The Place To Be Episode 1: Hugh FinkSep 21, 2020
Welcome to the first episode of The Place To Be podcast, hosted by Doc Watkins.
On this episode, Doc welcomes Hugh Fink to the show. Hugh Fink is an Emmy Award winning comedian and former Saturday Night Live writer. Hugh has appeared on Comedy Central, Conan O'Brien and David Letterman.
- How Hugh got started in comedy
- The path to writing sketch comedy for television
- Hugh's time writing for Saturday Night Live
- The infamous ESPY's monologue
- Hugh's transition back to working on a variety show with Doc
- How comedians plan their time on stage
- How Hugh deals with hecklers
- Why Hugh can't stand Larry King
- Hugh's upcoming course about sketch writing
Links referenced in the episode:
Sign up for Doc's course, Conversational Jazz and learn how to play jazz the way you learned to speak.
Full episode Transcription below:
Doc Watkins: 00:00
Well, hello, everybody, and welcome to the Place to Be. Thank you so much for tuning in. My name is Doc Watkins, I am your host. And this is our very first podcast episode. We are so excited to be getting started on some podcasts. The way that this podcast started was during the quarantine; the great quarantine of 2020. We decided to take two live streaming from our stage here at jazz Texas in San Antonio, and created a show called The Doc Watkins show, which was music and jokes and segments, and special guest appearances from artists and comedians and actors and producers. from all over the world. We were able to zoom them in for remote calls. I had a lot of fun with them and did some great interviews. But I was always left wanting more at the end of those interviews because we had to get so much stuff in in the hour-long program that our interviews were only five to 10 minutes. And we brought such fascinating people onto the show that I always wished that I had more time. And so, we decided to create a podcast, or we could do long form interviews and really dig in deep to the craft and the art of so many interesting people out there. And so, we are so excited to be doing this podcast. Thank you for tuning in.
And my first special guests of all time on the Place to Be is a good friend, an Emmy Award winning comedian, former Saturday Night Live writer who you might recognize from his numerous appearances on Comedy Central, Conan O'Brien and David Letterman. He's also responsible for one of my all-time favorite sports monologues given by the great Norm Macdonald at the 1998, ESPN ESPY Awards earlier this year is topical song parody, "CoronaLola" a coronavirus kinks parody, went viral on YouTube and you can check that out anytime. From his home in Los Angeles, California, Hugh Fink. Welcome to the Place to Be.
Hugh Fink: 01:47
Thanks, Doc. And you know, when I think about Place to Be, there is no place I would rather be right now other than LA, then 100-degree heat in South Texas during a global pandemic.
Doc Watkins: 02:01
It feels so weird. I got to admit, it feels-- because you feel like the global pandemic and it is-- this cold or flu or whatever. And it should be like wintertime and you go outside, and you are like, who can live in this in these conditions, let alone a virus. And sure enough, here we are.
Hugh Fink: 02:17
Here we are.
Doc Watkins: 02:18
So, Hugh, I am so glad to have you on the show. I wanted you on as episode number one, because as you know, I am obsessed with comedians and comic writers. I think the world of you guys, and I wish I could do what y'all did. It is so much fun to watch somebody get up and do stand up. And so, I wanted to have you on the show and pick your brain and talk about comedy. How old were you when you first knew that you wanted to be a comic?
Hugh Fink: 02:43
Believe it or not. I knew at a really young age. The problem is, when I was a kid, being a comedian wasn't actually a profession, then meaning other than like five comics, who regularly appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and appeared on game shows like Hollywood Squares, there wasn't really a way to make a living. And yet I always drifted toward smart, witty, funny people and thought, I want to do that to a national audience. So, I knew pretty young.
Doc Watkins: 03:17
But So, you knew you wanted to do it. But it was not-- there were not any professional opportunities. And I remember reading about that in Steve Martin's book born standing up in his stories where when he started out there, there were not comedy clubs. And so, he had to sort of performing music venues and be an opening act at the local zoo and all these different things. Did that keep you from wanting to do? I mean, did that-- How did that come across to you? You knew you wanted to do something that there was no market for?
Hugh Fink: 03:43
I think that watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and seeing comedians, even though I didn't quite get well how do they make a living, and Johnny always mentioned: "Oh, you could catch them at the Sahara Hotel in Vegas." So, I knew that they apparently performed at hotels, just watching their craft. And the way that the good comedians made me laugh inspired me and it made me feel that is something I want to do. And one day we will do.
Doc Watkins: 04:14
How did those guys make it back then?
Hugh Fink: 04:16
So, here is how it worked back then. Comedians would often get paid by, to be the opening act for headliners in Vegas, meaning all singers. So, you could open for Diana Ross, you could open for Frank Sinatra. If you had one of those spots, you would make a really good living. And then when those stars would travel, and do venues all over the country, they would have a comedian opening act. Otherwise...
Doc Watkins: 04:48
Go ahead. So, you had to sort of latch on to a bigger star and be their opener.
Hugh Fink: 04:53
We kind of did. Obviously, the exceptions were superstar comedians like Jerry Lewis at the time. I am people like that could make their own living but otherwise, there was like subculture of comedians who were not superstars. But they were, you know, recognized if you watched a lot of TV guys like Shecky Greene, I did not know who Shecky Greene was other than the come-on Johnny Carson. But Shecky Greene made his whole living in Vegas. He would just work the hotel circuit there.
Doc Watkins: 05:25
So, if the if the gig-- the only gigs to get were opening for these big names, and there were not any, like steppingstone gigs. How did you go from being a complete unknown to opening for Sinatra, if there was not an existing comedy clubs circuit in place for you to sort of cut your teeth?
Hugh Fink: 05:43
There was a circuit in New York, you have probably heard of called the Borscht Belt. Catskills the other name for that is, so that was sort of a summer retreat community. outside New York City, and a certain School of comedians would come from that Catskills. And so, if they were really good, they would get noticed. And, you know, make the transition. The other thing I should mention is, comedians would appear on variety shows, that was a big genre of TV back in the day. So, like, shows Hee Haw and Laughing. And game shows all the time. Like I remember as a kid before I knew who Ben Stiller was, his mom and dad Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller would appear on this game show called Tattletales, and shows like that had comedians on to sort of make them more fun and light hearted.
Doc Watkins: 06:46
I love those old variety shows. They look so goofy now to us. Other than that, I do not think they are nearly as goofy as most of the stuff that is on TV, but it is just such a blast from the past. Because it was those-- most of those shows happened before I was born and I-- but I love all that. So yeah, The Dick Cavett Show and the old person, like all the old variety shows were so cool, because they just threw everything at you. They threw the band at you, and the monologue and the comedy and the special guests, and they would play these games. And, you know, they would still do that on late night TV to some degree, but I always loved those watching those reruns of like the 70s era shows. So how-- do you remember what how old you were when you made the decision when you knew in your mind that you wanted to go for a comedy?
Hugh Fink: 07:30
Well, I think that, when I was in high school, and known as someone who could get laughs and write funny material, and by the way, Steve Barton had become a stand-up comedian superstar, like one of the first to start selling out arenas. He was that big a star? That is when I started going, Wow. I think this is what I want to do. The problem was, Doc, how do you make a decision coming out of high school to do that meeting, I still wanted to go to college, but you could not study stand-up comedy. So, at the time, I thought the best decision was, Oh, I know. I will go into acting. Because comedians, some of them are really good actors. And it allows me to be creative. So that was the route. I thought I was doing the right thing to choose. But it turned out to not be the right thing.
Doc Watkins: 08:24
Were you funnier than your friends?
Hugh Fink: 08:27
Yes, I was. And I was someone who, like the term class clown implies that you were not necessarily a good student, you were just there to make everyone laugh. I was a really good student. But I think I was known among my peers also as very witty, pretty fearless, and definitely irreverent. Like, I knew how to mock teachers, I knew how to mock authority figures, I knew how to mock the gym teacher. So other kids look to me to do that. And I would get laughs and I loved it.
Doc Watkins: 09:02
What but you're also and I want to get into this a little bit as far as your process for writing material and how you do that you're also able to break down the art of comedy in a way that's very structured, and you understand it thoroughly, which means you've done all the work whereas a lot of people I found, you know, just because they're funny, and their friends say you should do stand-up comic or stand-up comedy. A lot of times, you know, comedians will say, you know, I'm the least funny person in my friend group, but my friends just didn't put in the time to actually work their jokes into an actual viable act. So, but in your case, you were the funniest one.
Hugh Fink: 09:41
I would like to think that I was, [laughter] be Indiana, you know, pretty conservative place where it is not like it was super-- that I was surrounded by all these creative artistic types. So right but the other thing Doc, is, with your profession, look, there's plenty of people who want to make it in music and maybe they love jazz and think, Oh my god, I-- one day I want to make a living being a jazz musician. The problem is, honestly, they simply do not have the talent. And even if they work their butt off for years and years, they are unfortunately, never going to reach that level that you need to really be a successful musician. It is the same thing in comedy. There is plenty of people who have the drive, maybe they even have the discipline, but they are just not that funny. And if you are not that funny, there's exceptions, but generally, you are not going to do well.
Doc Watkins: 10:38
And you are a musician as well as a comic. And that is what fascinates me about your story. And I want you to tell us about it. Because you were like a Jack Benny, you are a violinist classically trained. And you tell jokes, too. And tell us what led you away from music and into comedy, as opposed to the other way around? [crosstalk] That the other-- more jobs for you playing violin back then.
Hugh Fink: 11:01
Right. There were but that is a great question. So, if I could make my fantasy alternate life Doc, I would be a violin virtuoso. That would be my number one dream more than being a comic. The problem is what we were talking about. I was decent, but I was never going to be great. And what broke my heart was, I was taking lessons at Indiana University School of Music, which is one of the top music schools in the world. I mean, there are decades running decades running. So, I had access to Indiana University. And I was studying with an incredible violin professor there. And I was, you know, decent. However, one day I went into the music school on campus, and I heard someone riffing on a Paganini Caprice, which is one of the hardest technical things to play. And I am like, wow, who is-- this was I look in; it was an 11-year-old Korean kid. And that is my go-- okay. I am never going to be this good. There are already people who are leaps and bounds better than me who are younger than me. So, it was really sobering because my ego is such that, first of all, I am not good enough to be the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But even if I were my ego's too big, to just be a member of an orchestra. For me, it is like, I want to be the soloist or nothing. So, I gave up the dream, in a realistic way of going into music, even though I love it, and it is one of my passions.
Doc Watkins: 12:36
So you're a lot smarter than me, because I'm a musician now, but I wish that I were a stand-up comic, you know, if I could be anything for a day, it would be to stand up and just, you know, do it for an hour and you know, have the full crowd and everything. And, and I know that I am not only am I mediocre at doing stand-up, but I am really bad at it. But that has not stopped me from just getting up on stage and going for it. And it there is a certain pleasure and bombing, they say, I have not found it yet.
Hugh Fink: 13:08
Well I was going to say the world is a better place because Doc Watkins chose jazz music instead of comedy. And I say that because, you are an amazing performer and entertainer and musician. And just the way that even during the last months of you doing your show, and the way people are so enthralled to hear you play, you made the right choice.
Doc Watkins: 13:33
Well, it's-- Thank you, what makes me so in awe of what you guys do is that for years, I've been making little attempts at doing stand up and telling jokes and working in jokes, sometimes jokes that are very worked out and scripted, and even involve the band members and other times doing jokes off the cuff. And there is a safety net there. Because if I do a monologue, that's two or three minutes, and it is just not funny, which it is usually not, I have the safety of sitting back at the piano. And in two minutes, everyone is forgotten about the bad jokes. So, I can always bail myself out of a bad situation which allows me to have the fearlessness to go into a bad situation, knowing I can get out of it. But if you're a comic, and you have an off night, or you have a bad crowd, or one heckler that you can't seem to deal with, and you have a 45 minute set. You have no piano in front of you and you have no band to stand behind. And I mean, you are out there. And it's-- To me, it's like the-- if they say that the greatest fear is of public speaking, and people are more afraid of public speaking than death than I think that logically leads me to think that stand-up comics have the most dangerous profession in the entire world.
Hugh Fink: 14:46
There's truth to that. And look, the standard is different because a competent musician doesn't bomb, meaning, there could be people in the audience who go: Yeah, it wasn't, you know, my favorite but they had a decent voice or they played Piano decently the problem with comedy is, it's a singular goal, right? That is to make people laugh. And if you are in the audience, and you do not find the person funny, it is game over. There is no middle ground, they suck, right? And you are not being entertained. And that is it. So, in that sense, it is really a high wire act, and its feast or famine.
Doc Watkins: 15:21
Yeah. And that is what I love about it. And that is why I am so in awe of those that can do it. And but I mean, you must have had--, how many times... If you had to just guess, how many times in your career have you just out and out bombed?
Hugh Fink: 15:33
Oh, like any accomplished comic would tell you. I would say many times, however, I will qualify that and say, but the percentage of how many times I've succeeded, far, far, far outweighs the number of times I bombed, meaning it's not like 50-50. It is not 60-40. It is probably like, you know, 85-15% or something. Because I am the personality where if even early in my career, if I had been bombing a lot, I would have quit. I do not think I am not one of these comedians, who, you know, spent years to become so I did not bomb. Right? When I started, there at least was some germ of something where people would go: Yeah, he is funny. He has got a way to go.
Doc Watkins: 16:19
That is interesting. Because with Steve Martin, he says he bombed, you know, every night for 10 years. And right when he was about to quit, somehow, he finally got his act together. But it sounds like it was the opposite in your case.
Hugh Fink: 16:34
It was not the opposite. I would just say that it was a very different route for me. And I had signs of early success when I started to make me encouraged. But if you are Steve Martin, the thing is, he is was ahead of his time in some ways, the style choices he was making. We are not what other people were doing. And if that is the case, you are going to bomb, because it is like you are introducing your audience to something they have not seen before.
Doc Watkins: 17:04
Yeah. What is the most amazing like, what is the greatest performance you have ever given? Can you name one place in time?
Hugh Fink: 17:11
Yeah, sure. Well. If you ask me on any given day, I may give you an answer, Doc. But I will say, playing Carnegie Hall as a comedian, opening for Jon Stewart, to a sold-out crowd with the legendary comedian Alan King hosting and introducing me. And I did like 20 or 25 minutes. Here I am on the stage of Carnegie Hall with my violin doing comedy. And that was incredible.
Doc Watkins: 17:43
Talk about I mean, Jack Benny, it is like did you feel at that moment? Like I am Jack Benny?
Hugh Fink: 17:48
Well, I felt like I am Jack Benny. I am Itzhak Perlman, because being a classical violinist want to be ultimate, it was the ultimate for me, like even more than the comedians. The goal of being a great comic, like, well, now I am an accomplished violinist. I can say that I have played Carnegie Hall. And I have got Jon Stewart, on, he picked he handpicked me to open for him, which I will always be grateful for, because he liked my act. And his first line, he came on stage at Carnegie Hall, looked around and said, what a shithole. So, I thought that was hilarious.
Doc Watkins: 18:28
So how did you get from being a stand-up comic to also writing sketch comedy for television, which is a totally different thing?
Hugh Fink: 18:37
If you know my stand up as people do, you will see that I create bits that are almost like, you could call them mini sketches, where I will set up a scenario. And maybe it is usually me as myself interacting with, you know, a waiter at a Chinese restaurant, or a girl at a bar, or at a baseball game. And I think that my natural inclination as a comedy writer, even writing for my stand up, was to create these things that could be funny sketches. So, in this case, I bonded with David Spade who got on Saturday Night Live before I did, and we had sort of a simpatico relationship of liking the same things that we found funny. So, he got me on Saturday Night Live as a writer.
Doc Watkins: 19:32
What was the worst part about being on Saturday Night Live?
Hugh Fink: 19:37
The fact that you are only as good as your last sketch. So, it is sort of like you had all the glory of, maybe you wrote something that was fantastic, and it was talking about it. But Monday morning, after that show, you are back to square one. And it is like, you got to do it all over again. And it is hard enough. It is really hard.
Doc Watkins: 20:00
Is that why writers and comics and actors and comedians that go on Saturday Night Live, they're usually short lived and yet go into movies or whatever is it because they're just as Groundhog Day feeling it no matter what I did yesterday, I got to do it all over again.
Hugh Fink: 20:14
There is that, and I also think the pressure of having to be good every week. And of course, sometimes it is out of your hands, right? Comedy is really subjective. You can write what you think is a great sketch. But for whatever reason, it does not get on the air or it gets cut. Before the live show is, we do a dress rehearsal show, it can be incredibly frustrating.
Doc Watkins: 20:37
Yeah, but you so, you had a long run on Saturday Night Live. And since we're talking about that, let's talk about Norm Macdonald and OJ because you were a part of that whole thing, which everybody knows that, Norm Macdonald got canned from SNL because he just, he took the OJ thing too far. And he would not stop with it. And you are a part of that. And I let you know, tell us that story.
Hugh Fink: 21:04
Sure. So, Norm and I, Norm started senate live a year before I did, but when I arrived my first week on the job. It was a few weeks before the Verdict of the OJ Simpson trial. So, it was the biggest story right of our lifetime.
Doc Watkins: 21:22
And I remember it well, I was a kid and I think my mom taped it, taped the Verdict. And we rewound the tape and watched it over and over again. And everybody thought maybe if we watch it again, this time, it will go the other way.
Hugh Fink: 21:36
Exactly. Well, Norm was obsessed with the Trial and the Verdict. And yeah, it became sort of a comedic hook for him to constantly make OJ jokes. Now where he got in trouble. Lorne Michaels, our boss's son in law was perfectly fine with it. The problem is that the head of NBC at the time was Don Ohlmeyer, who is a personal friend of OJ Simpson's, and hosted a celebratory party for OJ the day the Verdict was announced. So Ohlmeyer did not like the fact that norm was constantly doing jokes saying that OJ was guilty despite the fact that he was acquitted.
Doc Watkins: 22:18
Whose call was it to keep doing those jokes.
Hugh Fink: 22:20
Norm. It was Norm's call. And again… Because Lorne Michaels is really cool about supporting his cast member and writers. He did not stop it. He felt like: hey, Norm wants to do this. It is getting laughs. So, let him keep doing it. So, I want you, go ahead. Oh, yeah. So, I am just going to say that. So, as the months went on, you know, OJ is now trying to live as a private citizen. Norm is continuing to hammer OJ jokes, right. And so, I would say it reached its peak when I was brought on to run the ESPY Awards for ESPN, though Lorne Michaels was asked to do it. But Lorne picked me to represent SNL and sort of be creatively in charge, which is amazing opportunity. And, and that year, I wrote, I was a head writer. And I had a staff of great writers with me. So, I was not writing by myself. But I was like, the main writer who had to answer to ESPN, and get the jokes approved. And I, of course, was super excited to get Norm to agree to host because he is one of the top hottest comics in the country that year.
Doc Watkins: 23:37
Yeah. So, Norm was-- so it was Norm's call to keep going after OJ. And here you are writing for-- Did you feel like some tension, like man, Norm, I do not know if it is such a good idea. Or were you like, hey, let us go for it, and did you feel caught in the middle?
Hugh Fink: 23:53
No, I did not feel that. But I was completely with Norm on that. And, sadly, a better worse, Doc, when you are an SNL, you kind of feel you are untouchable. Because it is such a prestigious show. You have got Lorne Michaels power behind you, and people know that you are accomplished. So, to me, it is like, Hey, we are just going to do our thing. You hired us. So, you know what you are getting? So, I never felt any hesitation about it.
Doc Watkins: 24:20
So, you feel like you are untouchable until you are Norm McDonald, and then they fire you,
Hugh Fink: 24:25
Exactly. And well, what I can tell you...
Doc Watkins: 24:29
Do you see that coming at all?
Hugh Fink: 24:31
Hard to say. I do not think he did. Because, again, he thought that he was protected by Lorne Michaels. But in this case. Even Lorne could not protect them. Because it just reached a boiling point.
Doc Watkins: 24:44
So, for me it reached the kind of the apex in that ESPN ESPY speech with the famous OJ joke which you wrote, right?
Hugh Fink: 24:53
Yeah. And the joke was, so it was the final joke of the monologue and Norm said: "Well, Charles Woodson, this year's Heisman Trophy winners here in the audience, give me a hand" And Charles by winning the Heisman, that's something no one can ever take away from you. Unless you murder your wife and a waiter." And the crowd kind of gasped, and they cut to the camera like, sound some athletes sitting in the crowd, including Charles Woodson, who did a double take. He was like, What the hell like...
Doc Watkins: 25:31
It is not even. It was not. And you can watch, you can look that video up on YouTube. And it was not even one of those things where it was like a groaner where everybody said, Oh, I cannot believe you said, it was like, everyone in the audience. Just look down. [crosstalk] ground like it was...
Hugh Fink: 25:49
They were shocked, I think because here you have world famous athletes. Tiger Woods was there that year. I think maybe Michael Jordan was the only time he showed up the espies. It was the A list of superstar athletes in that room. And for Norm to have the guts to do an OJ joke out of the blue. I think just took people's breath away.
Doc Watkins: 26:13
And Michael Jordan was in the audience. Yeah. Because that was you also wrote the joke about his baseball name.
Hugh Fink: 26:18
That is right. Because the joke was, Norm said, "Well, Michael, now you're playing for the wizards. So, the question is, when you are inducted into the Hall of Fame, Basketball Hall of Fame, will you be inducted under your name, Air Jordan, or by your baseball name Senior Crappy." Which was hilarious because it was a year after Michael had that aesthetic attempt to become a major league baseball player where right could not hit a curveball.
Doc Watkins: 26:48
So speaking of sports, and I want to get into it a little bit, I want to talk about how you and I have been working together and we've been having a lot of fun, you know, creating segments and writing bits and everything. But we are both musicians you are a comedian. I wish I were a comedian. And we both love just the absurdity of the sports world and it's so much fun to make fun whether it's a Kawhi Leonard or, or you know, John Elway or whoever and you've wrote written a ton of sports material, but you love to write for sports. Like, at what point did you just realize that was a comedic goldmine.
Hugh Fink: 27:22
So, there are two ways one was, if you think about there is not a lot of stand-up comics who do sports material interact. But I do. And one of my most, probably, Doc, the stand-up routine I am most well-known for is my routine about first base coaches. And I did it on Letterman, and apparently, months after I appeared on Letterman, Dave Letterman himself, would repeat my joke to people he worked with at the office, like he loved it.
Doc Watkins: 27:50
What joke was that?
Hugh Fink: 27:51
Well, without reenacting, um, your listeners can look this up. It is a joke about how ESPN put a microphone around the first base coach, you could hear him do his job on camera. So, I basically reenact what that would be like the hero first base coach. That is the premise. And it-- the routine got such attention that the New York Times called me, and they did a profile on first base coaches, and featured my comedy routine as part of the New York Times article. So, I think that was pretty cool. And the fact that Letterman loved my first base coach bit, so I knew that I had this ability to make even people who do not like sports. I could make them laugh with my sports jokes, because my jokes about sports are kind of deeper than the sport itself. They are kind of [crosstalk]. So that is the thing and then this is something you did not know Doc. Remember Gabe Kaplan, who played Welcome Back, Kotter.
Doc Watkins: 28:51
Hugh Fink: 28:51
You heard of the TV show. Welcome Back, Kotter. So [crosstalk]. Okay, well, it is a little before your time, but he--. I do not know if you are kidding or not.
Doc Watkins: 29:01
No, I am not kidding. I have so many blank spots that either I forgotten or just was not there for a
Hugh Fink: 29:07
while. I have to educate you, Doc. So Welcome Back, Kotter was a popular situation comedy that made John Travolta famous. He was an actor. He played a stupid, high school kid named Vinnie Barbarino, and that is what launched Travolta. Well, Gabe Kaplan was a very famous comic from his TV show. He had a popular sports talk show here in Los Angeles, and he hired me to write him sports jokes five days a week. So here I am in one of the epicenters of sports. And not only that Gabe show on the radio was affiliated with the LA Lakers. So, I would not go to Laker games with Gabe. And we had like our own box. And this is in the day of like Magic Johnson those years when Magic has begun to start. So, I wrote Sports jokes for Gabe Kaplan that were really, they are on the air every, every day, and people really like them a lot. And I will give you an example. Here is a joke I have always remembered is that one of the horses in the Kentucky Derby had to withdraw the week of the race because it came down with flu symptoms. And I said, the trainer should have known because he was a little hoarse. So just stuff like that. Well, you do not have to know about horse racing to get that joke.
Doc Watkins: 30:31
Hugh Fink: 30:32
It is just a silly, funny joke. But...
Doc Watkins: 30:36
And also, with so much of the material we have worked on, it is outside of the sport itself, it has just gotten to the point so absurd. You have these guys that are-- just paid so much money and revered, like they are Greek gods, to, you know, throw a football or whatever. And as you've told me before, in working with some of these guys, it does so much to their ego, that they're getting paid so much money to play whatever sport that you can't help but just go after him, right?
Hugh Fink: 31:05
Oh, no, you nailed it. In fact, I think the reason people like my sports material is because it was my take on the institution of sports that it gets way too much importance. Athletes are, for better or worse. A lot of them are not well spoken or educated because they have just been treated like Gods since they were teenagers. So, they get away with just saying stupid things all the time. So, I would mock that. And I think people who are not even sports fans would get the joke.
Doc Watkins: 31:39
Yeah. So, on that. So, we have gone after the Houston Astros and, and let us take a timeout here, because we keep talking about the fact that we have been doing sports stuff and everything. And Hugh I am such a believer that credit, you know, to give credit, where credit is due. And I understand that, you know, political speeches and comedy monologues and entire comedy routines. They have a staff of writers that you never hear about the writers and they are always in the shadows, and you have got ghostwriters, and all that stuff. And, and everyone would like to think that whatever comedian or so and so politician writes their own speeches or improv them or whatever. But the fact is, is that writers are always behind the scenes working and, and you and I have been working together on the Doc Watkins Show ever since April. And we started talking about the fact that I really want to just, I think laughter is so important, and making people smile and making people laugh.
Doc Watkins: 32:34
But every time I try and construct a joke, it just somehow just falls flat. And I have been trying for years. And you see, let me help you. And we have created these segments, like the board game segment on the show, and the monologue and everything. And so before we talk about the Houston Astros, I mean, talk about like, what it's been like you coming from, you know, you've fallen pretty far, Hugh because you went from the ESPYs and from SNL to the to the duck walk and show how I mean, what, tell me how it's how it's been getting back into the music world that way, sort of vicariously through this show, but also writing jokes, as a musical in a musical show,
Hugh Fink: 33:13
Well, I love obviously, I love working with you. And your show Doc. And the fact is that it sorts of gets to merge my favorite things, right comedy, and music. Because even though I am not a jazz musician, I appreciate jazz and love it and jazz standards and everything you do. So, love the whole vibe of the Doc Watkins show, then you combine that with the fact that you enjoy comedy. And for your show. Obviously, it is a different audience than Saturday Live. But it is still a forum for you to do evergreen topical material on what is happening in the world. And so, I love getting to write for you. And when you and I met, you did have this goal of wanting to turn your show, which was more of a traditional live jazz show into something that would have some comedy in it. So right, so we just talked about you, I had to watch you on camera to see your persona, just like I would have hosted Saturday Live like, Okay, what makes this person tick, and what can they get away with? And what is their personality? And that's sort of how I approached you because you and I...
Doc Watkins: 34:28
And we're all familiar with the typical late night format, which is basically, you know, 70 or 80%, you know, jokes and skits and interviews and maybe 20% music where they have a band come on and the band plays, they've got the house band, and they play him in and they play him out of commercial breaks. And then they have a musical guest. So, there is always a musical component. And we said: What if we just flip that around and create a show that is 70% music, but it has got to have some kind of architecture to it. And we place these little segments in these jokes, and we create a show that is you know, 70% music and 30% other stuff in people have really loved it.
Hugh Fink: 35:04
That is awesome. And wearing my producer hat because these days, I have worked as a TV producer, as much as I have a writer, it is all about pacing. Like when you go to hear a band or a jazz musician or a comedian for an hour, it's not just about them picking good material, they have to decide the order of that material, and how to get the audience to buy in at the beginning of the show, they got to keep it interesting in the middle of the show, and then you have to end on a strong note, right? So, I felt like with you, there were all these opportunities to help you shape your show. So that when people are watching the Doc Watkins Show, I want them is to feel that, like, Oh, I am sorry, it is over. That was a great evening of entertainment. And so, you never want the audience to be bored. You never want them to go, Oh, it was good. But it was 10 minutes too long. You want to leave them wanting more.
Doc Watkins: 36:03
And speaking of bored, the one segment of the show, that has gotten the most-- that we have gotten the most response on both positive and also very negative is the board game. Because we knew we wanted to create a segment that was not just a traditional monologue, it was not music, it was something that was new that we could kind of mess around with. And I love contrast. So, I kind of love creating something that people either love, or they hate, but we play this game called the board game. And if you've never seen it, you know, check it out on YouTube and Facebook on one of the episodes where we compare two people simply to find out who's more boring, but we were talking, I said, Who? Can we create something? Can we do something that's like a game that we play, or some kind of segment that only lasts a couple minutes, but it's just enough to get you to bridge the gap between song five and song six of the show. So, it is not just you know, song after song after song. And you called me up and tell everybody what-- how you came up with that.
Hugh Fink: 37:05
How I came up with it was you and I have a conversation Doc, where you said, you know who-- there is a list of famous celebrities, who I just am tired of. And you can write some of the names like Maroon 5, and some others and I wrote it down. And I had the same sensibilities you like, yeah, I cannot stand Maroon 5. But...
Doc Watkins: 37:25
That is right. I think I sent you an email one day, and I cannot even remember what it was in regards to. But I basically said: Hey, just food for thought, here are people that I find really fascinating. And here are people that I find really boring. And what do we want to do with [crosstalk] I got it exactly.
Hugh Fink: 37:42
So, I of course focus on the negative because I am a comedian. So, I am like, okay, these are the people who Doc, for whatever reason isn't a fan of and that's I think, like you do, and as a comedian, I always want to mock. So, I am like, okay, he wants to come up with a game. These people, he does not like he said, some of them are boring. And I was like, Oh my gosh, bored, b, o, r, e, d, b, o, a, r, d. It is a board game. And people are going to think well, that Doc says we are going to play a board game. That sounds like Monopoly, or Candyland. But this is literally going to be a game about who is more boring. So, you know, that was the original premise that I pitched you and you loved it. I was so happy. And honestly, I've ever told you this Doc, I only wished I had thought of this and sold it to like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, because I feel like [crosstalk], amazing segment for them. But...
Doc Watkins: 38:38
You really killed me, where you called me. And you said, you know, let us, you know, thinking of the people that you thought were really boring, and I cannot, it was like Maroon five. And you know, Matt Damon and the Rock, you know, Dwayne Johnson, who I think is the most boring person ever. And, so you said, Well, you know, why don't we compare these people? I thought, that is brilliant. I love it. That is great. And were you really got me as you said, you know, we can do a thing where we like, compare completely unrelated people like Justin Bieber, versus President William Howard Taft.
Hugh Fink: 39:07
Exactly. Like I just picked the dead president, who people barely know anything about and thought that would be hilarious. So, we are not comparing to celebrities who are equal. We're taking a contemporary celebrity and comparing them to, you know, a former president or as we've done an animal or a reptile, or most recently, I think we have coming up comparing them to a vegetable, like it could be anything, but the fun is, I think, for your people who watch your show is they never know who we're going to compare in terms of being who's the most boring.
Doc Watkins: 39:45
I have never really gotten too much hate mail over the years. But I think I have gotten more, more emails and social media messages, saying how much people hate the Bored game, and I have never gotten so many emails in messages on how much people love the Bored game. I mean, people either love it or they hate it. Some people are like, you know, I tuned in for the music and this is beneath you to compare boring people and I am lost. I do not know where this is going. It does not make any sense. And other people are like: Man, this is my favorite part. I wait until the board game and my kids. If they do not catch the show live, they will wake up the next morning and get on the computer and the first thing they will do is watch the board game.
Hugh Fink: 40:26
I love it.
Doc Watkins: 40:27
And they love it. Because I know they say, dad, who is for the show tonight, who is on the board game tonight. Who is it going to be? And so, we did Mark Twain versus Shania Twain the other night. And son Nolan, who is nine. He loves to read, and he loves Mark Twain. And he watched the board game and he came downstairs and said, what do you think of the board game, dad? I really do not think you should have put Mark Twain in the Bored game.
Hugh Fink: 40:50
Do you have a favorite one Doc that you can recall that we have done so far?
Doc Watkins: 40:54
Yeah, I cannot think of one offhand. I think what I remember the most is when we first kind of started creating it and you called me in that conversation to say, hey, what if we do this? And you hit me with like three in a row. And it was like just dominoes. 1, 2, 3, just killed me. It was Justin Bieber versus President Taft. It was Chloe [inaudible 41:17] versus Zooey Deschanel. And it was Dylan McDermott versus Dermot Mulroney. And as you were saying this I was like, What is this guy-- Like, this guy's crazy, you're in that because I like, who comes up with that and then you actually, you know, create these segments where we talk about all these random facts and why it makes them so boring. And then we pick a winner at the end and everything. And I love it.
But back to the-- so long, roundabout way to the Astros where we're doing sports material and everything and we keep going back to the Houston Astros, and letting them have it because they went too far they ended the careers of great pitchers who came back to try and you know, have one more season and they got shellacked. And they had to retire. Little did they know that the Astros were cheating the whole time, I have friends who are not happy about our Astros jokes, because they feel that the nature of baseball is cheating. I mean, whether it is the, you know, 1919 fix, or just corking the bat or you know, whatever. So how do you feel about this version of cheating with the Astros?
Hugh Fink: 42:25
That is a great question. I guess personally, I feel that it is true that baseball has had a history of cheating, that is undeniable. And so, one could argue the Astros just came up with a genius way to cheat. The problem is, I view that team as they did not even need to cheat. That is what bothers me, is, they had an amazing pitching staff. If you look at that world series against the Dodgers, most of the games the Dodgers barely scored. So, it is not like the Astros needed to cheat to score more runs. Looks like that's just overkill, as far as I am concerned. Like, I could have won without cheating. So that I guess is how I feel. And then I think what has really made people mad is that there seems to be no real punishment for their actions. The evidence...
Doc Watkins: 43:19
They are still the champs.
Hugh Fink: 43:20
Still the champs. And so here in Los Angeles, of course, people are so angry about the Astros and feel you know, that it should be-- they should take the World Series victory the championship away from them. And I of course, I am someone who believes in contrition if people seem sincere about their apology, but I am not really hearing much of policy from the aspects.
Doc Watkins: 43:48
I think, they got it a little bit. I mean, in the early you know, the when the season finally started back up, you know, I mean, they started throwing at the Astros pretty right off the bat. I do not think it did much damage. But you know, it seems like they got the message at least.
Hugh Fink: 44:01
I guess they did it. The fact is, the Red Sox cheated, too. And I know that that is a fact now, but there are players same with steroids, right. Like, there are some who did not do steroids, so I can see why they would be having no tolerance for players who did do steroids. And that is how...
Doc Watkins: 44:21
It seems like a-- the line gets crossed when it becomes a systemic thing. Like if you when you have that famous story about who is the player who-- there was the cork bat and the umpires took it into the umpire locker room and one of the players from the teams crawled through the air conditioning ducks, came there, if it-- was it, the Royals or whoever it was, they crawled through the air conditioning ducks, during the game snuck into the umpires locker room, stole the bat, brought it back through the air, and that's like a genius thing. And it was one guy that sort of took one for the team, the [inaudible 44: 51] guy that went and risked everything to remove that bat but when you have a systemic thing where the whole team is in on it, and it's like they've got it. They have got the whole thing rigged. Maybe that is too far. I do not know.
Hugh Fink: 45:03
Yeah, it I mean, baseball is filled with tradition, and sort of things like, you know, you do not showboat when you hit a home run. It is not like that is cheating. That is just more the ethics of baseball. So, when players behave that way, there is a belief that they have to be held accountable.
Doc Watkins: 45:23
Yeah. So, back to the stand-up comedy thing. When you are on stage, and talk about-- I'm really curious, because one thing I've noticed, whenever I'm trying to do a monologue, and the longest I've ever gone on a monologue is maybe five minutes. So, when I watch these guys go for 60 minutes or 90 minutes, I just think I do not know how they do it. It is like, trying to go to Mars, I do not understand how anybody could even think it is possible. And yet these guys go that long when it is going well. So, I have noticed the passage of time is one of the most important things when you are giving a performance when it is going really well. You feel like the passage of time, is smooth, and you can sort of see the runway developing before you and you don't feel rushed, and you don't feel like you have to hurry. You do not feel like it is going too slow, or it is just the most beautiful thing, I think about giving a great performance when it happens. And when everything is dialed in, and the audience is with you, is the passage-- you feel like you could do this for days. Whereas when you are it is not going well, you feel like you know, five minutes feels like two hours. And I am curious, when you are doing an hour long or 45 minutes set onstage by yourself with a microphone. How do you deal with time?
Hugh Fink: 46:45
It becomes second nature. So early in your career, you are so hyper aware of, Oh, my gosh, that was only 10 minutes. And now I have got X amount of time, I still have to fill. But when you are a season successful comedian, then you just have a volume of material that you can go to. And it is fun to pick and choose which bit you want to do when although there is a structure so that sometimes, there are certain jokes that only work well, when they follow another joke. It is not liked a musician who could maybe take 10 songs and juggle them around every night, that is not going to work with comedy. It is very much about one joke leading into the next building. But I would say that when you are a good comedian, and your craft, then the time thing just becomes second nature. And you just have an internal clock that tells you all right, I am halfway through my show, or I have got five minutes left.
Doc Watkins: 47:48
How do you deal with structure versus improvisation and that's where I feel like jazz, in comedy aren't that different in the sense that you've got areas where you can be really structured, and I've heard that Jerry Seinfeld, you know, he has his routines, word for word to where I mean, he's got that thing perfected, whereas others improvise more on stage, we had Todd Glass, do four shows out here a couple years ago, and every single show was completely different. And I do not think Todd knew what was going to happen when he stepped up on stage. How do you deal with the balance between structure and freedom?
Hugh Fink: 48:24
I prefer to have a structure that works that I know is going to be solid no matter who I am performing for. However, once that foundation is set, that allows me the ability to veer off from the structure anytime I want, do some things in the moment that are improv and then return to my structured act. That, to me is a surefire method to work. And with certain crowds, I may not veer off from the structure, because the audience I just do not trust them. And if I veer off, but then other times the opposite, like, if I was doing 45 minutes or an hour, I would veer off and do you know, 10 or 15 minutes of improvised stuff that I've never done before, but it's working great. And then it is like, oh, my gosh, I only that cut into a big chunk of time, I can return to my structure now. But I only have a certain amount of time to return.
Doc Watkins: 49:23
So if you wanted-- if you really felt like taking a risk on a show, and you've just felt confident, like I'm going to take the biggest risk I've taken, what would you do?
Hugh Fink: 49:33
So, I would basically-- you got to win the audience over so that they are comfortable and confident with you. So, they go, this guy's funny, I am with them for the journey. Once that is established, and I have them sort of in the palm of my hand, then I can sort of seamlessly try out a new joke or a new bit. And if the audience you know, does not go for it, that is okay. Because I can return to my tried and true material. But if it does work, then I will just stick with the new path and kind of see how far I can go. Before I need to get out of it.
Doc Watkins: 50:11
I was amazed to learn. I mean, Don Rickles is-- speaking of Todd Glass. We talked a lot about Don Rickles when he was here because Todd has a lot of material. And if you have never checked out Todd Glass's material, and he will go after audience members sometimes, and you cannot tell if he is serious or not. And there were a couple times like I-- Todd I think I am not sure if this is a joke anymore or not. But I am with Don Rickles, I was amazed to learn from someone, a guy named Scott Liggett who played guitar in Sinatra's band, during the 70s in Vegas. And when the glory days of Sinatra and Don Rickles in Vegas. And I mean, there is anywhere I could, I would like to visit it would have been one of those shows, because I just cannot imagine the energy in a performance like that. But he said that Don, would open for Sinatra, and beforehand, he would have handpicked members of the audience sitting in the front row. And back in those days, I mean, he would go after everybody and say things you would never say today. But he would actually make sure that there were people in each seat of the front row that he already had pre worked out bits for and so when he would go out, you know, he would always make it look like he was just like: Hey, you, you know, and then he would sort insult their mother, or their grandmother or their weight or their hair or whatever. But Scott told me that he actually would have everything, like, planted in the audience going out and that blew my mind.
Hugh Fink: 51:41
That is absolutely true. And again, these are art forms and crafts, and people want to think, oh, stand-up comedy. It is just genius that Robin Williams or Don Rickles could come out and just make stuff up. But that is really not how it works. Part of the craft is making it seem like you are making it up on the spot. But actually, you are not. And that holds true with Rickles that, of course, Rickles preset some people, because if he did not, then literally he would be on a high wire act every night. And
Doc Watkins: 52:14
Right. What would have happened if he had nothing but the same looking guy in every single seat in the front row, right?
Hugh Fink: 52:22
Or someone who was too shy and would not answer his questions. Well, then it would completely ruin his stick. Right? So yeah, part of art is creating the illusion of what the audience is seeing. And that is true with comedy, too. By the way, so when you mention, you know, Heckler's and Rickles'. So, I have a classic Heckler encounter, which is that, you know, David wells, the famous Major League pitcher who puts a perfect game and let so he was on Saturday Live when Derek Jeter hosted SNL because the Yankees came to the show, and we're on the air. And I was introduced to David Wells at the show, and he heard my name. And he said, holy crap, you are Hugh Fink. And I go, Yeah, he goes, dude. Seven years ago, I was in Vegas, and went to the Tropicana hotel comedy club. And you were headlining the show. And I was drunk. And he said, I yelled at you. You think you stink? And he said, I thought, and he goes, and Dude, you slam me for five minutes. He goes, I wanted to punch you out. He goes, you embarrassed me and went after me big time. And he said, I wanted to kill you. And I left the comedy club. And he goes, I have always remembered your name. And now I am meeting you here.
Doc Watkins: 53:48
Do you remember what you said?
Hugh Fink: 53:49
No, I do not. But it was perfectly in my style, because people thought that I was a really nice guy. So, they might feel comfortable. But I was-- I could be vicious. And in a good way. I mean, and if David Wells mess with me, and I saw I did not know that it was David Wells, but to be just some drunk jerk in the back of the room. I am sure I went after him hard. Yeah, he remembered it.
Doc Watkins: 54:13
What is the goal when you go after somebody? Because I have seen comedians, you know, dealing with a Heckler is one thing, but I have also watched comics just rail on somebody long after they needed to, what is the logic there?
Hugh Fink: 54:28
Yeah, I mean, if you are railing on something long after that, to me might be a waste of time because the whole point...
Doc Watkins: 54:35
Have some something to do with your childhood?
Hugh Fink: 54:36
Exactly. Like for me, I would rail on someone for as long as I could get huge laughs from the audience. Because it is about entertaining, right? But then at a certain point, less is more. I am just like, okay, I have just killed this person. I have destroyed them. I have gotten huge laughs I win, they lose, now I am going to move of my act. I do not feel I need to like, go on and on and on. I think for an audience that can be a little boring, because if you've paid Yeah, a comedy show, you're going, Okay, I didn't pay to see half the show be you making fun of a Heckler.
Doc Watkins: 55:13
Right. And there is that moment where the room gets tense, and people are not sure whether you are trying to be funny or your...
Hugh Fink: 55:21
Well like, you see if that is the case, then you have not done your job. Well, I would say that is the [crosstalk], because as a comedian, your job is to always get laughs, and be in control of the situation. And have the audience know that you are having fun and joking around.
Doc Watkins: 55:35
Yeah, what do you think is the number one mistake that comics make?
Hugh Fink: 55:43
It is definitely not knowing their audience. So meaning, if you're performing for a group of religious people, you don't come out and you know, drop the F bomb or say things that are anti religion, because that's completely touching a nerve of theirs. So, you are going to immediately lose their confidence. Or if you are playing to a group of senior citizens, and you are making references to Nirvana, and MTV and like, they do not know, like, that is a bad choice. You do not know you are on. So that is the number one thing. It always amazes me [crosstalk].
Doc Watkins: 56:27
Is that even more so than not knowing your own material? You have seen comics come out. And, and maybe they have got a bit, but they have not worked out. So that is even more of a thing, not knowing your audience than not knowing your own material.
Hugh Fink: 56:39
I think, to me, it is more of a malpractice, when a comedian doesn't know their audience, and are committing malpractice because you're paying for their expertise that, hey, they're supposed to make you laugh. If you come out and are doing jokes that are-- the reference points, and the point of view is wrong for that audience. Then to me, you are at fault.
Doc Watkins: 57:02
Yeah. Right. It makes sense. So, all right, I want to ask you about something. And we have never talked about this, but I read an article where you talked about, Norm McDonald's, Larry King sketch. And you were-- Norm would, you know, pretend to be Larry King, and do the whole thing. And you wrote a lot of those.
Hugh Fink: 57:23
I wrote all of them.
Doc Watkins: 57:24
Yeah, you wrote all of them. So, I got to admit, I love Larry king. And I will tell you why in a minute. But you cannot stand Larry King, can you not stand Larry King?
Hugh Fink: 57:35
I cannot stand Larry King. No.
Doc Watkins: 57:36
What is it about Larry?
Hugh Fink: 57:38
A few things, Doc. All right. So, I think he is a huge phony because he created this image of being sort of this sweet grandfatherly guy wearing his suspenders, right? The truth is Doc, Larry King was a gambling addict in Miami, who fled town owing people hundreds of thousands of dollars and never paid them.
Doc Watkins: 57:56
Are you serious?
Hugh Fink: 57:58
I am not making this up early.
Doc Watkins: 58:00
When did he do it?
Hugh Fink: 58:01
In like the 60s, into the early 70s, he is a huge gambler. And he cheated people out of money. Number one, number two, the guy's been married eight times. [crosstalk] I get it like I am not saying people have a right to be married divorced, but it tells me a certain thing about someone whether [crosstalk] something is off so eight marriages, bothers me. Number three, I had this theory, and this is-- goes into what I-- how I wrote my Larry King percent live is that he kisses the butt of anyone in power, particularly in Hollywood. So, it is like, if there is a popular movie, and the movie studio is like, hey, Larry, will let Tom Cruise come on your show. But you have got to say nice things about the movie. Instead of Larry going well, what if I do not like the movie? I do not want to mislead people. He will gladly lie, and just say whatever the studio's want him to say and be a mouthpiece for them to sell tickets. So, to me, he is not a journalist. He is just liked a circus clown. Who more powerful people can use to get across their message. So, I hope I gave reasons why do not I like Larry,
Doc Watkins: 59:12
So, your third reason. I mean, I have always thought it was a little odd that he would do those infomercials, where you could hide, you could have a total snake oil product. And you know, this is a newly discovered vitamin that no one ever knew existed and it is completely a placebo. But you can hire Larry to interview you and make it look legit. I always thought that seems a little weird. And does this guy really need to do that? Do you really-- it is like if Tom Cruise were to do a 3am infomercial on like a Sawzall Blade [crosstalk]. Did he really just need an extra buck? So that always seemed weird to me? I did not know about the gambling. Is that like a lifelong thing?
Hugh Fink: 59:51
I think it is a lifelong thing. Like he probably because he is so old now. He probably has it under control. But what is hilarious is I have been to San Anita racetrack a few times, both times I have seen Larry King at the track. So, I am like, Wow, I have been here twice. He is here both times. Therefore, I have a feeling Larry King is at the track all the time.
Doc Watkins: 1:00:12
I love that. It is like if then sort of if I go to the track, and then therefore, Larry King is always at the track. Man, that's, [crosstalk].
Hugh Fink: 1:00:23
So, at the time I wrote my setting live bit for Norm Macdonald. The thing was, Doc, is that Larry was not only popular on TV, but he had this ridiculous newspaper column in USA Today. And it was called News and Views. And it was just nonsense. It was just sort of one sentence, followed by three dots of Larry King, just pontificating about everything in the world. And I just thought, this is the laziest column I have ever seen. Whatever he is being paid, he is being overpaid. So that made me angry. So, I decided I wanted to write a sketch not about him hosting his talk show, I wanted to write a sketch about his newspaper column. So that is what I did. And I had Norm playing Larry King sitting at a typewriter, just writing his jive column.
Doc Watkins: 1:01:14
Oh, man, I love that. Well, as that puts it in perspective, for me big time, because I have to admit, I mean, you know, growing up, I would see Larry on CNN, or whatever. And I never really paid much attention because I was a kid. And it was the news. And here is this guy in suspenders. So, I did not really care. But I think when I started watching his show, which was, you know, it is on Amazon, or whatever. And he is interviewing different people, I appreciated the way that he was able to ask succinct questions and not get in the way of the guests. And I guess that's what sort of drew me to his style, because I feel like now more than ever, you get these guys on TV, or ESPN, or CNN or whatever they bring their guests on, and they're supposed to ask them a question. But instead, they give their opinion, and it takes them 20 seconds, and then they follow it up with: Wouldn't you agree?
Hugh Fink: 1:02:06
Doc Watkins: 1:02:08
Or they will ask the question, and then give their own take. So, they will say something like, Hugh, do you find it hard to come up with material? Because when I was a comic, I always found it hard. And you are like, wait, I thought I was supposed to answer the question you just asked. And Larry would take a 27-word question for most people and make it like two words. So, [crosstalk].
Hugh Fink: 1:02:27
...I did this bit-on Letterman talk about how Larry King, he is always on his show. He is running out of time. So, he asked questions that are impossible to answer. So, you are like, I am here with Paul McCartney. 30 seconds left. Paul, you were in the Beatles thoughts?
Doc Watkins: 1:02:49
Oh, man, it is so funny. Because it is. It does work a lot of times, but it is also something you can laugh at, too. Because like, for instance, I mean, the classic example is, the most interviewers, you know, with someone who comes back from the war in the Middle East or Desert Storm or whatever, which I that's when I first saw him was, as a kid, and there was Desert Storm. And most people would, would ask the general, so today, you know, there was attack on, on, on troops, and this happened, and this happened. And would you think that this and blah blah blah blah blah, and Larry King would just say, So, welcome to the show. What happened?
Hugh Fink: 1:03:24
What happened? Right, just [crosstalk] my theory is that while he is asking the question, he is looking at those horse racing charts. That is why he spoke Lucas; he is not even listening. He can just ask the question and let the person answer while he places his bets.
Doc Watkins: 1:03:30
He is not even listening.
Hugh Fink: 1:03:43
No. Oh, by the way, so I should I want to use your podcast to say that: my new target who I cannot stand is like the new Larry King is Wolf Blitzer. I think this is overrated CNN news commentator. He is like a-- Wolf Blitzer, yeah.
Doc Watkins: 1:03:59
Do you know who-- you know, Wolf Blitzer? I do not know watch CNN.
Hugh Fink: 1:04:02
He has been on the air. He looks older than all the other. Like, you probably know who Anderson Cooper. Like, but he is the older guy on CNN. But he has nothing interesting or smart to say. And I just find him so annoying. He is the new Larry King to me.
Doc Watkins: 1:04:21
All right. I got to check him out. Oh, man. That is, it. I never thought of that. I did not know about the gambling thing. And about all the brown-nosing thing, I just always like the short questions because you get a celebrity in on your show. And they are expecting you to just fine all over them and whatever. And Larry King would ask him a two sentence or a two-word sentence. And it would kind of get the guests sideways a little and make them uncomfortable and comfortable at the same time because it was such an open ended question that they could take it in any direction, but it was almost like, is that the question? Is it over already?
Hugh Fink: 1:04:56
Doc Watkins: 1:05:00
Oh, man and bringing it back full circle, Larry King love sports, you know, he is a huge fanatic, which is why you and Larry King would get along so greatly.
Hugh Fink: 1:05:11
That you are right about, the fact I remember one of my live jokes was up the night we did Saturday Night Live, the Yankees were up three to one in the world series against Arizona. And I had Larry King go, Hey, gang, here is my world series prediction. It will be the Diamondbacks in four. And of course, they were already behind three to one theory. But that, to me is like, he is so confident and cocky about his own appearance.
Doc Watkins: 1:05:40
So finally, before we go, I want to ask you, so you have not you have a course coming out? Right? You want to talk about the course?
Hugh Fink: 1:05:46
Sure. So I A lot of times, Doc, when I travelled as a comedian, or since my Saturday Night Live days, I know that there's people out there listening to your podcast, who aspire to write comedy and maybe want to write on Saturday Night Live, but they don't know how to do that, how can you possibly so I've decided to teach an online class where I can give people the fundamentals of sketch writing. And it is really personalized so that it is a limited number of students. So I'll personally interact with you if you take the class and, give you assignments to work on, and you'll read it and we'll all read it and give you feedback. So, I have done this a little during the pandemic, and it has been really successful. So, I have decided, I want to take this outside LA, and provide a class online for people all over the country. So, I am in the process of developing, I think in the next month or, so I will be announcing how to take the class.
Doc Watkins: 1:06:07
And what can you expect from the class?
Hugh Fink: 1:06:51
It will be, like I said, personal feedback and interaction. From an Emmy Award winning writer, comedian from Saturday Night Live. I am going to use clips from great sketches. It is Saturday Live in Chappelle show, and Key & Peele, and you are going to get to watch and sketch with me. And then we are going to analyses it. So, I am going to use an actual great material to give your hands-on learning of how to develop premise, how to write a sketch the rules, I call them Hughs and Don'ts, instead of do's and don'ts. They are my thing to tell you that you should not do in sketch writing. So, you will save so many hours of wasted time. Otherwise making bad decisions.
Doc Watkins: 1:07:41
Can you learn-- can you be a good sketch writer without learning the fundamentals?
Hugh Fink: 1:07:47
No, because the only way otherwise is if someone said, okay, start writing sketches, you did not have fundamentals, then you would be learning on the fly. But right now, it is too competitive. There's too many talented people out there, whether they've studied screenwriting, or whether they've they're part of an improv troupe, or they've learned by trial and error, what seems to work in sketches, so you have to know structure, you have to know fundamentals, you have to know what a good premise is, versus a bad premise. And those are the kinds of things we cover in my class.
Doc Watkins: 1:08:20
There is a quote that I love by Tommy Lee Jones, I do not know what interview it comes from. But somebody asked him, I loved Tommy Lee Jones, I mean, I am in San Antonio, and he lives in San Antonio, he is in Texas, guy, and there is a Lonesome Dove. And you know, I just, I love him as an actor, I never met him as person. But he said something to the effect. Somebody asked him, how are you able to, you know, get into all these roles. So completely and, you know, how do you do act? How do you just get into a character? And he says: How do you take-- How do you cut a human person open, take out their appendix, sew them back up, stitch them back up, and have everything be fine after that? Well, it is easy if you know how,
Hugh Fink: 1:09:08
There you go.
Doc Watkins: 1:09:10
And I always thought that is such a great quote, because what he is saying is like, it looks like it is all smoke and mirrors or not smoke and mirrors. But it looks like there is some kind of genius behind what I do as an actor. And maybe there are moments of genius, and maybe there is genius. But the point is that there is a craft, called acting, and you either can do it or you cannot. And if you cannot do it, you can probably learn it. And if you-- but if you do not learn it, you cannot do it. And I have noticed, you know, with piano people are like, you know, how do you play jazz piano like that, or whatever, I could never do that. It is so magical. It is whatever. And I am like, no, it is really, I can show you how there is a way to do it. Like there's certain rules, and there's certain things you got to learn, but you just have to know how to do it. And it takes a while and for years, and I think what amazes me so much about comics is I think for years I bought into this idea that well, comedians are just really, really, really, really, really funny people, and you just throw them up on stage and they do it, and they do their thing. But come to find out the craftsmanship of it is every bit as much present as in any other thing, whether it is architecture, or music, or, brain surgery, right?
Hugh Fink: 1:10:15
That is correct. And...
Doc Watkins: 1:10:16
Wouldn't you agree?
Hugh Fink: 1:10:17
I would agree, yeah, that is what I have thought but, with sketch writing, you can be a naturally funny person, you may have a good idea for a sketch. But believe me, a good idea does not make a successful sketch, you have to take that idea know how to make it work for three or four or five minutes. And you do not just lock out on what you put on paper. You have to know how to get from A to B to C. And it is such a craft that look, that's why sometimes stuff on Saturday Live is not funny. Even high paid professional sketch writers do not succeed all the time. But they are going to succeed more than other people because they know the craft. And that is how I feel like...
Doc Watkins: 1:10:56
So, you cannot just do a bunch of drugs and go out and be fun.
Hugh Fink: 1:10:59
Exactly. And that is why if you aspire to write sketches, I feel like my class will be an invaluable way to put you in sort of a realistic environment of how you are going to accomplish it.
Doc Watkins: 1:11:14
Yeah. And that class comes out. Let us see, what is this? This is late August. That class comes out in what October?
Hugh Fink: 1:11:20
Yeah, I would say early October. And they will be up on my website, hughfink.com. It will be posting, where the classes what times they are, how to take them all that stuff.
Doc Watkins: 1:11:33
Cool, man. Well, I cannot wait. I think I am going to sign up myself. I-- seriously, I-- talk about having ideas, but not being able to carry them out when it comes to comedy. I mean, it's-- I cannot tell you how many times I have texted the band, said, Guys, I got an idea for a skit. Here is the premise. Let us go. And then we always wonder afterwards. Why didn't that-- why did that go so poorly?
Hugh Fink: 1:11:53
A classic story is that there was a writer, we used to have guest writers, but they come for just one or two weeks. In fact, Stephen Colbert was a Guest writer. When I was at SNL, and it was a really hard thing to do. Because you do not work on the show. You are an outsider; you are just coming in for two weeks. But we had a guest writer who was super arrogant. And in the writer’s room, he goes, Hey, everybody, I have got a great idea of for recurring character. And I looked at him in front of him. And I said, how about coming up with an idea for an occurring character? How about you write it, so it gets on the air one time, then we will worry about it being recurring. And everybody cracked up? Because again, you cannot have the pretentious those think that it is so easy to write a recurring character. It is like, it is so hard to write something that happens once.
Doc Watkins: 1:12:47
Right? Yeah, man. Well, gosh, Hugh, I cannot thank you enough for being on the first episode of the Place to Be. And this is-- it is truly an honor. I love talking about this stuff. I think the world of you and have your world in sketch writing in a stand-up comedy, and it is truly an honor to just hang out and talk about what you do.
Hugh Fink: 1:13:10
Well, you are the real deal, Doc. It is like if I had time to study, jazz, piano, and jazz, you would be the very first person I would want to teach me. So...
Doc Watkins: 1:13:19
Well. You know, it is just like, taking a guy's appendix out, you know, you just...
Hugh Fink: 1:13:25
Doc, I think if this is the end of the interview that I can sign off like Larry King and go, I am here with Doc Watkins, host of The Doc Watkins show. To me, a jazz piano. Doc, 10 seconds last in the history of jazz has been a lot of musicians. Thoughts?
Doc Watkins: 1:13:45
I would have to concur, Larry. Oh, man, you thank you so much, my friend. I will see you soon. And be well.
Hugh Fink: 1:13:56
Oh, and finally, [crosstalk] I mentioned, like Tommy Lee Jones. Do I have your permission to do a Bored game? Who is more boring? David Lee Ross, or Tommy Lee Jones?
Doc Watkins: 1:14:08
Hugh Fink: 1:14:09
Okay, then I will go for it. I will be writing that one up.
Doc Watkins: 1:14:13
You thank you so much for coming on the program. You are the man it has been so much fun chatting with you and thank you everybody for tuning in to the Place to Be. We have got episode number two coming up next week with producer Hollywood the Grammy Award winning producer, Gary Lux, so make sure and tune in for that. Make sure and subscribe to the podcast. You can do that on docwatkins.com. Hugh, once again, my friend. Thank you.