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012: Hugh Fink, playing Carnegie and writing for SNL
Some people were just born to do what they do, and Hugh Fink was born to be funny. Or was he born to play the violin? Because even though comedy has set the course of Hugh’s life, he has performed violin solos to a packed Carnegie Hall, something I can’t boast about! Hugh is one of a very few comics who has been able to fuse his musical life with his stage persona, much like the late great Jack Benny, whose violin I’m fortunate to play. Ever since he was a child, Hugh loved getting up in front of people and performing, no matter what form it took. Eventually, he discovered that not only could he create material for himself, but he had a talent for writing material that would suit any number of other talented performers! And that was the key that unlocked doors throughout show business, most notably at Saturday Night Live, where Hugh enjoyed a seven-year tenure and wrote more opening monologues than any other SNL writer. Hugh and I talk about growing up alongside Joshua Bell (and later using him in a wicked stage act with Tracy Morgan), how stand-up relates to musical performance, and how TV shows get made. Of course I also sit back and listen to behind-the-scenes tales from SNL! Transcript Nathan Cole: Hi and welcome back to Stand Partners for Life. This is Nathan Cole and today with me, really excited to have as my guest, Hugh Fink, comic, writer, violinist. He’s been gracious enough to join me here at Disney Hall for a change. Welcome to Stand Partners For Life, Hugh. Hugh Fink: Thank you. It’s great to be here, Nathan, instead of taping a podcast at a smoke filled comedy club, to be in a classy concert hall. I like it. Nathan Cole: We try to keep it classy here at Disney most of the time. Well, we can just jump right into that. I mean, you’ve spent so much of your life in those clubs performing, writing, but what’s not usual for a comic is that you have a serious history as a violinist. We were talking about that just a bit ago, you and I, but give us the quick version of your violin life, because that was either came before or maybe concurrently with your life in comedy. Hugh Fink: Sure. My parents were classical music lovers. My dad was the Attorney for the Indianapolis Symphony, the Musicians Union. As a very young kid I would be taken to these concerts at the orchestra and I loved it. I guess I told my parents at age four or five that I wanted to study violin. They were not so sure about that because they knew it was a tough instrument. They already owned a piano, but they were friends with the concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony at the time, Eric Rosenblith. He had known a little about this new Suzuki method, although he was not a proponent of it at all because he was like a pupil of Carl Flesch or some of these old- Nathan Cole: Old school. Hugh Fink: He was super old school, but he wasn’t sure how to tell my parents to start off a five year old with lessons. He wasn’t going to do it. There was a Suzuki teacher, one in Indianapolis, and that’s who I studied with. Nathan Cole: This would have been not so long I bet, after the method really took hold in the U.S. because I started Suzuki and that was early 80’s. Hugh Fink: You are right. I started in the late ’60s. I ended up studying Suzuki for eight years, and going to the Suzuki Summer Institute at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Nathan Cole: Stevens Point. Okay. Hugh Fink: Right. Shinichi came. Nathan Cole: Wow. Hugh Fink: Yes. I actually was part of the generation where I got to see him live. Nathan Cole: Well, that’s extraordinary. Hugh Fink: It was extraordinary. I didn’t have much interaction with him, but I remember, I think he was chain smoking and he looked like a ripe old age and very Buddha-esque just this is why He didn’t speak much English either, but that was a great experience. I think what it taught me, Nathan, was beyond the violin part, to meet other young violinists who are just normal kids. It was a camp,
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