all the songs over a one-week period. He also made appearances at the 2014 Emmys and on comedies like Galavant and The Goldbergs. Al took some time from his busy schedule to talk to TV Insider about Comedy Bang! Bang!, his new Disney XD animated show, Milo Murphy’s Law, and how he hopes to take some time off after his current tour—unless some other cool project comes along, that is.
Were you a fan of Comedy Bang! Bang!? How did it come together that you were joining the show?
Absolutely. Scott [Aukerman] was well aware of that Comedy Bang! Bang! was one of my all-time favorite shows. I love the humor. I think Scott’s great. The writing team is fantastic. It features some of my favorite people in comedy. Literally, the morning after I got home from tour, I get an email from Scott saying, “You want to be the bandleader for Comedy Bang! Bang!?” It’s not often that I get a chance to go host one of my all-time favorite shows, so I said—I didn’t say yes, because I cannot make unilateral decisions, I have to run it by various people who are vested in my career—I said, “We’re going to find a way to make this happen, because I want to do this. For sure.”
I have to say, the experience was so fun. This is the closest I’ve had to a day job in about twenty years, because you have to get up at six o’clock every morning and go to a set in Glendale, and work for long hours. It was hard work, but every single day was different, working with amazing people. It was just a joy, every single day.
Had you been a fan of the podcast, as well?
Absolutely. I was on the podcast pretty early on; I forget what number it was, but I think I was one of the first twenty podcasts, at least, and he’s over four hundred now. The podcast I’ve always loved it as well, and obviously the TV show is based on the podcast, but they are two very different things. The other thing I liked about the TV show is it’s less pressure in a way, because it’s highly edited. The podcast is basically anything that comes out of your mouth is on the podcast; you can feel free to say stupid stuff on the TV show, because if it winds up not being funny, then they don’t use it.
Watch the entire first episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! Season 5:
It feels like on the TV show, only the interview segments are improvisational, but is there more improvisational stuff in there than we realize?
We improv on occasion, during the scripted pieces like you normally wouldn’t, and sometimes the director doesn’t say, “Cut,” so we keep acting even though there are no lines. By and large, the interviews themselves are unscripted, but the storyline bits are scripted.
What was the most nerve-wracking part of joining a show that’s been on for a few years, and one that was a favorite of yours?
I wouldn’t say that it was nerve-wracking, but I had some pretty big shoes to fill. I think there’s nobody in the universe that was better suited to being the bandleader of Comedy Bang! Bang! than Reggie Watts. I mean, I think Kid Cudi did a great job, but I think Reggie was the gold standard. Those were huge shoes to fill, and I tried to bring my own thing to it, but at the same time try to keep part of what made Reggie’s tenure at the show charming. It was a little bit of a challenge for me to try to not only fit in, but bring something new to the show.
Considering how well-known you are, how well do you think incorporated you as part of the team?
They did a really good job of it. There would be an occasional reference to me being Weird Al, or me having a whole career separate from Comedy Bang! Bang!, but by and large, I think, they just treated me like the new bandleader. At no point in the whole season do I whip out an accordion, I don’t do parody songs. Basically, it’s my new job. I’m the co-host and bandleader for Comedy Bang! Bang!. There’s the occasional allusion to it, but mostly it’s just me trying to fit into my new role on the show.
You make a joke in one of the episodes about your friends being Prince, Madonna, and Bruce Springsteen. Unfortunately, I don’t know if they are going to edit that or not, or if they are going to leave that in.
Yeah. I think they are probably going to assume people know that it was recorded before Prince passed. I just realized that recently, and I was kind of like, oh, yeah. That’s a little odd.
Did you ever do a Prince song?
I never did. He never gave permission. I approached him several times in the ’80s and early ’90s, he just wasn’t into it. If I cannot get the blessing of an artist, I’ll just move on.
How do you feel about people putting you on lists like that of ’80s icons, since you’re still here, and you’re still doing a lot of relevant work, and you’ve been around as long as, as long, or longer than some of them have?
I don’t feel like I am in their echelon, certainly, but just the sheer fact that I’ve been able to maintain some resemblance of a career for as long as them, it has given me some kind of gravitas, I guess, I don’t know. People give me a level of respect now that I never anticipated having, just because I’ve survived. I’m still here, after all these years.
How did you recover from that whole busy time in 2014, when your album Mandatory Fun went to number one, and you were doing all that promotion?
I went through a little decompression period. That was maybe the craziest point in my life, and it was exciting, but at the same time it was kind of hard to keep my brain from exploding. It was nice to have to take a few weeks off, and just unplug for a bit.
You ended up doing Galavant. You also did the Emmys.
Oh, you mean the live performance on the Emmys? That was not too long after, because I remember after my crazy week of promotion, and the album going number one, I had a plan to go to Hawaii for a month and my wife was like, “That’s the plan, but you know that’s not going to happen, somebody is going to make you an offer that you cannot refuse, and your going to have to come back,” and I said, “Oh. Okay. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” I was literally on a black sand beach in Maui, and my cell phone rings, and it’s Seth Meyers saying, “Hey. Do you want to perform at the Emmys?” I was like, “Okay. I’m coming back.”
How could you refuse?
You cannot say no to stuff like that.
You also did The Goldbergs. Did you consciously decide to scale back from music for a while, and just do some other projects?
I didn’t want to rush right back into doing more music. I just had a number one album, and I just kind of wanted to dwell on that for a while, because that’s still my latest project. In Hollywood, the common conventional wisdom is you’re only as good as your last project. I just want this one stand for a while, but at some point I will get back into music, and release some stuff online, and doing more music videos and things like that. In the meantime, I’ve been offered all these wonderful things, and all these exciting projects. I like doing new things, and as I long as I keep getting offered fun new projects, that’s probably going to take my time and attention for a while.
By the way, with The Goldbergs, how weird did it feel to don the curly wig, the little mustache and the glasses?
It was like putting on a Weird Al Halloween costume. That is not the first time I had done that. I also did something similar for How I Met Your Mother, I did a little cameo as my ’80s self, in that. It was an interesting experience, trying to get back to were I was thirty years ago.
You’ve had your current look for so long, it’s kind of weird to think that people may look at your eighties self, and be like, “He looked like that at one time?”
The weird thing to me is, I have looked the way that I look currently since the late nineties, and yet, when people dress up like me for Halloween, it’s still the ’80d look. It’s still the glasses, and the mustache, and the bangs. I guess that was sort of like the iconic look.
Comedy Bang! Bang! reminds me a lot of AL TV in a way. Is that why you like the show so much?
I feel like it’s my sensibility. I don’t draw a direct line between Comedy Bang! Bang! and AL TV necessarily, but I do feel like Scott and I, are similar in terms of our sense of humor. That’s one of the reasons why, and even before being involved in the show, I was such a huge fan; it just really appealed to me in all levels.
How hard is it to ride that line between “funny strange” and strange, where only three people are going to get the humor?
[CBB] is not entirely like television from Mars; there’s some stuff on Adult Swim that’s maybe a little bit more surrealistic. Comedy Bang! Bang! is just sort of more—and Scott would be so much better explaining this—but Comedy Bang! Bang! started out as a talk show that sort of made fun of talk show TV tropes, and then it became more based on tackling conventions, and movies, and TV shows, and doing parodies based on plot lines like that. It’s always had a very odd comedic sensibility. Which, I guess, you either tune into or you don’t. It’s certainly something that I really appreciate, and I’m glad there are other people as warped as I am.
As an actor. can you consciously think that “Okay, if I do it this way, more people will get it, but it will still be as warped as I want it to be?” Is it just second nature to do that certain way?
I always kind of zero in on what I think is the best or the funniest way to read a line, but at the same time, you always want to give them options. So you do what you think is right, and then, Scott will say, “Try it this way,” then “Try it three other different ways.” Comedy is usually made in the editing room, because sometimes you don’t know until all the pieces are together. That’s why Scott’s so involved in the editing of the show, because [of his] comedic timing, and the choices in editing are really critical in putting the show together.
Is there going to be a plot for Al the bandleader this year?
There certainly are shows that are more centered around me. Not necessarily around me in my role as the bandleader, but me in other roles, which I probably shouldn’t be giving anything away at this point. There definitely more Al-centric episodes than the ones you saw.
Which guest star were you most impressed with their ability to roll with what Scott was giving them during the interview segment?
I got to tell you, probably Joe Jonas. I didn’t know that he would be able to play the comedy, and I was very impressed by how easily he was able to roll with show, and the whole sensibility, and he was very, very funny.
Also, I got to bring in my friend Ben Folds on the show. I kind of knew that he’d be able to knock it out of the park, and of course he did. It’s just funny how, even though the show is so odd and twisted, and a lot of these people that are the the main guests are not necessarily comedic naturally, they fall right into line, and they get it, and they really have fun on the show, which is always fun to see.
On the Kevin Bacon episode, I was very surprised that he did extremely well with what Scott was throwing at him.
It was hilarious. Tegan and Sara came on the show, and they were great. The were so funny. I am trying to think who else. It’s always fun when somebody comes on that’s not inherently thought of as comedic and just does this amazing comedic performance.
Are you signed on beyond this season?
There is nothing on paper, but Scott has asked me, and I told him, basically I will do this as long as they want me on the show. It’s such a thrill for me to do this show, and I’ll do it as long as they like.
Tell me a little bit about the cartoon you are doing for Disney XD, Milo Murphy’s Law.
I play Milo Murphy, a great great great grandson of the Murphy that Murphy’s Law was named after. Basically, Milo is like a walking jinx, like everywhere he goes, things blow up, fall apart, but he’s a very optimistic, and very happy kid, and he embraces the chaos. There’s a lot of adventures based around—there’s all sorts of crazy time travel subplots, and alien stories, and things like that, as well—but it is all based around the fact that Milo is this walking disaster. The show is going to start airing, I think, in October, and it’s created by Dan Povenmire, and “Swampy” Marsh, who are the guys that created Phineas and Ferb.
How much can you stretch doing cartoon voiceovers?
As a art form voiceover might actually be my favorite thing to do, just because it’s so freeing. You don’t have to comb your hair, you don’t even have to memorize your lines. The script is right there in front of you, and you just get to go into a room, and have fun. Doing Milo Murphy’s Law was a thrill. I’ve done a lot of voiceover work for cartoons. I did a really dark thing for Batman vs. Robin, where I played a character called The Dollmaker, which was really, really dark. I love playing against type; you wouldn’t think of me doing a really dark and creepy character, but that was a lot of fun to do, as well.
You are on tour. Then what’s the plan?
Right. I start [this] month, then we’re on tour through the end of September. There is no firm plan after that. My plan is to take the next year entirely off from touring, and I kind of like not having a plan, because my life has been pretty planned out up to this point. I’d say odds are something probably will fall into my lap, whether it’s another season of Comedy Bang! Bang!, or it’s some other TV or feature film project, or something like that. I certainly at some point want to start writing new songs, and maybe doing some more music videos. Or, I might just take a lot of time off, and spend it with my family. That would be nice. I kind of like the idea of me not having any kind of firm plans after the end of the tour.
You also have a little bit more freedom with the music, too, because you don’t have a record contract anymore. Is that’s still a thought in your mind?
Yeah. Basically, it’s literally whenever I feel like it. Which is very nice, and very freeing, and that will happen at some point. But so far, I’ve been kind of sidetracked by a lot of other wonderful things.
Comedy Bang! Bang!, Season Premiere, Friday, June 3, 11/10c, IFC.