The duo discuss Yankovic’s wild new medley, how they became close friends and hanging with Larry David on the set of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’
Earlier today, Lin-Manuel Miranda fulfilled his ultimate childhood fantasy by releasing “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “The Hamilton Polka.” The hysterical tune, which manages to cram all of Hamilton into a frenetic five-minute polka, is the latest installment in Miranda’s ongoing Hamildrop series, where artists like the Decemberists, Nas, Dave East and Aloe Blacc put their own spin on songs from his Broadway musical. He hoped to have “The Hamilton Polka” ready for February, but “Weird Al” was so busy prepping his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour that they couldn’t get it out until March 2nd. But in a brilliant move by “Weird Al,” they simply decided to declare the date February 30th.
Not long after taping an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Yankovic and Miranda sat down with us to talk about “The Hamilton Polka,” their close friendship, the possibility of future collaborations and hanging out with Larry David on the set of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Let’s go through the history here. Lin, tell me your first memory of hearing “Weird Al” music when you were younger.
Miranda: Oh, God. My first memory was hearing “Fat,” which is a spoof of “Bad,” and like most “Weird Al” fans you discover that there is a catalog and this isn’t a one-off. “Oh, my God. There’s tons of these.” I remember asking my parents for “Weird Al” albums for Christmas and I remember the Christmas morning. There were all these cassettes, Dare to Be Stupid, Polka Party, In 3-D. I kinda got the mother lode all at once. And that’s the rest of my childhood right here.
At that point, did you know the songs he was spoofing?
Miranda: To this day, I’ve never heard “Lola” by the Kinks. To this day I’ve never heard it!
Miranda: To me, that’s “Yoda.” But some of them I have and with some of them it was years until I realized. I didn’t know “I Lost on Jeopardy” was a spoof until like a decade later. I always knew they were half parodies and half genre parodies or original songs, but sometimes it took me a really long time to catch on to the fact that he was really spoofing something.
Al, tell me your first memory of being aware of Lin.
Yankovic: I think it was when Lin actually contacted me. He wanted me to see In the Heights, but for whatever reason I wasn’t able to do it at the time. But I wasn’t really keyed into Broadway at the time. It was a big deal, but it wasn’t part of my world. After that, I started looking into Lin’s stuff and it wasn’t too long after that. Help me out with the history here. Had you done the White House performance?
Miranda: That was 2009. We didn’t meet until 2010 or ’11 or so.
Yankovic: Then help me out. How did we meet?
Miranda: I think you were interested in maybe doing a musical-theater project. I waved my hand up immediately. I think we took a general meeting on that and just sort of kept talking.
Yankovic: We hit it off and became friends and were always thinking about what we could do together. That hasn’t really clicked yet. But in the meantime, Lin got busy with this Hamilton thing. [Laughter] That took a little bit of his time.
I’m sure you saw that pretty early in the run.
Yankovic: This is the hipster thing to say, but I saw it when it was in previews at the Public Theater. I saw it on Broadway and I saw the preview in L.A.
Miranda: What’s crazy is that thanks to Facebook’s On This Day feature, I actually know you saw it March 1st, 2015. You saw it three years ago today.
Yankovic: No kidding!
Miranda: I always look at the “What Happened On This Day” thing every morning.
Do you recall seeing him in the audience?
Miranda: No. I remember seeing him after. He came backstage at the Public. I have a picture of the two of us.
Yankovic: I was sitting next to [Broadway legend] Joel Grey, which was pretty cool.
Miranda: That’s an amazing story. Have you head that story? Joel Grey showed up. I only know this because a friends of ours was behind him in line at the box office. They heard him go, “I’m Joel Grey. I’m here to see Hamilton.” They scrambled around and got him a ticket. He turns around and says to my friend, “I don’t have a ticket.” He just showed up and said “I’m Joel Grey” and they found him a ticket, which is the kind of thing only Joel Grey can do. That’s one of my favorite stories.
What was your first impression of Hamilton?
Yankovic: I thought it was maybe the greatest piece of art I’d ever seen. I went backstage and I gushed a lot. I might not have predicted it would become quite as big as it became, just because a lot of times the things that I love don’t translate into mainstream because I’m kind of a freak and I like things that are different. I loved it more than I can even articulate, but I’m so happy that the rest of the world shared my opinion.
So how did you guys become actual friends?
Miranda: I would just get in touch with him anytime I was in L.A. after that first initial contact. We would hang out. Going to Amoeba Records with Al is a very surreal experience. They just start playing his stuff because he’s there. Al TV just started playing on the monitors. I’ll never forget, I don’t know if you remember this, but we were in the car and you were at a red light. You picked up your phone and went, “Oh, cool. Tony Hawk just named a move after me.” That’s the kind of thing that happens to Al and doesn’t happen to other people, that’s kind of amazing and blessed.
When I decided to do a year of singles, I reached out to him. The nature of this collaboration is, “Here’s everything in the show. Go do what you want.” That’s what happened. He did a polka and I heard it the first time last Thursday.
Yankovic: It was hard for me because everything I did in production I was like, “Oh, Lin would love to hear that. I should send it to him.” And then I was like, “No, no.” I told him, “You can only hear it for the first time once.” I didn’t want to send him the demo. I wanted his first experience to be the real thing so he’d have that one-time experience. I’ll send you the demo now though.
Walk me through the process. Did you always know it would be a polka medley?
Yankovic: Lin pitched it to me as a polka medley way more hesitantly than you should have. He was like, “Would you want to do a polka medley?” I was like, “Of course I do!” It was the kind of thing I’d be pitching him if I didn’t know him already.
Miranda: Listen, as a longtime “Weird Al” fan, that’s a scary ask to make. I also know there’s only been two other cases where he’s devoted an entire polka medley to a particular artist. There’s “Hot Rocks Polka” on the UHF soundtrack and the Queen polka [“Bohemian Polka”]. I cannot presume to be in that rarified air as the Rolling fuckin’ Stones! But I asked.