Two American comedy institutions team up this week–as the legendary “Weird Al” Yankovic serves as the very first guest editor of MAD magazine. On sale everywhere tomorrow, April 21, MAD #533 finds the humorist partnering with the Usual Gang of Idiots as well as a few surprise guests, including our very own Chris Hardwick! Al and MAD‘s editor-in-chief John Ficarra will be signing copies tonight from 6 to 10 PM at New York City’s Barnes & Noble (located at 33 East 17th Street). And we caught up with both gentlemen recently to get the lowdown on what we can expect from this epic collaboration, as well as Al’s upcoming tour. Check out our interview below, then preview a gallery of pages from the issue!
Nerdist: This is the first time MAD has had a guest editor. How did this collaboration come about?
Al Yankovic: John asked me a few months ago if I had any interest in guest editing MAD magazine. I thought it about for maybe a nanosecond; I’m not sure if it was quite that long. But I immediately said yes of course, because MAD magazine was such a seminal inspiration in my life. I mean, when I was eleven, twelve years old, it was all I thought about. I was completely obsessed with it, and it warped me from an early age. So the least I could do was ruin their reputation by guest editing an issue. [Laughs.]
N: When did you first discover MAD? What do you remember from the first issue you picked up?
AY: The first issue I ever saw was the October 1969 issue, which didn’t even have Alfred E. Neuman on the cover, because he was cut out of the cover, with a little post-it note that said he was on vacation for two weeks. I couldn’t even tell you what was specifically inside the magazine. But I can tell you that MAD magazine left a definite impression on me, because I’d never before been exposed to that kind of humor. That kind of irreverent comedy. And it just really spoke to me in a way that nothing else had up to that point.
N: Do you have any favorite cartoonists or features from the magazine over the years that you’ve read it?
AY: Oh god, there are so many artists and writers. I used to do bits from MAD magazine in competition in high school. I was part of the speech team. I did a routine based on The Streets of San Francisco, which was a Dick DeBartolo piece. And I did portions from The MAD Show, which was an Off-Broadway musical from the ’60s. Those were certainly some of my favorite pieces. I pulled one of my favorite MAD articles for this issue, for “The MAD Vault”–which was “MAD Looks at a TV Kiddie Show.” It’s hard for me to pick one particular article as a favorite because there are just so many over the years.
In the same way that if you ask most people what their favorite “Weird Al” album is, it’s whatever album was released when they were twelve years old… That’s a very real thing. I think probably the same thing holds true for me. Some of my favorite years of MAD were when I was first obsessed with it. So that would be sometime in the late ’60s and early ’70s. But MAD has always been stupid. [Laughs.] So it’s hard to pick the Golden Era of MAD.
John Ficarra: [Laughs.] You’d say now, right, Al?
AY: Now! The “Weird Al” issue ushers in a whole new era of MAD.
JF: Thank you, Al. That’s very sweet of you to say.
N: MAD has done many song parodies over the years. As the world’s leader in that realm, are there any that stand out in your mind from when you read them as a kid?
AY: Well, Frank Jacobs was my favorite. He wrote most of the song parodies for MAD magazine. I was honored to be able to write the intro for an upcoming book on Frank Jacobs, which is being published in the not too distant future. Frank also was involved in some major Supreme Court decisions, based on parody law. He was obviously a huge inspiration for me.
JF: And not a cent in royalties has ever gone to Frank from Al. I just wanted to point that out. Not a cent. [Laughs.]
N: John, what was it that prompted you to call on Al at this point?
JF: We had always played with the idea of having a guest editor, because we thought it would lessen our workload. That didn’t prove to be the case here by the way.
JF: We wanted somebody whose comic sensibilities sort of aligned with MAD. And we knew that, having known Al all these years, that he would be a terrific choice. He had done work for us on creating a special page for MAD when he did his Jurassic Park takeoff. And also he wrote an introduction to one of the MAD compilation books. Just seeing the level of his work, we always thought that Al was a natural outgrowth of MAD into other mediums. So it was really a no-brainer on out part.
N: Al, what can you tell us about the contents of this issue? We’ve heard you’ve gotten some celebrity friends to contribute.
AY: My friends who are contributing would be Patton Oswalt, Thomas Lennon, Seth Green, Chris Hardwick, Emo Phillips, and John Hodgman. Then the writing team of Kristen Schaal and her husband Rich Blomquist. So that’s happening. I also did a six-page article called “Pages from Weird Al’s” notebook, which features all the parody ideas which were too horrible to actually use. But they’ve been documented now. [Laughs.]
JF: Al would throw out stuff that he thought was too horrible to use, and we’d publish it. We don’t have that filter at MAD. If we have an idea, we run it.
AY: [Laughs.] I do three pages worth of answering letters from readers. There’s an intro page where I explain how I got snagged into being a guest editor. And there’s a lot of articles and pieces that I wasn’t directly part of, but they’re “Weird Al” themed. So the issue is pretty much lousy with Weird Al.
N: Have there been any especially interesting letters that you can share with us?
AY: Several thousand came in, and the editors very kindly edited that down to just a few dozen for me to actually look at. Some of the best ones were questions like “When it comes to toilet paper, are you a folder or a cruncher?” Those are the most amazing ones. [Laughs.]
JF: Those are the very stimulating ones. [Laughs.]
N: Will we have to buy the magazine to find out?
AY: You’ll have to by the issue to find out the answer to that one, my friend! [Laughs.]
JF: But the best part is you can use the issue, whether you fold it or crunch it. It has a very clear purpose. Although one thing I should warn about: beware the staples. That’s all I’ll gonna say. [Laughs.]
N: Al, It is inspiring to see the new level your work has reached within the last year, with your latest album your most successful on many levels. Has it been inspiring to see this wave of renewed appreciation, and the ever-widening audience that your work is reaching?
AY: It’s pretty heady stuff for me. I mean I like to think that I’ve gotten better over the years. That’s a pretty natural occurrence. But more or less I’ve been doing the same thing for thirty years. The fact that my last album went to number one is something that’s still hard for me to wrap my head around. This whole last year has been pretty surrealistic for me, and being guest editor for MAD is kind of the cherry on the sundae.
N: The further your career continues, the more media you branch out into. That’s almost the opposite of some artists.
AY: Yeah, well I’m assuming that this job at MAD is gonna put a stop to all that.
JF: No, no. I understand your manager is working up a very good View-Master deal for you. You’re really going into a lot of different areas of media that you didn’t consider.
AY: Listen, it’s always good to branch out.
N: What are you working on right now?
AY: Well, we’re getting geared up for the Mandatory World Tour. That’s the next big thing. We’re rehearsing with the band, and getting all the props and costumes and production elements together. It’s gonna be a big one. It’s gonna start in mid May and go through most of the rest of the year. It’s gonna be an actual world tour. I am doing most of the dates in North America but it’s gonna be the UK and Europe and some places I’ve never even seen up close before. So we’re very much looking forward to that.
N: What will we see on stage this time around?
AY: It’s gonna be like most of my previous tours, but bigger and better. We’re bringing back a lot of the old favorites. I’m still gonna come out in the fat suit and the Kurt Cobain wig and the Amish costume and all that. But we’ll be featuring obviously a lot of material from Mandatory Fun. And a few surprises as well, I don’t want to give away too much.
N: Do you see mainstream American audiences growing ever larger in their appreciation for absurd humor?
AY: I think that MAD has influenced a few generations worth of TV writers and film writers. They’ve warped countless thousands of young minds. Certainly mine among them. We’re now seeing the result of generations worth of mind pollution. MAD is responsible in large part for that. So there’s a reason why this issue is happening, because there’s a little piece of MAD in pretty much everything you see these days.