The massive "Weird Al" Yankovic cult knew it was only a matter of time until the rest of the world joined their ranks, but few people could have foreseen what happened this past week when his new album Mandatory Fun became the first Number One comedy album on the Billboard charts since 1963's My Son, the Nut by Allan Sherman. That was back when JFK was president and few people in America had heard of a new Liverpool band called the Beatles. There were still new episodes of The Twilight Zone on television. It was a long, long, long time ago.
We happened to be visiting Yankovic at his house in the Hollywood hills for an upcoming story for Rolling Stone when his longtime manager Jay Levey told him the album was likely to debut on top of the charts. Tears welled up in Yankovic's eyes and his wife Suzanne comforted him. "Sweetie," she said. "It's just people loving you like they always have."
Over the course of four hours, we spoke to "Weird Al" about his long career and took a tour of his entire house, down to his impressive collection of Hawaiian shirts in the basement. Here are 16 things we learned that day.
1. He's never taken illegal drugs.
"A couple of times I’ve had Morphine because I’ve been in extreme pain," he says. "But I've never done drugs recreationally. I've been around people that smoked dope, pot, Mary Jane, reefer. I enjoyed being around those people in college because it was very easy to make them laugh. But it was never my thing and my parents drilled into me not to ever take drugs, so out of respect for them I never did. Maybe when I'm 75 years old I might be ready for them. We'll see what happens."
2. Heavy D used to live in his house.
"I don’t know if he remodeled it, but a lot of things here in this house are very Heavy D-sized," Yankovic says. "My wife is a wee woman, she’s not very tall, and it’s difficult for her to stand at our bathroom counter because they’re a little taller than normal. So everything in this house is a little oversized."
3. It's also possible a porno was filmed there once.
"My best friend from high school said to me, 'Yeah, I think I saw a porn shot in your house,'" Yankovic says. "I think an Andy Garcia movie called Internal Affairs was shot here, too. There's a lot of history here: rock & roll, porno and the Yankovics."
4. His 11-year-old daughter Nina is incredibly cute and precocious.
"She's such an ideal kid," says Yankovic. "She likes playing outside, animals and nature. I was always watching TV at her age. Where did we go right?" During the course of our visit, she assembled a robotic arm that runs entirely on water, dressed up their rescue poodle Sandy in a penguin costume, read the 1967 out-of-print children's book Animals of the Little Wood while perched on a beanbag chair and played with their pet bird Dina, a green-cheeked Conure. Nina named her that because birds evolved from dinosaurs.
5. Some nights the entire Yankovic family camps out in a blue tent on their deck, which has a stunning view of Los Angeles.
"All four of us get into the tent," says Nina, counting the dog as a member of the family. "We take out mini marshmallows and put them on sticks and roast them over a candle. It's really fun. Sometimes an owl comes onto a tree and we look at him with binoculars."
6. He was introduced to his wife Suzanne by their mutual friend Bill Mumy, who played Will Robinson on Lost In Space.
"I thought to myself, 'Oh, I don't know about this,'" says Suzanne. "Then I thought, 'That's kind of shallow of me to just be looking at a persona. People are often so different than how they appear.' And we clicked immediately."
7. They had multiple phone dates before they even met face-to-face.
"I hadn't even seen her, but I already had a major crush," says Yankovic. "She was asking me all these questions about my life and I said, 'You can just watch my VH1 Behind The Music tomorrow.' I guess we did get married a little late in life, but neither one of us had been married before and neither of us intends to be married again. The Behind The Music made too much of a big deal out of the fact that I was pushing 40 and still single. I wasn't upset about it at all. I enjoyed being single. But when I got married I found I was even happier, and when I had a kid I was even happier, still."
8. A large downstairs closet houses what deserves to be a "Weird Al" museum.
Not only are there what seems like 300 Hawaiian shirts in there, but everything from the multi-colored pants he wore on the Tom Snyder Show in 1981 and most of his early concerts to a stack of maybe 50 pairs of Vans sneakers to box after box of amazing artifacts. We pop open one labelled "High School" and see a book he made for his father in elementary school, songs he painstakingly transcribed for the accordion around the same time and the program for the 1976 Lynwood High School commencement ceremony. The valedictorian was none other than "Alfred Yankovic" and his speech was labeled "The Future: It's Price." He freaked out the room by explaining that the ice caps were going to melt and threaten the human race.
9. He's a stunningly methodical songwriter.
Each and every one of his lyrics go through countless stages before they reach their final form. He punches up a one of his final drafts of "Handy" — a spoof on Iggy Azelia's "Fancy" about a cocky handyman — on his laptop. For every line he went with he has at least four other suggestions for himself. For example, he ultimately went with the line "When you window is busted," but he also considered "Check my competitive prices" or "Got my own contractor's license" in that same slot.
10. There's amazing nerd artifacts all over his house.
Behind the bar, there's a life-size Darth Vader mask sitting on the floor. We counted at least four books about Mad magazine as well as a recent issue with Duck Dynasty on the cover. Gold records for Bad Hair Day Off The Deep End and Even Worse are on the walls, along with an incredible fan-created painting of Al in his Big Edna uniform from UHF.
11. He's a voracious reader.
Here are just some of the books we noticed: Brain Droppings by George Carlin, Kink by Dave Davies, America Bizarro by Nelson Taylor, Rolling Stone: The Complete Covers, My Brother Was An Only Child by Jack Douglas, The Pythons Autobiography by the Pythons, The Complete Paintings and Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, Selected Poems by Walt Whitman, SoulPancake: Chew on Life's Big Questions by Rainn Wilson, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Positive Energy by Judith Orloff, Physiognomy: The Mark Seliger Photographs by Mark Seliger and The Sensual Home by Ilse Crawford.
12. He's a vegan, mostly.
"Occasionally I cheat and eat dairy," he says. "So I probably have to give up my hardcore vegan card. It began in 1992 when a friend gave me a book called Diet for a New America, which makes a very strong argument for vegetarianism for ethical, health and socio-political reasons. After I finished the book it was hard for me to rationalize eating meat anymore, so I stopped. At first, I couldn't imagine not eating turkey at Thanksgiving, but it became pretty easy. I didn't miss it."
13. He's set up a mini studio where he records music after his family goes to bed.
It consists of a large iMac, a microphone and a Kurzweil keyboard. "I really just make basic demos here," he says. "But there's enough so that I can work with the band later and get into more serious arranging."
14. He hopes to make another movie one day.
"But it's not going to be UHF 2," he says. "People ask me about that all the time. That wouldn't be my first choice, or even my 10th choice. I wrote a script for a Cartoon Network made-for-tv movie a few years ago. We had a deal and everything. We were getting ready to go into pre-production and the whole thing just fell apart. It taught me to never talk about things until they happen. I'm working on a few things now I'm not ready to talk about them. But if the right opportunity presents itself, I would love another shot at making a movie."
15. Don't expect a tour this year.
"I made the decision to take this entire year off the road," he says. "But next year we're going back on the road with a vengeance for the Mandatory Tour. Touring is exhausting for me. We do five or six cities a week because we're paying for the bus and everyone's salaries. I live in the back of the bus and physically save up my energy for the show. The rest of the band and crew has hotel rooms, but I just live in the back of the bus and watch satellite TV and surf online."
16. He loves New Wave.
"Some of my favorite artists are the ones I was exposed to in college when I was doing a shift on the college radio show," he says. "It was the late 1970s and New Wave and power pop were at their peaks. I was very into the Talking Heads, Devo, the Romantics and Oingo Boingo."