"Weird Al" Yankovic

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

Photo by Robert Trachtenberg

BY Vish KhannaPublished Aug 21, 2014

The most successful, astute, and wickedly funny song parodist of our time, "Weird Al" Yankovic is at the top of his game on his latest and possibly last record, Mandatory Fun. "There are five parodies on the album; they were chosen purely because they were five of the biggest hits of the last year, and also I could come up with something relatively funny to do with them," he explains.

Yankovic sends up big singles by Robin Thicke, Lorde, Iggy Azalea, Imagine Dragons and Pharrell Williams, replacing their content with lyrics about bad grammar, aluminum foil, DIY home repair, and being a douchebag. "And of course there's the requisite polka medley where I do a medley of a dozen tunes, polka style. There's a half dozen original songs, most of which are pastiches or style parodies, meaning they're done in the style of another artist, although not necessarily a direct parody," he says.

The constraints of the major label album release schedule might leave him releasing more singles than LPs from here on in but, if we're lucky, Yankovic will be skewering pop culture forever.

Before we begin, please state your name, your hometown, your current HQ, and any of your upcoming activities, especially Canadian tour dates and new releases.
Wow, ok. Alfred Matthew Yankovic, Los Angeles, California. I don't have any current Canadian tour dates but we're doing the Mandatory tour next year and I would certainly anticipate there being a Canadian leg somewhere. What are you up to? Good question! That's an excellent question! Well, currently I'm promoting my new album Mandatory Fun.

What are your current fixations?
Probably watermelon. I'm eating a lot of watermelon because, y'know it's the happy fruit. It makes me happy just eating watermelon. It depends how you cut it of course but I usually cut it in a wedge so there's that green smile looking at me.

Why do you live where you do?
Because I own the house and if I lived somewhere else, the people who lived there would probably make me get out. I was born in the greater Los Angeles area and it just feels like home. Most of my friends are here and also, not that I necessarily have to live where I work, lots of the entertainment and TV and movie business is here as well, so it makes it all cozy. You gotta rub elbows with them before you kick them in the butt.

Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
I'm going to say 'Princess Sputnik' by Mark Ryden. I've got a giclee print of it in my house. Mark is my favourite artist and he just had a wonderful gallery show here in Los Angeles and that's one of my favourite pieces of his.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
One of my favourite shows of all time actually happened last year. I got to play the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee. I'm always leery when I play festivals because I never know how people are going to react. I don't know if people are just waiting for the next band that's going to be on that stage and I'm an annoyance to them or if they actually came to see me. I had some pretty bad, traumatic experiences very early on in my career playing in those situations. But Bonnaroo was wonderful. I've never experienced that kind of an outpouring of love and support and just positive waves coming my way. It was a lot of fun. As much as I enjoy live performing, I think that might've been the pinnacle of it.

What have been your career highs and lows?
Well, the highs happen all the time. Like, when I first did "My Bologna" in 1979, as a teenager, and it got on the Dr. Demento "Funny Five," I thought, "Oh! That's it! That's the high point of my life! I'll never be able to top this!" And y'know, it's been topped a few times since then. It's hard to say. I'm anticipating that the overwhelming success of my new album will be the new high point of my career and life. And the low point? I talked about traumatic concert experiences early on and I'd go with that. It was a 1982 show I did opening for Missing Persons. At that point, people weren't really ready for a guy doing funny songs playing the accordion and I was basically pelted for 45 minutes solid. That was not my proudest moment on stage.

What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
Again, I'd have to go back to the Missing Persons thing. I remember walking back to my car after that show and just thinking about what an awful experience it was. And a kid came up to me and said, "Hey, are you 'Weird Al' Yankovic?" I thought "Oh, a ray of hope," and I said "Yes, yes I am." And he said, "You suck!"

What should everyone shut up about?
Oh gosh, good question. Probably most things. LeBron James. Sure, let's shut up about that. Why not? People are just talking about LeBron James all the time. Give it a rest!

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I wish I was omnipresent and omnipotent. It kind of disturbs me that I'm not. I do think that I have very, very good handwriting. I have nice architectural printing from my training in college. It's not nice quite as crisp as it was in the early '80s but you can still see that I had some design classes in school at one point.

What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
I think probably vanilla ice cream, nuts, cherries, a little hot fudge and perhaps some butterscotch. Oh, a perfect Sunday? A perfect Sunday would be for me to go to an ice cream parlour and preferably get some vanilla ice cream with some chocolate sauce and butterscotch.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?
"Please don't step into that open manhole." I'm pretty good at taking advice. I can't think of any huge regrets in my life that were the result of me not taking somebody else's advice.

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I would absolutely kick someone out of my band if they assassinated the president. That is way uncool. And no, that has not happened.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?
A lot of people just assume that I'm Canadian. That was dispelled at some point, but I did so many specials for MuchMusic early in my career, people just assumed I was Canadian, which I was totally comfortable with. I think Canadians have more of an affinity for my kind of comedy. In fact, most of my early albums charted better in Canada than they did in the States. So, I always love coming to Canada and I look forward to the next tour.

What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
It was Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in… 1973 I want to say. I had some albums before that, which my parents bought for me — mostly kiddies' stuff — but this was the first rock album that I actually owned and bought with my own money. I would listen to it over and over and I taught myself to play rock'n'roll on the accordion by playing along with that album. It got to the point where I could play every song on it on my accordion and I thought, "Oh, oh good, well I'm a rock'n'roller now." At that point, I tried to join my friends' rock bands but, for some reason, they didn't seem to have a need for an accordion player. I don't know why. They weren't forward-thinking enough I suppose. But I soon realized that I'd have to find my own path in life.

What was your most memorable day job?
I worked in a mailroom for a couple of years and I worked in a traffic department for a radio syndication company but I think my most memorable day job was giving accordion lessons at the local accordion school and part of the job was accordion repo man. When little kids sign up for accordion lesson, their parents don't buy them an accordion right off the bat. They wait and see if they take to the instrument and if they want to continue with it and, in the meantime, they're given a loaner accordion that they can take home and practice on. Well, if they stopped taking lessons, I had to go get the accordion back. I had to go knock on the door and say, "Excuse me? Would you mind giving us back our stinking accordion?!"

How do you spoil yourself?
I leave myself out of the refrigerator for a few weeks.

If I wasn't playing music I would be...
…so sad. I don't know. I've got my degree in architecture, but after I graduated, I knew that wasn't really going to be my life's calling. It was kind of a scary point in my life, because I knew that I didn't want to do the specific things that I had just trained myself to do, but I also didn't want to assume that I'd be able to make a living in the entertainment field, which a lot of people want to do and very few actually get to do it. So yeah, it was a little frightening for a while, because I was wandering freely in the world not really knowing which direction I was going to go.

What do you fear most?
Waking up with my mouth full of spiders. It's not that I don't like spiders — I just don't like them in my mouth. If they're outside in the wild where they're supposed to be, not bothering me, I'm totally cool with them.

What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
Take what off and get what on? So, take off my hat and get it on the hat rack? Probably when I walk inside a house because that's only proper manners.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
There are so many but it's what you consider strange. One of my all-time favourites — and I've mentioned this before but it's still a big high-point for me — was in 1984, after I'd just achieved some popularity through "Eat It," I got invited to a release party for Paul McCartney's movie, Give My Regards to Broad Street. I somehow found a way to inch my way up to him at the party and introduce myself and it blew my mind that he knew who I was. "Oh, 'Weird Al,' you're the 'Eat It' guy," and he turned to Linda and said "Look honey, it's 'Weird Al.'" And I just couldn't believe that Paul McCartney was introducing his wife to me. That kind of blew my mind at that age.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
I'd definitely go for "living." I'd probably say my wife because we get along very well. Probably Indian food, she likes that. I have dinner with her almost every night and I find it ideal; why change?

What did your mom wish you were doing instead?
Nothing. My folks were always super supportive of anything that I wanted to do. They never really pushed me in any direction. My dad always made a point of telling me that the secret to success is finding out how to make a living doing the thing that makes you happy and I think I've done that. I will say that my mom told me to stay away from Hollywood — "There's evil people in Hollywood." She wasn't wrong, y'know? Once I started achieving some success they were always extremely supportive and even when I wasn't achieving success, I always felt like I had a safety net there.

What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
I dunno, "Back in Black" sounds good. I think that would rock for a funeral. I don't want it to be a sombre affair; I want them to bang their head. I want them to bang their head on my casket.

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