“Weird Al” Yankovic: Genius, Hoarder, Weasel-Lover

He has six platinum records, three Grammy awards for inescapable spoofs like "Fat" and "Eat It," and a perpetually sold-out live show boasting more costume changes than Lady Gaga. But even after 30 years of musical-comedy stardom, there are still things we didn't know about Alfred "Weird Al" Yankovic... until he told us.

Al Yankovic
Seth Olenick

1. His dad inspired his ear for language.
“When I was a kid, my dad bought a guitar at a garage sale for ten bucks, and never learned how to play it. But he would strum it and sing these Yugoslavian folk songs around the house, and I enjoyed singing along even when I had no idea what they meant! I think that’s also why I had an appreciation for Dr. Seuss, his made-up incredible words and bizarre creatures—really anything that sounded unusual or funny.”

2. His parents enforced his accordion playing.
“I can’t imagine I was begging for accordion lessons. It doesn’t seem like any kid would. So, my parents must have made that life-altering decision on their own. I think they just wanted me to be really popular in high school.”

3. He was going to be an architect until Dr. Demento came along.
“Dr. Demento [a California radio personality] would play my stuff on the radio when I was 15, 16 years old—things I recorded in my bedroom on a little cassette tape recorder. If it hadn’t been for his encouragement and early exposure, I would probably be an architect now, which is what I got my college degree in.”

4. He doesn’t intend to offend.
“I’m not the type of person people want to beat up, thankfully. It comes in much subtler forms. Coolio contends he never gave permission for me to parody “Gangsta’s Paradise” (as “Amish Paradise”), and his quote was something along the lines of, ‘Weird Al better just stay away from me.’ That’s one reason I take great pains to get permission for my parodies. Regardless of whether I can do something legally, I don’t want to offend any artists. Especially rap stars. Being involved in a drive-by is just never fun.”

5. He’s a hoarder—his wife once threw away nearly 800 T-shirts.
“I used to just save literally everything. It really was kind of a sickness. I mean, I had shirts from high school and I was like, ‘Why throw them away when somebody could use this someday? Maybe my dog could wear it!’ And actually, my wife did fit into some of the shirts I wore in high school, and she looked pretty nice. So there.”

6. He almost worked with the great Shel Silverstein.
“I ran into Shel accidentally at a Tower Records down the street from my house. I’m a huge fan for both music and children’s books, so I offered him a job on my Saturday morning TV show. He said, ‘I won’t be on your show, but I could be an advisor and give you ideas.’ I kick myself to this day that I never took him up on that.  How great would that have been?”

7. He’s a vegetarian. Yet people still don’t get the main joke in his song, “Weasel Stomping Day.”

“There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t get the joke—but even my daughter, who was four at the time, got “Weasel Stomping Day.” I explained to her, ‘Now Nina, you know you wouldn’t really stomp on weasels,’ and she kind of rolled her eyes like, ‘Of course, Dad. I’m not stupid.’ And yet, there are still people that think I’m being mean to animals! A lot of those people are certainly not vegetarian. My retort would be: ‘I’m a big animal lover. I love them so much that I don’t eat them.'”

8. His job is harder than it looks.
“Any time I go out in public people try to suggest my next hit. Ninety-eight percent of the time they’re pretty bad ideas, and the other two percent of the time I’ve already thought of them. Any parody that I do, I probably wrote a hundred really bad versions of it first.”

9. His fans just might be weirder than he is.
“Something a fan gave me just yesterday was a beautiful painting of my family, with my head on my wife’s body, my daughter’s head on my body, and my wife’s head on my daughter’s body. It was flattering and disturbing at the same time. I took a picture of it and sent it to my wife with the caption, ‘Can this be our Christmas card this year?!’ She wrote back, ‘No.'”

11. His favorite word is…
Ostensibly. I don’t know why, but that word always seems to crop up in every interview. And now it’s in this one! How about that?”

12. He’s the Martha Stewart of rock stars.
“As a touring musician, I can share one useful household hint: you can always use lemon juice to get the goat’s blood out of the hotel drapes. …Also, when you dangle your child out of a window, make sure to use both hands.”


13. He’s the author of two children’s books. The newest is called My New Teacher and Me.
“It’s sort of about the child I wish I’d been. I’ve always had a warped and overactive imagination, but I wasn’t nearly as outgoing and confident as Billy, the main character in my book. I kind of kept to myself a lot and was just a weird kid on the playground. But Billy really owns his weirdness. I didn’t own my weirdness until much later. Ostensibly last Tuesday.”

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest