Crafting song parodies isn’t easy. That’s why there is just one song parodist of note, Weird Al Yankovic, who doesn’t get enough credit.
There’s no one else that has come close to what Yankovic, who will perform Friday at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, has accomplished.
Yankovic, 62, has enjoyed success in music comedy since the release of “My Bologna,” his mock up of The Knack’s smash “My Sharona,” which charted in 1979.
Who could have guessed that Yankovic would enjoy such a career? Not Yankovic.
“I’m mystified,” Yankovic said during a call from Los Angeles. “It feels kind of surreal. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to be a footnote in pop culture history.
“I wasn’t supposed to be someone with a 35-year recording career. I’m fortunate people still care.”
The brainy accordion player, who started kindergarten a year early and skipped second grade, has written more than 150 parodies and sold more than 12 million albums.
Yankovic will be the first to note that song parodies are difficult to compose.
“People sometimes denigrate parodies, but they’re not easy to do well,” Yankovic said. “Anybody can goof on a song. There are so many people who do it on YouTube, but to do it in a clever way and sustain that for 3½ minutes is not easy.”
It’s a badge of honor to be parodied by Yankovic. Singer-songwriter Don McLean laughed when asked about Yankovic’s “The Saga Begins” which parodies his classic “American Pie.”
“Al is just brilliant,” McLean said. “What he did with ‘The Saga Begins’ is just amazing and it’s an honor to be parodied by him.”
Many have been thrilled that Yankovic was inspired by their material.
“Kurt Cobain said that he didn’t make it until I did my parody,” Yankovic said. “When I did Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ Kurt asked if it was going to be about food since I was doing a lot of food parodies back then. I told him it was going to be about how nobody can understand what he’s singing and he said, “That’s funny.’ Kurt was a good sport and an incredibly cool guy.”
For more than a generation, recording artists have approached Yankovic to ask if he would parody their songs.
“I just tell them, ‘Take a number and we’ll get to it,’ ” he said.
But not everyone has been thrilled with Yankovic’s work. Coolio took exception with Yankovic’s parody of “Gangsta Paradise.”
“Since I ask permission before I do a parody, I’m typically good with everyone,” Yankovic said. “However, Coolio was upset about my parody of ‘Gangsta Paradise’ with ‘Amish Paradise.’ But that’s water under the bridge now.
“But before that worked itself out, Coolio and I were on a flight back then (from Los Angeles to Toronto), and I don’t like confrontation, so I hid behind a newspaper during the entire flight since we were both in first class. But it’s all good between us now.”
Yankovic has enviable range as he easily veers from “I Lost on Jeopardy” (from the classic pop tune “Jeopardy” from Greg Kihn) to “Smells Like Nirvana” to the hip-hop tour de force “White and Nerdy.” The latter, inspired by Chamillionaire’s “Ridin,” typically scores the biggest roar from the audience during a Weird Al concert.
The reaction is understandable since Yankovic is a phenomenal rapper and is an exceptional lyricist. It’s not surprising that “White and Nerdy” may be Yankovic’s favorite song that he’s ever written and recorded.
“Probably ‘White and Nerdy,’ ” is Yankovic’ response when asked what song he’s most proud of creating. The one-hit wonder known as Chamillionaire is crazy about Yankovic’s tune as well.
“Chamillionare loved my parody of ‘Ridin,’ ” Yankovic said. “He came up to me during the Grammys and said that my parody was the reason ‘Ridin’ was so huge. I favor ‘White and Nerdy’ since I came up with a lot of through personal experience.”
Yankovic spends as much time on his videos as his songs and that paid off with “White and Nerdy” when he asked Donny Osmond to star in the clip.
The former teen idol, who was once a perennial Tiger Beat cover boy, was asked to portray a square Caucasian. Osmond happily signed on.
“I thought it was going to be a lot of fun,” Osmond said. “Weird Al is one of the most inventive individuals in the business. When I saw what he was going to do with Chamillionaire’s ‘Ridin,’ I was on board.”
Yankovic was pleased with Osmond’s performance.
“You never know what you’ll get from a celebrity when you ask them to do a video,” Yankovic said. “They might phone it in, but Donny went beyond 100%.”
The Broadway and national touring sensation “Hamilton,” which enjoyed an extended run at the First Interstate Center for the Arts in May, received the Yankovic treatment when he crafted “The Hamilton Polka.”
“(Lin-Manuel Miranda) and I have been friends for several years,” Yankovic said. “He asked if I would have interest in doing a ‘Hamilto’ parody, and I said, ‘Sure.’ We made it fun and relevant.”
After all of these years writing parodies, Yankovic has never been inspired to write original music.
“No, I don’t want to do that,” Yankovic said. “I know some people will write a novelty song and then they’ll say, ‘Here’s my real music.’ Not me. I have no desire to make serious music.”
Yankovic’s comedic songs trump serious music, where the market is flooded with such material. There just isn’t anyone out on the sonic landscape like Yankovic, who is a prolific original.
“I was on my way to a regular job but I ended up doing what I was meant to do with my life,” Yankovic said. “Not everybody has that opportunity. I’m thankful every day that I can write, record and tour. It’s been an amazing life, and there’s more to come.”
Weird Al Yankovic appears Friday at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, 1001 W. Sprague avenue. Emo Phillips will open. Tickets are $55, $65 and $75. Show time is 8 p.m. For more information, 509-624-1200,www.foxtheaterspokane.org
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