Weird Al Yankovic brings non-parody tour to Wabash

After 35 years of big stage productions, “Weird Al” Yankovic is keeping his current tour bare bones with no costumes, no props and no video screens.

On “The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour,” he’s delivering a different set list every night of his non-parody material in intimate theaters and settings, like the Honeywell Center in Wabash on April 12.

The funny man’s tour kicked off Feb. 27, and in a telephone interview Tuesday, Weird Al – the biggest-selling comedy recording artist of all time, born Alfred Matthew Yankovic, 58 – said it’s going great.

“It’s actually better than I imagined. I mean, creatively it’s pretty much exactly what I imagined, but what kind of blows me away is how people have been reacting to it. I honestly didn’t know when I came up with this idea for a tour whether people would react positively in any way, and certainly enough people have that it’s made quite a successful tour,” he said.

Al said he and his band are playing smaller venues by design, but they’re selling out those venues and the crowds are “really, really enjoying the show, which is so gratifying to me because these are the songs that just never quite got the respect. They didn’t get the radio play, they get largely overlooked by the population of the world, and it’s nice to just see people enjoying these songs.”

He said the band is having the best time on stage they’ve ever had.

“The energy is much different. It’s still very – I wouldn’t call it laid back exactly but  it’s just very comfortable. It feels intimate. It feels like we’re just playing someone’s living room, which is a great vibe,” he said.

Keeping each night’s setlist different  comes down to mathematics, something the former high school valedictorian and architecture student says is part of his nerd DNA.

“I try to keep it pretty spontaneous. We’re printing up the setlists and giving them to the VIP people on the day of the show, so I can’t do it like right before we go on stage, but I try to keep it spontaneous. And there’s a bit of algebra that goes into it because when I first announced the tour I asked people online what they wanted to hear in a setlist, so I kept a list of all those requests and I also have this kind of calculus in my head where I want to play this song 60 percent of the time, and this song 20 percent of the time, this song 30 percent of the time, so I worked that into it,” he said.

“Also, I don’t want to have to keep picking up my accordion and putting it down 20 times in the show, so I try to group those songs together. So there’s a whole formula that goes into this particular show, but I absolutely guarantee you that no two shows are exactly alike. They’re very different,” he said.

The band learned several hours of material for the tour, with the shows being between 90 to 100 minutes.

“It rotates pretty drastically between shows,” he said.Even in Weird Al’s original songs, listeners may hear some familiar rhythms and beats as they are often done in the style of other artists.

“A great number of my original material is actually a pastiche. It’s meant to evoke another artist’s style or another genre, but it is in fact an original composition. I am the songwriter. It’s not based on someone else’s specific songs. A lot of my ‘original material’ is actually done in the style of another artist, but it’s just not a direct parody,” Weird Al explained.

Yankovic’s classic parodies have included such hits as “Like a Surgeon,” “Eat It,” “Smells Like Nirvana,” “White & Nerdy” and “Tacky.” While no artist has ever begged him to parody any of their songs, he said he’s run into a number of people over the years who have off-handly asked him when he was going to do one of their songs.

“In fact, I think Paul McCartney may be one of the first people to have done that. I met him in 1984 and I ran into him at a party, and I was the most starstruck I’ve ever been in my life, and he said that to me. And I just sort of just dissolved into a puddle,” Al recalled.

When he’s actively trying to come up with new parodies, he listens to Top 40 radio and what’s popular.

“I haven’t been doing that too much lately. A lot of the stuff that I listen to for my own personal enjoyment is sort of like comfort food, it’s like the kind of music I listened to in high school and college. So it’s like a lot of old British Invasion stuff and old New Wave and sort of like alternative music from the ’90s and things like that. A lot of stuff that I listen to, it’s not comedy but it’s a little off-center and a little quirky, I guess,” he said.

As a teenager, Yankovic got his start sending in homemade tapes to the “Dr. Demento Radio Show.”

Now in his fourth decade as America’s foremost song parodist, he has won four Grammy Awards and 15 nominations, including a 2015 win for his 14th studio album “Mandatory Fun.”

Released in 2014, “Mandatory Fun” became the first comedy album in history to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, and the first to reach the top of the chart since 1963.

He said he and Dr. Demento are still good friends and his life would be “completely different” if Dr. Demento never existed. But he’s also still continually inspired by a lot of different things.

“There are a lot of people, contemporaries, that are doing amazing work in the field of comedy music – The Lonely Island, Tenacious D, Flight of the Conchords. I mean, there are a lot of people out there doing great stuff and I’m inspired by them and I’m inspired by pop culture in general,” he said.

Al said he tends to stay away from political humor, and that’s always been the case for him because he says political humor  doesn’t age well.

“Even moreso these days, gosh, the news cycles are just so quick. If you make a joke the day after something happens, people are like, ‘That’s yesterday’s news.’ It’s crazy. So that, plus the fact that things have gotten very bitter and divisive these days. Even the most innocuous political reference that I make on social media, people jump down my throat and say, ‘I can’t believe you said that. I’m never going to buy your records again.’ I’m like, ‘Wow, calm down.’ So I’ve kind of learned, based on that, that’s it’s probably best for me not to stick my toe into political humor,” he said.

When the song “Word Crimes” from the “Mandatory Fun” album debuted in the Billboard Top 40, it made Al one of only four artists to have had Top 40 singles in each of the last four decades. The other three are Michael Jackson, Madonna and U2 – a trivia point that Al calls “crazy.”

“I never would have guessed this for myself. I’m certain the people who were around me in the ’80s wouldn’t have predicted this for me. This is far beyond my expectations, the fact that I even still have a career,” he said.

Even after this long, he takes nothing for granted.

“As far as how long it’s going to go, again, I don’t know. You can’t take anything for granted in this business, and I sure still enjoy doing this, so I’m not planning to retire ever on my own volition, so I guess when people are completely sick of me, I guess they’ll let me know,” Al said, calling his career a “dream job.”

The April 12 show at the Ford Theatre in the Honeywell Center also will feature special guest Emo Phillips. Tickets are $34, $46 or $75, with VIP meet-and-great available, and can be purchased at the box office or online at