Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A frank, no-holds-barred interview between Onion Critic-at-Large Ben, age 13, and his idol, “Weird Al” Yankovic

1996 American Music Awards Ceremony (Photo: Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)

The A.V. Club, which started as a non-satirical pop culture supplement to The Onion, first went online in 1996. In honor of 1996 Week, we’re republishing vintage interviews from that year.

My name is Benjamin and I am 13. I was given the opportunity to interview “Weird Al” Yankovic, which I thought was really cool because I am a big fan of his (so is my mom). He has a movie called UHF which I have seen many many times. Go rent it if you haven’t seen it. The guy who plays Kramer on Seinfeld is in it. My mom says that Weird Al is great because he makes music fun and he also picks songs that deserve to be made fun of. I just think he’s cool.

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“Weird Al” Yankovic: Hey Ben.

Ben: Hey Al.

Al: How you doing?

Ben: Fine. [Pause.] All right. [Pause.]

Al: Okay, go ahead and ask your first question there, Ben.

Ben: All right. Um, hey Al.

Al: Hey Ben.

Ben: All right. Um, I was wondering, what do you think about Jim Carrey?

Al: Uh… [Laughs.] Um, I think he’s pretty funny. I think he’s worth every penny he gets. In fact, I think he should get 40 million dollars a picture.

Ben: [Long pause.] All right. What do you think about Nine Inch Nails?

Al: Nine Inch Nails?

Ben: Yeah.

Al: They’re my favorite angst-ridden group.

Ben: [Long pause.] And why is that?

Al: Uh, because Trent [Reznor] comes off as really angry, but deep down inside he’s just a wacky, zany funster.

Ben: [Long pause.] What do you think about Hootie & The Blowfish?

Al: Um… [Laughs.] I’m just a Hootie-maniac. I live for Hootie. I wish my mom had named me Hootie.

Ben: [Laughs, then long pause.] Why don’t you try to get ALTV [Al’s MTV guest special] back on MTV?

Al: Actually, MTV has been re-running the ALTV I did for them earlier this year, over and over, ad nauseam. Hopefully, when the next album comes out, they’ll let me do it again.

Ben: Yeah, the one for your new CD… I’ve seen that one.

Al: Me too. Many times.

Ben’s Mom: Tell him we’ve got the old ones.

Ben: And my mom has also taped some of the original ALTVs.

Al: You mean from the ‘80s?

Ben’s Mom: We’ve got ‘em all.

Al: Cool. [Pause.] Yeah, MTV was a little bit looser back then. They’ve tightened up considerably.

Ben: That’s too bad.

Al: Yeah. Oh well. [Long, long pause.]

Al: [To Ben] You don’t have any more questions?! C’mon, Ben! I’m an open book. I’ll answer any question you’ve got. I want you to peel back the layers and expose the Al that nobody knows.

Ben’s Mom: Tell him about his medleys.

Ben: His medleys?

Ben’s Mom: His polka medleys.

Ben: Oh, oh. The polka versions of your songs…

Al: Uh-huh?

Ben: Do people ever mention a song they think you should parody, and ask you to do it?

Al: Well, you know, I’ve got a long list of songs to do specifically for certain people.

Ben: How long is that list?

Al: Several hundred pages long. Right now I have about 3,000 requests to do a “Macarena” parody, so I’ll get around to that in about, you know, four or five years.

Ben: Oh, puke! I’m sick of that stupid “Macarena” song.

Al: Okay, then. I’ll take one name off in deference to you.

Ben: I think MTV has played that enough.

Al: Yeah, okay. Then I won’t do it. [Long pause.]

Ben’s Mom: Ask him about his new album. You have it all memorized, Ben.

Ben: What?

Ben’s Mom: His new album.

Ben: Your new album, I think it’s great.

Al: Well, thanks. [Pause.] That’s a hard-hitting question, Ben. Take no prisoners.

Ben’s Mom: Go ahead, ask him a deep, probing question.

Ben: Um… [Long pause.]

Al: What are your favorite songs on the new record?

Ben: I don’t know. My favorite song on there would probably be “Amish Paradise.”

Al: Well, that’s one of my favorites too.

Ben: “Gump,” that’s also a funny one.

Al: Well, you’re picking all my favorites here. Those were the first two singles and videos from the album, and let’s see… “Amish Paradise” is a song I wrote, oddly enough, about the Amish, because I realized—being the student of trends in Western Civilization and pop culture that I am—that the Amish were going to be very hot in 1996. And I wanted to be on the cutting edge of that trend.

Ben: Do the Amish ever get mad at you for that song?

Al: No, I found that not many Amish people are avid MTV viewers, and as a result, not too many old-order Amish stopped me for autographs when I was chillin’ in Lancaster. So I haven’t really had any kind of Amish protests in front of my concerts.

Ben: What about Coolio?

Al: He doesn’t really call anymore. We haven’t gone bowling lately. You probably know the story about that: I was under the impression that Coolio had given permission for me to parody “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and it was one of those cases where my people were talking to his people, and there was some kind of miscommunication involved, and now Coolio is kind of bent out of shape. So I really don’t know what to say about that.

Ben’s Mom: What else, Ben?

Ben: Um…

Ben’s Mom: Ask him about Nirvana.

Ben: What Nirvana?

Ben’s Mom: The one he did.

Ben: [Pause.] Why?

Ben’s Mom: C’mon, Ben. Ask a question.

Ben: [Pause.] I think that you should make another movie some time. Me and my friends have seen UHF and we loved it.

Al: And if I made another movie, you’d go to it?

Ben: Yep.

Ben’s Mom: Well, he’s only seen UHF about 30 times.

Al: Yeah, it’s like Rocky Horror. You don’t really get the full impact of it until you’ve seen it three or four hundred times. We shot most of that movie a long time ago—in 1988, and it came out on July 21, 1989. It was a lot of fun, actually. I got to work with Michael Richards, who I’d been a fan of for a long time. He plays Stanley Spudowski in the movie, and is more famous for his role as Kramer on Seinfeld now. There was also Fran Drescher, who is now The Nanny, and a lot of character actors who I was really thrilled to work with: Billy Barty and Anthony Geary, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy. Yeah, I’d love to do another feature at some point in the future. We’ll see what happens.

Ben’s Mom: [Pause.] Go on, ask another question.

Ben: [quietly] Um…

Ben’s Mom: He’s 14—he thinks a lot.

Ben: Al.

Al: Uh-huh?

Ben: Okay, you’re still there.

Al: Hey Ben.

Ben: Hey.

Al: Hey Ben, how’ve you been?

Ben: Good. [Painfully long pause.] You’re on tour right now.

Al: That’s true. Every day on the tour is sort of a traveling circus.

Ben: How?

Al: A lot of costume changes, mostly. In fact, half the show seems to take place backstage. There are a lot of costume changes backstage during the show; between the production numbers there’s a quick-change booth set up, and there’s a woman whose job it is to strip me down to my underwear several times a night.

Ben’s Mom: [Pause.] Ben, ask a question.

Ben: Um, was there ever a school you went to where no one seemed to like you?

Al: [Laughs.] Yeah, pretty much every school I went to. I was never, like, a really popular guy in high school. I was the school valedictorian, a straight-A student, and I graduated when I was 16. So I was one of those kind of kids that, you know, you’d copy off my paper and then beat me up at recess. In fact, I kind of fit the whole Unabomber profile, but luckily I was able to kind of channel my energies a little bit more positively.

Ben: Uh, towards what?

Al: Well, good question. You know, the whole “Weird Al” oeuvre.

Ben: So, are you “Weird Al” when you’re not on stage?

Al: Um, kinda. It’s not like a character that I put on, like a Pee-Wee Herman kind of thing, but I kind of turn up the volume when I need to. I’m not really bouncing off the walls when I’m shopping for broccoli, the way I am when I’m doing a live show.

Ben: Your mother doesn’t call you “Weird Al,” does she?

Al: No, she calls me Mr. Yankovic. No, my mom usually calls me either Al or Alfred. I was Alfred until I was about 16 years old.

Ben: No wonder people used to beat you up.

Al: Yes, Alfred in my mind was about the equivalent of “Poindexter.”

Ben: What do you think about the Brady Bunch movies?

Al: Uh, I haven’t seen the second one yet. I thought the first one was well-done. The guy who plays Mr. Brady is just amazing. I don’t think they’ll ever top the original cast. I mean, Florence Henderson, I think, is the greatest actor in the world, and it’s a shame that she doesn’t get more leading-lady roles.

Ben’s Mom: [Pause.] Ask him something.

Ben: I can’t think of anything. [Pause.] How about your band?

Al: Well, I met my drummer [Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz] on September 14, 1980, and I remember that because that was the night we performed “Another One Rides The Bus” live on Dr. Demento’s show. And he just happened to be around the studio, and he told me he was a drummer, so I had him bang on my accordion case. And he’s been my drummer ever since. Steve Jay is my bass player, and Jim West is my guitar player, and they’ve been with me since I guess around 1982. I auditioned Steve and then he brought along a friend, Jim, and they used to play in bar bands in Florida together. And that’s been the core of the band, really. We have a tour keyboardist [Ruben Valtierra] who’s been with us for about four years. So we’re kind of like a little family on the road. We’re really happy, just like Trent Reznor down deep. [Ben’s Mom laughs.]

Ben: [disgusted] I just wish I knew who he was.

Al: He’s the Nine Inch Nails guy.

Ben: Oh.

Al: Ben, you’re 14 and you don’t know who Trent Reznor is?

Ben’s Mom: Ben’s not into hardcore.

Al: Okay.

Ben: I had no idea who he was. I know Nine Inch Nails.

Al: Well, the first time I ever heard Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” I said, “You know, this song is crying out to be turned into a polka.” It’s a happy little song.

Ben’s Mom: Oh, it’s joyful. It’s what the children of the world need. None of that gloom and doom. You’re spreading happiness wherever you go, Al.

Al: I do my best.

Ben’s Mom: That’s what the youth of today need.

Ben: Gag me.

Al: What do you think the youth of today need, Ben?

Ben: Guns.

Ben’s Mom: [angry] Oh, Benjamin!

Al: You think? I think they need to eat more watermelon. My dad always told me, “Al…” Actually, he said Alfred. He said, “Alfred, you know, watermelon is a happy fruit. If you’re ever suicidal at four o’clock in the morning, don’t jump out the window. Just run to the supermarket and get yourself a big old watermelon and stick your face in it. You’ll cheer right up.”

Ben: Does it work?

Al: Yeah, we keep a spare watermelon on the bus, just in case anyone starts to crack.

Ben: [Pause.] Are you going to start working on the next record soon?

Al: When I get back to L.A. It’s hard for me to write songs on the road, because I wind up writing stuff like [singing] “Oh, I’m riding the bus, I’m here on the bus, I’m on the bus and we’re drivin’ down the road.” It kind of limits my creativity.

Ben: [Pause.] All right, um, I don’t think that you can do enough parodies of Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.

Al: Um, you’re right. I can’t do enough. I’ve given up even trying to do enough.

Ben: It’s too bad that you’re not doing any more Michael Jackson.

Al: Well, you know, I’ve done two Michael Jackson parodies already, and I’m still known to a large amount of people as “The ‘Eat It’ Guy,” so I think trying to branch out into artists other than Michael would probably be good for me.

Ben’s Mom: What do you think your average fan base is—kids Ben’s age?

Al: Well, we have some of that, but I think it’s mostly middle-aged Korean women. I don’t know what it is. That seems to be the prime demographic. But it really branches out from there—it’s a little bit of everybody.

Ben’s Mom: Well, Ben and his friends are all big fans, so you’ve got your pre-pubescent boys.

Al: Well, you know… [Laughs.] I probably shouldn’t make a comment. [Laughs.] I’ll just leave it at that.

Ben’s Mom: But they’re very loyal.

Al: Well, it’s great, you know. That was about the age when I was a Mad Magazine fanatic. I’d be 12, 13 years old, and I’d be scouring the used-magazine shops for back issues. I think there’s a gland that starts secreting some strange fluid at about that age, which makes you start appreciating that kind of humor. There’s some kind of correlation there—I haven’t figured that out yet.

Ben’s Mom: Can you relate to that, Ben? [Pause.] Ben likes Mad Magazine, too.

Al: Well, there you go.

Ben: Yes I do.

Ben’s Mom: Ben, did you have anything else?

Ben: Uhhh… Mmmm…

Ben’s Mom: Tell him about your birthday.

Ben: You’re playing here the day right after my 14th birthday.

Al: Oh, really? Well, happy birthday in advance, Ben.

Ben’s Mom: We want to hear a special birthday song.

Al: Just for Ben. Okay, um, your special birthday song will be “Like a Surgeon.”

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