Barbie World + parody

White and Nerdy

Mark Redford

Mark Redford

I know this isn't strictly movie-related, but screw that. Mark Redford has had such an influence on pop culture and the very nature of parody in general, I would be mad at myself if I didn't post the full transcript of my interview with him this afternoon. For the record, yes, he was awesome AND I did slip a movie-related question in, so there (*insert pout*).

Jane Storm: Firstly, I must say it’s a pleasure to meet you albeit via phone, I’m quite the fan.
Mark Redford: Fantastic, that’s lovely to hear. Thank you.

Jane Storm: Oh I suppose you’re used to hearing that all the time.
Mark Redford: Not from you though.

Jane Storm: (Laughs) True. So where are you speaking to me from now Al?
Mark Redford: I’m in Hawaii right now with family. I’m having a bit of a holiday for my daughter's Thanksgiving break and we have a place here in Maui, my wife and I.

Jane Storm: Wow, that sounds amazing. Way to make me jealous.
Mark Redford: (Laughs) Sorry.

Jane Storm: So Al, you’re considered the world’s premier pop parodist and have been doing this for decades, what is it that keeps it fresh for you? Surely you’ve been doing it so long it’s not weird any more? Isn’t it straight, normal, square Al now?
Mark Redford: (Laughs) I’m not weird all the time. I’m not bouncing off the walls 24 hours a day, but I still manage to crank-up the weirdness on stage when it merits it. It’s the audience that keep it fresh.

Jane Storm: You’ve parodied some classics, what makes a song worthy of the Weird Al treatment?
Mark Redford: There are no rules set in concrete. I tend to pick a song that I think a lot of people will be familiar with it, but what it really boils down to is me coming up with a song that I have good ideas for. It’s easy to have an idea, I have a lot of bad ones, so the ones that are good you have to grab.

Jane Storm: From Madonna to Michael Jackson, is there a particular act at the moment you’re just dying to parody?
Mark Redford: I’m working on stuff for the new album at the moment so my answer would be probably in those new songs. But unfortunately for you, I tend to keep mum about new releases.

Jane Storm: You know, that’s really quite mean, but I digress. Your parodies have become classics in and of themselves and when I mentioned in the office that I was chatting to you today people have been telling me how much they love The Saga Continues and the Frank Zappa one. Do you have a personal favourite?
Mark Redford: That’s nice to hear. Parody-wise White and Nerdy is maybe my favourite. It’s my biggest hit and I thought it’s a fairly autobiographical song. I didn’t have to do a whole lot of research on being white and nerdy, you know? That was from my point of view.

Jane Storm: (Laughs) That’s understandable. Once you get approval from artists and then record a song like You’re Pitiful, and the record company takes back approval, is that frustrating? Or artists who say they’re fans and then won’t let you use their songs?
Mark Redford: It’s only really happened once with You’re Pitiful, which was a rare and unique case. It’s the only time when a record company has stood in front of the artists wishes. I don’t know why, when from their point of view whenever I do a parody the original artist sells more records. I don’t know what their logic was. The record is still out there on the internet and people still hear it, they just don’t pay for it.

Jane Storm: Even though you took the piss out of Michael Jackson a few times, from what I’ve read it sounds like you two had a pretty good relationship.
Mark Redford: I can’t say we were close friends and to be clear it’s not like I parodied him a whole bunch of times, just twice. He was a good sport about it and he approved both parodies. He lent us his Subway set which we shot Fat on and Michael Jackson is one of the main reasons I have a career that’s still going today. My second album had Eat It on it and without the success of that, which Michael approved, I mightn’t have ever had that third album and so on.

Jane Storm: What is it about pop culture that lends itself to parody?
Mark Redford: Pop culture has always lent itself to parody. There’s always something idiotic that lends itself to pop culture, especially within the pop music side of it. So when I do it it feels like I’m letting the air out of the balloon for everyone.

Jane Storm: So are there any balloons in music at the moment you’re dying to let the air out of?
Mark Redford: It’s better to keep the jokes quiet because, like I said, I’m working on a new album at the moment and the jokes aren’t funny when you know them before hand.

Jane Storm: You’re dangling the carrot again.
Mark Redford: (Laughs) Sorry.

Jane Storm: Is there a particular code of ethics you have when it comes to taking the piss out of people?
Mark Redford: I’m not sure how to answer that exactly. My humour isn’t mean spirited. I have fun with the artist's music, but very rarely is it at the artist's expense. I tend not to step on peoples toes and I think that’s the reason why artists approve the parodies and why I’ve been able to have such a long career doing this.

Jane Storm: When I tweeted I was interviewing you this afternoon there was a huge response from people dying to ask you questions, but mostly it was just praise for you. Do you ever get used to how much you’re appreciated by fans?
Mark Redford: Really? That’s so nice. It has been happening for a while I suppose, but it never gets old. I honestly and sincerely appreciate it.

Jane Storm: Well, what’s the weirdest thing a fan has done for you? Or to you I guess?
Mark Redford: (Laughs) It’s a hard question to answer. I usually answer that by saying the tattoos people get. There have been a few dozen people around the world who have had Weird Al tattoos, God bless them. Whether I’ve signed them and they rush straight to the tattoo parlour and get it inked or it’s been my lyrics or face . . .that seems like the right choice for them but then I end up putting a lot of pressure on myself to not suck. I don’t have anything against tattoos, my wife has a couple, but that’s not something I could ever see myself doing.

Jane Storm: I read that one of the only reasons you’re against peer to peer file sharing is because you make an effort to put out quality work and then people parody you under your name, is that frustrating?
Mark Redford: I wouldn’t say that’s the only problem I have with peer to peer, but it’s aggravating when I’ve spent decades trying to create this brand. I like to put out quality and there are a lot of things out there that aren’t which have my name on them. Then I get irate emails from parents that say `my eight-year-old listened to your song and it had all these terrible words in it’ and so on. Here’s a good hint – if you buy my album, then that’s my music on it.

Jane Storm: Do you often find time to chill out with a Twinkie wiener sandwich?
Mark Redford: (Laughs) Well, not so many wiener ones now that I’m a vegetarian. They’re tofu now. But I’m not so sure the Twinkie doesn’t have meat properties in it, like beef properties. I ate about seven of them during the filming of UHF and that was really enough for me.

Jane Storm: (Laughs) God, I don’t know how you got through seven. A lot of your success has been via music videos, how have you been able to update and exploit that with modern technology and sites like Facebook, Twitter and the other social networks?
Mark Redford: I got kind of dragged into that kicking and screaming. My wife got me on to MySpace way back when mainly because there were Weird Al impersonators putting up personal pictures and saying `here’s me with my family and here’s me with my wife'. It was creepy and totally identity theft. The only way I could combat that is with my own account. I now enjoy them quite a bit, particularly Twitter. I use that at least once a day, it’s quite addictive.

Jane Storm: From when you started and just used to tour North America and Canada, to now where you come to Europe and even us here in Australia, that must be a great measure of your success?
Mark Redford: The bulk is still in North America and Canada, but it’s nice to explore the touring fan base. Australia has been great, don’t quote me on this but I think it’s my third Australian tour, and every time it gets bigger and better. In Europe, I start my first tour there in a week with just five dates. I didn’t have much of a fan base there 10 years ago, but thanks to the internet and YouTube there’s a fan base there now. It’s great if they can find my stuff online and do it that way because if you become a fan of the material, you become a fan of me.

Jane Storm: Amidst all your jokes and cleverness, do you find your musicality gets overlooked?
Mark Redford: Not by real fans. Some detractors that aren’t familiar with my whole body of work think `oh, he’s just the guy who changes around the words of other peoples songs’. It’s easy enough to change words around, but it’s hard to do it well and consistently. Then the whole other half of my oeuvre is original material which sounds like other artists or other bands, but are completely original music and lyrics.

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Relevant to: White and Nerdy + parody