Weird Al Talks ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,’ His Spotify Wrapped Controversy, A Lin-Manuel Miranda Collab & More [Interview]

Life is extremely good nowadays if you’re a long-beloved, accordion-playing, specialized song parody artist. Weird Al Yankovic has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent years with number-one albums, Emmy nominations, Grammy awards, and, finally, a not-so-true biopic release last year to critic and audience acclaim, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” (read our review). 

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By all accounts, the film was a great success, and Weird Al’s career is somehow hotter than ever. Now, thanks to fan demand, the film’s physical 4K Blu-ray and DVD release is hitting shelves on Tuesday, December 12, via Shout! To celebrate the release, The Playlist’s Mike DeAngelo sat down with Al to talk about all things Al. 

READ MORE: ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’: Daniel Radcliffe & Director Eric Appel On Making a Parody of Music Biopics, Working with Al & More [The Discourse Podcast]

Throughout the conversation, Weird Al recalls the whirlwind 18-day shoot, seeing the finished film with a crowd, his recent Spotify Wrapped viral controversy, and even a potential collaboration with Lin-Manuel Miranda. 


Al! Your Highness! Your Weirdness! Whatever you want to be called, I will call you anything. How are you today, sir?
Al’s fine, that’s good. I’m good. 

Big fan of yours. I’m thrilled to be talking to you. I have the 4K Blu-ray here. I’ve watched every bit of it. I have the Weird Al shirts. I spoke with Daniel Radcliffe and director Eric Appel back when the movie came out on Roku. I thought I missed my chance to speak with you, but I’m glad we got to follow up with the Shout! release here. So, like I said, big fan, congratulations on the movie. 
Thank you. 

So basically, this all springs from the Funny or Die trailer from around 2010. You played it during your shows. And it’s my understanding that you were the one who, for a long time, was like, ‘Well, wouldn’t it make a good sketch and leave it at that? Let’s not make it a full-length feature.’ Is that true?
A bit. I think the idea had been floated at the time. Maybe we should try to make this into a movie. And I felt like it played the best as a three-minute bit on Funny or Die. It is what it’s supposed to be. But then, around 2019, I felt like maybe the time was right because “Bohemian Rhapsody” had just won the Oscars and broke box office records. And I think “Rocketman” was just about to come out. There were a lot of biopics at the time.

And I just thought there’s a way to expand this idea without making it seem like a sketch that goes on for an hour and a half. We could flesh it out and make it a real movie. And I pitched Eric [Appel] on that, and he was on board in two seconds. But yeah, it took a while for both of us to be on board. And I’m kind of glad it worked out that way because, I think Eric may have told you when he talked to you, it wouldn’t have been as good had we made it in 2010 because now he’s more mature and seasoned as a director. And I think we all have a better handle on what the movie should be. 

Yes, don’t take it personally, Aaron Paul and Olivia Wilde. But yes, it’s great the way it is. It is also extremely rare that the biopic’s subject actively co-writes, produces, and co-stars in the film. And, looking at many interviews that you’ve done and Eric has done, it almost seems like he allowed you a little bit of free rein to almost co-direct in certain aspects. Was it always a condition that you’d have at least a little bit of a hand on the wheel? 
Well, we didn’t have any contracts or oral agreements. I mean, it just went without saying that we kind of created it together. We wrote it together, and I would always be very involved, so he would always listen to me. If I approached him on the set and said, ‘Hey, Eric, why don’t you try this?’ And I try not to do that very often because I know what it’s like to direct, and I let him do what he does. And he’s a fantastic director. So, I didn’t want to get in his way. But I was there on set every second of the shoot on the off chance that I had an idea that I thought would make the movie better.

It had to be so surreal to make this movie about yourself. But it’s also kind of through this weird prism. Obviously, it’s perfect for the subject, but it had to be strange. 
The whole thing was like a fever dream. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. As long as I have been in Hollywood, I know not to count my chickens. I didn’t even want to tell people I had a movie until after it had been edited because things tend to fall apart. And, particularly with this movie, which we were making under semi-impossible conditions, nobody thought we’d be able to pull off this movie in 18 days. I’m still surprised that we did, and it turned out so well. But the whole time we made it, I kept thinking, ‘OK, this is day five. It’s all going to fall apart tomorrow. Dan is going to get COVID. The set’s going to shut down like something horrible will happen!’ And it never did. We actually got through it, and it turned out great. 

Yeah. And back when I talked to Daniel & Eric, it had already started screening at festivals, and they said that the first one they went to was like, ‘Holy cow, this is like a rock concert!’ Eric said, he looked at you in the eyes, and it was just like, ‘What is this?’ How was that experience as Al himself? 
It was insane. Because of our low budget, we couldn’t afford any test screenings. So, the first time we ever sat in front of an audience was at the Toronto International Film Festival on Midnight Madness and a room filled with not only media but fans who had literally flown from around the world to see the world premiere of the new Weird Al movie. And the energy in that room was just off the charts. It was just insane. And I thought the movie was funny, but you never know until you’re in a crowd. And they loved every minute of it. It was amazing. 

I can always judge comedies by how they play when I’m alone. It’s fun to see this with a crowd, and I’ve watched it with friends, but I was completely alone the first time I saw it. I was on my couch. I got a screener and laughed out loud the whole time. And if I’m laughing out loud alone, then I know it’s a damn funny movie. 
I’ve heard from many people who watched this movie for the first time on an airplane because they just started putting it on certain flights. They said they were annoying the other passengers because they were laughing so loudly. 

Daniel Radcliffe also mentioned those accordion videos you would send him for instructional purposes, and he said that you played absurdly fast and always finished with, ‘Yeah, it’ll probably be a little faster than that.’ And he was like, ‘I genuinely am not sure if he was pranking me or not.’ So, I figured now that I have you, and this will hold up in Accordion Court, so don’t mess around. Were you messing with poor Daniel Radcliffe?
I was not messing with him. But the point was that I never anticipated that he actually wanted to be playing all the exact right notes. I was basically showing him the hands if you’re going to play like that. Now, he’s like, ‘Oh, no, the index finger is on the E flat?’ And I was just like, ‘We’re faking this anyway. And it’s not about how well you play the accordion. As long as it looks vaguely like you’re in the right place on the keyboard, that’s all I care about.’

Yeah, he didn’t have to do too much. You took care of even the singing as well. 
I have to point out that Dan is an incredible singer and a better singer than me. I just saw him on Broadway. He’s amazing. But the trope is that, in a lot of biopics, the actor is not doing the singing. So we wanted to kind of lean into that idea.

When the movie’s over, there’s a setup for a truly absurd sequel if we want it. And I know Eric said he had ideas. I suggested ‘Weird 2: Accordion of the Dead,’ which would obviously be a post-apocalyptic zombie time travel musical with all your original music. So, no pressure. But I think we can make that happen, right? 
Well, you know, I’m not ruling it out. Stranger things have happened. And this could be the very first biopic with a sequel. So, we’ll see. Eric’s a busy guy now. He’s got a lot on his plate. But, yeah, that’s an idea that’s out there. And we’ll see what happens. 

Yeah. With eight Emmy nominations and multiple other awards, it did pretty well for Roku. Have they reached out with mild interest at all? 
Yeah, I’m sure they would like that. So yeah, we’ll see if that happens. 

Yeah. ‘Weird 2: Accordion of the Dead.’ You heard it here first, folks! You created some buzz this past week or so now that everyone’s getting those Spotify-wrapped videos and whatnot. I think it was even on the branded Spotify Wrapped video they sent you, right? 

Has anyone from Spotify reached out with a reaction to that? Or did they even screen before they put it up? 
No. I don’t know. I have to say—this went really super viral and became a worldwide news story. And it was a joke. It was just a joke, you know? My manager emailed me and said, “Hey, Spotify wants you to give them a 30-second ‘Thanks for Listening’ video that they can put on Spotify Wrapped.” And I got my wife to shoot me on her iPhone in the backyard. And I make this stupid joke about, “I had over 80 million streams. So, if I’m doing the math right, I think that’s $12. So, thanks for the sandwich.” And I checked—the 80 million streams are in the ballpark.

The $12 is obviously an exaggeration for comic effect, but the joke is that Spotify notoriously underpays its artists. I’ve seen people acting like I’m doing real math, like, “$12 is not right!’” But also, some people who claim to do the actual math are like, “Well, if I’m doing the math correctly, he should be getting $240,000 for that many streams.” And I guarantee you that is also not true. If, in fact, they’re doing the math right, certainly, I’m not seeing that money. That’s going to my record label, which owns nearly all of my masters. And I would be getting a slice of that. And that slice also goes to all the publishers and other writers on my parody. Again, I can’t give you exact numbers, but I guarantee you it’s closer to $12 than $240,000. 

You were talking about your record label. You famously had that 14-record contract, which, many artists think, ’14 records?! Yeah, sign me up!’ At any point in that contract, did you go, Well, is there a possibility for renegotiation here?” or did you have a pretty good deal in place? 
No, I had a horrible deal, but I was able to renegotiate. So my original contract, which I signed in 1982, was actually a 10-album deal, which also was ridiculous. And again, that’s not them saying, We are going to do ten albums with you.” That’s them saying, On the extremely off-chance that you, an accordion-playing parody artist is popular, we’ve got you for ten albums.” So, that was the Draconian pact that I signed.

And, as it turns out, I was a lot more popular than anybody expected. And I was able to renegotiate twice. So, each time I renegotiated to get better rates, they tacked on two albums. So, my original contract wound up being a 14-album contract. And I was getting paid OK by the end. There was a brief period of time, like the late ’90s, where I had a decent record contract, and Napster didn’t kick in. It was like, for two albums, I actually made good money. And then it went away. 

Fourteen albums, a fictional comedy film (‘UHF’), a fake biopic, a TV show, a number one album, awards upon awards – do you sit there and think, ‘What am I going to do next at this point?’ I know there was talk of a Lin-Manuel Miranda & Weird Al Broadway musical collaboration, but I don’t know if that’s happening or not. 
Yeah, not in the near future. Lin and I are old friends, and we were talking about doing something years ago, but you may have heard he’s gotten busy. I mean, doing a Broadway musical is something kind of on my bucket list. There are no immediate plans, but that’s something to think about.

With the success of ‘Weird,’ I would love to think I could get more involved in feature films and possibly other TV projects. And I don’t want to give up on music because I still love that. And even though I’m not putting out conventional albums, I still love touring, and I’ll still be coming up with new music here and there. So, I’m just at a pretty good point in my life where I can virtually do whatever I feel like doing. It’s a nice place to be. 

This interview has been edited for clarity. “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD on December 12 from Shout! Studios.