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Weird Al inspires nerds of a feather

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Like most members of the early-MTV generation, I took in Weird Al Yankovic's seminal hits with prepubescent glee. Though "Video Killed the Radio Star," pop parodies like "Eat It" and "Like a Surgeon" skillfully skewered the masters of the newly visual music industry with a combination of clever wordplay and goofy sight gags. As an 11-year-old, I thought it was great. But as I grew up, Yankovic fell off my radar completely even as he continued to churn out a steady string of successful albums.

Then one day in 2006, my husband e-mailed me a YouTube clip of "White and Nerdy," Yankovic's hysterical take on Houston rapper Chamillionaire's hit "Ridin'." The video, which features an eager plaid-clad, Segway-riding Al shunned by thugs even as he copiously cops "Star Wars" bootlegs, was a spot-on send up of the suburbanization of a gangsta aesthetic. When I went home for the holidays that year, my 12-year-old nieces (who happen to be black) were walking around singing "Can't you see I'm White and Nerdy." Twenty years later, Weird Al was still in the mix.

In advance of his Fun Fun Fun Fest appearance Friday, I caught up with Yankovic via telephone from L.A. for a very nerdy conversation about the life of a new-millennium parodist.

As someone who was around before the computer revolution, did you anticipate the revenge of the nerds?

Weird Al Yankovic: I knew that some day we would have our say. All those times at recess getting beat up I knew that some day I would have my revenge. (laughs) I think that I'm very pleasantly surprised by how much cred the whole nerd culture has gotten in the last decade or so. It definitely feels like being called a nerd is not an insult anymore, it's a badge of honor. I think there's been a lot of nerd empowerment and people have kind of woken up to the fact that nerds rule the world now. It's nice to be a bit of a spokesperson for that culture.

Are you the unsung godfather of nerdcore rap?

People have said that. I've been doing what you'd consider nerdcore, for many years. I think "It's All About the Pentiums" came out in '99 and that was, if not the first, certainly one of the earliest nerdcore songs. I guess I would be an early adopter of the nerdcore genre.

It seems like if ever there were an artist made for YouTube, it would be you. Has that medium helped you reach new fans?

It has. I try to embrace whatever technology comes around, and certainly YouTube has been great in getting exposure for my material. I mean, "White and Nerdy," it's hard to quantify how many hits that's gotten on the Internet, but conservatively we figure it's been seen 100 million times. YouTube has also, in some ways, been the bane of my existence because now there are tens of thousands of people doing funny song parodies and I'm certainly never again gonna be the only person doing a parody of any particular song. So it's a challenge for me to step up my game and figure, if I can't be the first or the only person doing a parody of a song I can still strive to be the best.

Popeater.com named you as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's most egregious snubs this year. Have you been feeling snubbed?

I'm extremely flattered that the fans care enough to put the effort into that movement. I don't know that I can say I feel snubbed, but let me tell you, if some other accordion playing, rock 'n' roll parody artist gets into the hall of fame before I do, I will feel snubbed. But I kind of feel that the Hall probably doesn't have enough of a sense of humor to put somebody like me in their pantheon, but certainly, if they ever do I would be incredibly honored.

Did you know Austin's motto is Keep Austin Weird?

Oh absolutely; I've got a T-shirt from way back. I feel very at home in Austin. Austin is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I was really sad that they weren't able to book me at an Austin show during my North American tour this summer. That's the reason I jumped at the chance to play Fun Fun Fun Fest. I really never do a one-off show because it takes so much energy and willpower to gear up for a show out of the blue that it's something that I usually don't even consider. But we love Austin so much that we decided to make the exception and come out and do the show, and I'm very much looking forward to it.

Fun Fun Fun Fest

When: 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (Weird Al performs at 7:45 p.m. Friday on the Orange stage.)

Where: Waterloo Park, 15th and Red River streets.

Cost: Individual and weekend passes are available; prices vary.

Tickets/lineup:funfunfunfest.com . More previews Thursday in Austin360 and online now @austin360.com/music.

Free night:The now-traditional Fun Fun kick-off is a free night of local bands on two stages at the Mohawk, 912 Red River St. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. mohawkaustin.com