In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
“Weird Al” Yankovic released his first parody song, “My Bologna,” 35 years ago when The Knack’s “My Sharona” was heating up the charts. Years later, he’s still working and is as vital as ever, having just issued his 14th full-length album, the new Mandatory Fun. Packed with takes on Iggy Azalea, Pharrell Williams, and Yankovic’s traditional polka adaptations of popular songs, Mandatory Fun is also what Yankovic says will be his final full-length. He’s switching to releasing singles digitally, a move that could arguably allow him to work faster and more closely with artists and popular culture.
Later this month, Yankovic will also celebrate the 25th anniversary of his feature film, UHF, one of the most underrated films ever written about a barely watched channel, a guy with a mop, and a game show about fish.
“Weird Al” Yankovic: I’d have to go with accordion repo man. I used to teach accordion lessons to young kids for a music school when I was a teenager, and when kids start taking accordion lessons, they don’t buy accordions because, generally, they’re expensive and the school wants to get the kids roped in and make sure it’s something that they want to continue first. But they loan the accordions out to the kids so they can practice at home; the problem is that they can stop taking lessons and don’t return their accordions, so the company has to send out the accordion repo man. So it was my job to drive to their houses, knock on the door and say, “Excuse me, can you return the stinking accordion?”
The A.V. Club: Did anything bad ever happen?
WAY: I kept thinking there would be some kind of ugly confrontation, but people were all too happy to give back the accordion.
AVC: They didn’t want to hear their kids learning to play the accordion anymore.
WAY: [As a parent.] “No, no, please get this out of our house. Thank you.”
WAY: My parents, since I was a young child, they always wanted me to be the country’s preeminent rock ’n’ roll-accordion-parody artist; I don’t know why. Actually, they never really pushed me into any direction. They just wanted me to be happy, which was the best thing they could have wanted for me. They were always very encouraging and supportive, and I don’t think they ever really worried about me too much. They knew I was very bright and not prone to making impulsive decisions about my life and career, and they always knew I’d end up okay somehow. It was very important for me to have that kind of support because the career I’ve chosen isn’t the kind of thing parents dream up for their kids.
AVC: Did they ever tell you they were proud of you?
WAY: I think they were always very happy; they probably would have been proud of me no matter what I ended up doing, but I don’t think they dreamed that I would do anything remotely involved with show business. But I think they got a kick out of it. My dad would always strike up conversation with complete strangers. He’d always talk to the kid bagging groceries at the supermarket and say, “Have you heard of ‘Weird Al’? That’s my son!” So it was very sweet; he’d always show my senior pictures to complete strangers and he’d always get a kick out of it.
WAY: I’m going to go with Nick Rivers, who was Val Kilmer’s character in the movie, Top Secret!. That’s probably my all-time favorite movie, and I kind of wanted to be Nick Rivers. I thought he was the coolest guy ever, and if he were an actual person, I think he’d be the kind of guy I’d want to hang around with.
AVC: Have you ever met Val Kilmer?
WAY: You know, I did; I met him once. We were both on an airplane sitting in first class and I was actually right across from him on an aisle and I didn’t want to bother him because I didn’t know him and it’s always awkward to strike up a conversation and then you have to sit there the whole flight. So I waited until we were getting off the airplane and I said, “Excuse me, Mr. Kilmer. My name is Al Yankovic and Top Secret! is my all-time favorite movie.” And he kind of gave me a look like, “Really? You’re going to pick that one?”
WAY: Well I’ve been on a number of game shows and I think I was probably at my peak in the mid-’80s when I did Family Double Dare with Marc Summers. I think I was competing against Lou Ferrigno. I just really felt like I was in my element because in that show, you answer stupid questions and then you get to jump into a pool of slime, which is kind of a metaphor for my life, really. That’s the kind of show I feel like I’m really good at.
AVC: Were you paired with a family? How did it work?
WAY: They paired each of us up with a family and I competed with a family doing physical challenges. I ended up doing the “Human Hamster Wheel” and all that crazy stuff. It was pretty much right up my alley.
AVC: Was it intense? Whenever I watched that show at home, I’d always end up screaming at the TV.
WAY: It was pretty tense, but when you’re there, you’re in the moment. You want to be the hamster in that hamster wheel.
WAY: Very poorly, I’m sure. Probably using monosyllabic words, bad grammar, improper syntax. I have to assume my enemies are idiots.
WAY: I’d say a fire-roasted eggplant, some roasted red peppers, diced heirloom tomatoes, some thin-sliced red onions—maybe double up on the onions and have some caramelized onions on top of the sliced onions. A little basil, some arugula, some chopped and marinated mushrooms, maybe a slice of fresh avocado, some alfalfa sprouts, a dose of hummus, a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and put it on a warm toasted French roll lovingly sprinkled with some truffle oil.
AVC: You’re vegan, right?
WAY: Yeah, I’m vegan. I sometimes slip and do some dairy, but I typically stay vegan.
WAY: My first big purchase as an adult, I think, would be the first car I bought on my own, which was a 1982 white Toyota Corolla. I got it used, I think, for $2,000 and it ran, but barely. I remember every time it went above 35 miles per hour, it would make a noise sort of like a cross between a leaf blower and a chainsaw. You could hear it coming, literally, from a mile away.
WAY: Here’s the thing: I avoid karaoke bars like the plague. It’s a little bit because my detractors or some reviewers that have been less than kind in the past have referred to me as a “glorified karaoke act.” So that sticks in my mind, and if I were to do karaoke, I just wouldn’t be able to enjoy it as much as other people.
AVC: Do you have a shower song that you like? Or a song that, if it comes on in the car, you’ll sing along?
WAY: If I were forced to do karaoke, I think I’d probably do one of those corny, duet songs where you do both parts like “You’re The One That I Want” or “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”
WAY: Gosh. I can give you a couple of examples, but let’s go with this one: The very first place that I lived after I graduated from college was off Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. I answered an ad that someone had push-pinned up on a board outside of a grocery store asking for a roommate. So basically I paid this guy 100 bucks a month to sleep on his couch. It was actually okay, I didn’t mind it; it was fine for a couple of months. And then one morning, my roommate packed up a bunch of his stuff and he left. He said he was going to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. And I thought, “Okay, fine,” but then about an hour later the landlord pounded on the door and I answered it and he said, “Well, I don’t know who you are, but the guy who lives here owes me eight months back rent. You have an hour to get out of here.” At which point I lived in my car for the next several days because I didn’t have any options. The button on that story is that the guy who knocked on my door that day—the landlord—to this day, he tells prospective tenants, “Well, I hope you’re not a deadbeat like that ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic guy. He still owes me eight months back rent!”
AVC: Who told you that? Do you know someone who tried to move in there?
WAY: A couple of people have told me that. Over the years, I’ve heard, [As someone else.] “There’s some guy, did you used to live on Palm Avenue?” [As himself.] “Yeah.” [As someone else.] “There’s a guy telling a story about how you owe him rent.” [Back as himself.] “What?” So it’s crazy how that story has morphed.
WAY: Well my daughter is 11 now, but I remember when she was a toddler walking around her preschool and thinking, “You know, I could take any one of these kids here. Even if they all gang up on me at once, I could shake them off. I could do this.”
WAY: I’m not a big autograph collector, but when I was working in the mailroom in the early ’80s back at Westwood One, Dr. Demento would have special guests coming in every night. And one time, Frank Zappa came in, and he’s one of my all-time heroes. So I brought up my tattered copy of Freak Out!, which I probably bought for 99 cents at a used record store. And it kind of blew my mind, because he was like, “Oh, you’re the ‘Another One Rides The Bus’ guy! My son Dweezil likes that song. Can I get an autograph for him?” Dweezil was like 13 years old at the time, but I couldn’t even believe that Frank Zappa knew who I was, let alone asking for my autograph, so that was a huge deal for me. And that Freak Out! album, since, has gotten severely water damaged so I can’t even bear to throw it away. So for the rest of my life, I will hold on to this slimy, moldy piece of cardboard with Frank Zappa’s name on it.
AVC: Have you met Dweezil since?
WAY: Dweezil actually played on a song of mine called, “Genius In France,” which is my homage to Frank Zappa. I figured if Dweezil played on it that would give it a little more credibility. He was amazing; he did this amazing guitar solo at the top of the song, so it was a thrill to work with Dweezil on that.
Bonus question from Nia Long: What’s your favorite Now & Later flavor?
WAY: I’d go with watermelon!
AVC: Oh, really?
WAY: Yeah, because watermelon is the happy fruit, it’s hard to be sad when you’re eating watermelon. And even if it’s highly synthesized watermelon flavor, it still tends to make you happy because it reminds you of what real watermelons taste like.
WAY: Okay. I probably should have given this some thought and I haven’t so let me think… What is your favorite marsupial?
AVC: Oh that’s a good one. You’re also checking to see if they even know what a marsupial is. What’s yours?
WAY: A possum.