A Very Normal Conversation with “Weird Al”
The beloved musical comedy icon talks about the mundane things that comprise his day-to-day life.
Illustration by John Garrison
With his impossibly curly brown mane, tacky button-up shirts, and wide grin that is at once both mischievous and innocent, “Weird Al” seems less of a man and more like a cartoon character come to life. But behind the zany public persona that seems like something ripped from the pages of a comic book, there is Alfred Yankovic, a man of, presumably, flesh and blood. To most of the people in his life, he’s just plain ol’ “Al,” and to one teenager, he goes by “Dad.”
This year, “Weird Al” did something decidedly normal, which, for him, was actually weird. He hit the road for 77 dates on his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, on which he ditched the extravagant costumes, props, and video screens that have become staples of his high-production stage show, and instead played stripped-down sets with his band. He also chose to forgo the parody songs that turned him into an overnight celebrity in the 80s, and largely stuck to his originals. Each night, Yankovic and his band treated fans to unique, intimate sets—as intimate as songs about gigantic balls of twine can come across, anyway. Somewhat to his surprise, the tour was a success and he says he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of bringing it back in a few years.
“This was not the kind of tour I’d want to do all the time but I loved the fact that it was all about the music. As much as I like putting on the big show and doing the costumes and the props and the big LED screens and all that, there’s something really nice about walking out on stage and sitting down on stools and playing music,” says Yankovic. “It was like hanging out in somebody’s living room. It felt very intimate, which I loved. It was a much deeper connection with the audience. And at the end of the show, I didn’t need to immediately shower because I wasn’t drenched in sweat.”
Every single show on the tour—yes, all 77 of them—was recorded and made available on Stitcher Premium. (Pro tip: You can get a free month with the promo code WEIRD.) The setlist changed every night, and the band also threw in a different cover song for each show, from The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” to Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” There’s even a rendition of “Wipeout” played in four different keys simultaneously that is absolutely maddening.
So to commemorate the end of this tour, here’s a very normal conversation about very normal topics with the very normal “Weird Al”—er, Alfred Yankovic.
Noisey: Have you ever tried writing music that was not for the purpose of making people laugh?
“Weird Al” Yankovic: I’ve written instrumental pieces which are inherently not funny. I haven’t written a lot of lyrics that were not intended to be humorous. I think the last time I did that earnestly was maybe when I was a teenager, before I started getting play on The Dr. Demento Show, and I would try to write these serious songs that I thought were deep at the time. I found some old lyrics in a box a few years ago, and oh, so embarrassing. So embarrassing. Thankfully I never tried that again. My mind is not wired that way. I’ve always been naturally twisted and I’ve had to learn to go with my muse.
What were those songs you were writing as a teen about? Love songs?
Not so much even love songs, but more about society and about existence—stuff a 14-year-old would think was really deep.
You just read Catcher in the Rye and you’re all riled up.
Oh yeah, yeah. So bad. [Laughs]
Are you able to just enjoy art without a million ideas of how to spoof it running through your brain? Do you read War and Peace and think it could be a cookbook called War and Peas or something?
I get that every now and then. I can certainly enjoy music and any kind of art for what it is. My brain isn’t constantly going, “Hm, how can I screw this one up?” When I’m writing parodies, I definitely have to put myself in a different mindset where I am analytically looking at something and saying, “How can I make this funny?” Thankfully, that switch is not on 100 percent of the time.
Let’s talk about mundanities of your day-to-day life. Are you a morning person?
Normally and naturally I’m not a morning person in that I like to stay up late at night. But on this tour, I’d stay up later and later and later, and by the end of the tour I was staying up until eight in the morning and sleeping until the early afternoon. But my family, ever since I’ve gotten back from tour, I’ve tried to get back on their schedule so I can be awake when they are.
Do you have a workout routine?
No. When I’m on the road, I like to say that the performance is my workout because the normal show was like a two-hour workout. It wasn’t so much on this tour. [Laughs] We were sitting on stools for 90 minutes to two hours. When I’m getting ready to go on tour, I’d go on long walks. That was my one exercise that I like doing. I’ve never been a gym person. I don’t like going to the gym. I do like walking and getting fresh air and seeing the outdoors. So that’s the one thing I’d do for exercise.
What don’t you like about the gym?
I’m pathetically weak, I don’t have any sort of muscle tone. I’m very flexible, I think I might be my hyperextended or something. I can flip and flop every which way, and do high kicks and everything else, but I don’t have a whole lot of upper body strength. I’ve never really sought that out, or the pain and effort it’d take to get that. I feel pathetic in public trying to lift weights alongside people who obviously know what they’re doing.
Are you handy around the house?
I couldn’t snake a drain. My handiwork is mostly like, if we need shelves or a picture hung, I get out the level and masking tape and the rulers and pencils, and I can figure that out. I can use the math to figure out how to make it even and level and symmetrical. That’s the extent of my handiness. [Laughs]
Do you collect anything?
I’m kind of a hoarder. My wife has been slowly trying to get me away from that. When we got married, she went through my collection of shirts and sent literally several hundred of them to Goodwill immediately. She wound up wearing a few of the shirts I wore in high school, which I still had in my early 40s! And they fit her well; she looked great. She helped me stop hoarding stuff. If you go through my Twitter and Instagram, you could see me sadly saying goodbye to things—I went to my storage unit and I had 30 or 40 boxes’ worth of fanmail. How can you throw those away? Those are love letters. But at the same time, it was like, well, are you ever gonna read them again? Are they just gonna be in a storage locker for the rest of your life? So I had to say goodbye to that. We live in a nice house on the Hollywood Hills and we’re trying to not have it cluttered full of my junk. I have a lot, and some I need to hold onto for sentimental reasons, but we’re trying to live uncluttered lives and that’s difficult when you’ve had a long life and career, and there’s so many trinkets and mementos that you want to keep with you.
I imagine, besides the fanmail, fans give you other personal items. Do you have a favorite?
I’ve kept a lot of the art because that’s easy to store. There’s a couple little sculptures that we’ve kept and there’s other stuff that fans have put a lot of work into but my wife would certainly not want it displayed in the house. So it’s more like, “Take a picture of it and let it go.” [Laughs]
When was the last time you did jury duty?
A couple years ago. I’ve done it at least once. Now they use a picture of me in the courthouse as an example of somebody who’s done jury duty. I’ve seen on social media, people are like, “Hey, I saw your picture at jury duty!”
If Weird Al can do their civic duty, anyone can do their civic duty!
Yeah, if Weird Al’s too stupid to get out of jury duty…
What are your favorite apps?
I obsessively check Twitter and Instagram. I’ve got a Facebook page which I check now and then. I check half a dozen aggregated news sites and newspapers to figure out what’s going on in the world. And fan forums, and things like that. When I’m not busy doing something else, that takes up a lot of my life.
I have such a conflicted relationship with social media. While it seems like a huge waste of time, it’s also gotten me opportunities that I would not have otherwise gotten.
Absolutely. I mean, it’s both. Sometimes I admire people like Tina Fey who don’t want to give over a huge part of their life to social media and instead focus on being creative in other ways. In some ways I’m thankful because social media has allowed me to get in closer contact with a lot of my peers in the comedy community, it has gotten me job opportunities, it’s allowed fans to stalk me. [Laughs] There are a lot of pros and cons to social media, but I think the pros outweigh the cons just because it’s done a lot for me over the last few years and given me a lot of joy. But at the same time I hope my daughter doesn’t remember me when she’s older as the dad who was always looking at his phone.
And when you were parodying hit songs in the 80s and 90s, the radio and MTV was where culture was happening. But now it’s happening so much on the internet that it seems like for your purposes of staying up on culture, you have to be online.
Well certainly, yeah, if I wasn’t on the internet then I wouldn’t be up on culture. So I have to embrace new technologies and new portals of information and the internet’s obviously a huge part of that. It’s been pointed out that whereas in the 80s and 90s a lot of my humor was revolving around things like food and television, in the last 20 years it’s been more about the internet and nerd culture, which is the way our world has been going.
Do you use Netflix at all?
Yeah, we didn’t have it on the bus, but I use it at home a lot, and I’ve been watching a lot of comedy specials lately and Comedy Bang! Bang! has now appeared on Netflix.
Do you have a show you like to unwind with at the end of the night?
I’ve been doing this for a year or two. I’ve been watching all the late night hosts—just their opening monologues. I DVR all the shows and, in addition to the sites that I bookmark, I get my news through the first ten minutes of every late night show.
Do you have any vices?
Sugar, mostly. I like sweets and I try not to overindulge.
What’s your favorite?
Oh gosh, pretty much anything. [Laughs] I had sweets on my dressing room rider for the tour and finally decided to just take them off the rider. Because otherwise I end up with a suitcase full of chocolate bars and truffles and candies. And then I bring them all home like, “Honey, look at what I brought you—a suitcase full of chocolate!” Like, “Oh, great, thanks a lot.”
Do you ever cry?
Yeah, I mean, not much. I can’t say that I full-on cry a lot but I get misty if I watch a sad Pixar movie. There’s definitely been a few movies where I’d hide the big, sobbing inhale. [Laughs] I’m human, stuff affects me.
What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
We live part-time on Maui and that’s always a lot of fun. That’s where we go to unplug. I have to give a hat-tip to that. But when I got married back in 2001, we honeymooned in Bali and that was pretty magical, that was an amazing experience. I don’t know when but one of these days I’d like to go back as a family and re-experience that. That was very hard to put into words—just a peaceful and beautiful experience.
I went to Hawaii for the first time last year and bought a Hawaiian shirt while I was there. I have to give you credit as a trendsetter on bringing Hawaiian shirt culture to the mainland. I don’t know how I waited that long to get a Hawaiian shirt. I love it.
I think they just call them “shirts” there.
Who do you see as your heirs? You’ve been around long enough that you must be seeing your influence, either directly or indirectly, in culture. Who do you think is carrying the “Weird Al” flame?
I would not be so bold as to say that anybody is my heir or that I inspired anybody or that they’re carrying my flame or torch. I will say that there are a lot of people currently that are doing amazing work in musical comedy. I love The Lonely Island, I love Tenacious D, I love Flight of the Conchords. I could give you a list. Whereas it seems like when I started out in the 80s, there seemed to a bit of a dearth of music comedy, now it seems to be a renaissance. If you look on YouTube, there are 10,000 people doing song parodies and funny songs, and the people doing it professionally are killing it. So I don’t know if I was in any way responsible for that or inspirational, but if I am or was, then I’m very grateful.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Dan Ozzi is on Twitter.