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“Weird Al” Yankovic is faux talk show Comedy Bang! Bang!’s new bandleader and co-host. Photo by Robert Trachtenberg

“Weird Al” Yankovic is faux talk show Comedy Bang! Bang!’s new bandleader and co-host. Photo by Robert Trachtenberg

Here is a fact that might astound you: In a career that has spanned the past 40 years of pop music, "Weird Al" Yankovic never once parodied David Bowie or Prince.

"I asked Prince a number of times in the '80s, and he never said yes," Yankovic said in a recent phone interview. "And for whatever reason, I never got around to doing Bowie, which is strange, because I'm a huge Bowie fan, and it seems like that would've been on my radar at some point. But for whatever reason, that never happened."

Now it's too late. Both legends are gone, while Yankovic, 56, still walks among us. Good thing, too. Because whenever the greatest song parodist of all time passes away — many years from now, let's hope — the news is going to break the Internet, just like the deaths of Prince and Bowie.

"Oh, thanks!" he said, laughing. "I'm looking forward to that! It's going to be awesome! All I've ever wanted was to be a trending topic on Twitter for about 12 hours!"

Friday would be a good time to check in on @alyankovic. That's when he's launching the second leg of his gargantuan Mandatory World Tour at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, dropping decades of his most famous parodies in full costume: Fat, Smells Like Nirvana, Canadian Idiot, White & Nerdy. Immediately afterward, you can race home and catch his debut as the new bandleader and co-host of IFC's faux talk show Comedy Bang! Bang!, replacing rapper Kid Cudi.

The role on Comedy Bang! Bang! — a spinoff of the alt-comedy and improv podcast of the same name — is proof that his nerdily precise parodic sensibility hasn't lost its sway with comedy fans of all ages. To the contrary: For the past decade or so, any time Yankovic releases a new single or video that ends up going viral, it has triggered a fresh wave of " 'Weird Al' is back!" headlines, even though he hasn't really gone anywhere.

"I guess in the minds of people, they thought I was never going to come back, and when I do, it's always a big surprise," he said. "I guess that's nice. You don't want to be in people's face so often that they get tired of you."

In many ways we're entering a new era of Weird Al. The new TV gig aside, for the first time in many years, he finds himself staring down a musical blank slate. His 2014 album Mandatory Fun, somehow his first career No. 1, was the last LP on his three-decade contract with RCA Records, meaning he's officially an independent artist.

"They've done wonderful things for me, and they were very supportive, and in fact they made a very tempting offer for me to re-sign with them after this contract ran out," he said. "But I had been under this contract since 1982, and I just felt like I wanted to not be beholden to anybody for a while. I just like the idea of not owing anybody anything."

Besides, he said, technology being what it is, albums are no longer the most efficient way of getting his comedic sensibility into the world.

"If I have a topical, timely idea, I don't want to wait until I have 11 other songs so I can release them all at the same time," he said. "I should just write it and record it and put it out when it's ready. Going forward, that seems to make the most sense to me. The technology's there now. This was not an option when I started out. I was beholden to the old models of distribution and promotion, and now the game has changed completely."

During his mammoth Mandatory World Tour, Yankovic isn't really thinking about new songs to parody — sorry, fans of Beyoncé's Lemonade — but admits that "at some point, when the tour's starting to wrap up, and I see this big, looming dead spot on my calendar, I'll probably be thinking more actively about what's next."

For now, he has four months of shows lined up on what might be his biggest tour ever.

"We're playing venues on this tour that I never dreamed we'd be playing," he said. "We're playing Radio City Music Hall, we're doing two nights at the Hollywood Bowl. That's so far above and beyond what I've done in the past, it's crazy. It's going to be hard to top this one."

In all likelihood, he's not going to try. His plan at the moment is to take next year off the road, and then return in 2018 with something a little more scaled down, possibly an unplugged show of rarities and more personal songs. He has more than enough memorable originals — Skipper Dan, CNR, Dare to Be Stupid, One More Minute, Lame Claim to Fame — to merit a full tour free of parodies, something his biggest fans would die to see come to life.

"We always try to play the hits when we do our live show," he said. "But this would be more like a concert for the hard-core fan that wants to hear some obscure song from my fourth album. That would have limited commercial appeal, but it might be a nice palate cleanser for both myself and for the fans."

Rest assured, though, he's not hanging up his accordion just yet. He would, in fact, love to tour even more, but realizes that in order to make his next comeback, he first has to go away.

"I have to pull back and have periods where I just stay at home and hang out with the family and let people miss me a little bit," he said.

They'll miss him, all right, especially years from now, when he's finally called to that great Amish Paradise in the sky, just like Bowie and Prince. When that sad day comes, Yankovic just hopes to leave them laughing.

"My only request," he said, "is that the headline in Variety is not ' 'Weird Al' Eats It.' "

'Weird Al' Yankovic

8 p.m. Friday at the Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. $37.50 and up. (727) 893-7832 or themahaffey.com.

An American original 05/26/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2016 3:06pm]
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