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Friday, December 4, 2020

Musician and Emmy-Winner Hughie Stone Fish ‘Brings the Funny’ to His Activism

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You may know Hughie Stone Fish from his stint as a contestant last year on NBC’s “Bring the Funny,” a comedy competition series. He performed on the show as a member of the musical comedy group Lewberger. But Stone Fish’s talent and musical interest predate his involvement with the show. He’s a singer/songwriter/composer, who also plays the piano, guitar, bass, banjo and accordion. He now adds Emmy winner and activist to his resume. Stone Fish received an Emmy this year for the original song, “The Bad Guys?” which was part of the “Brainwashed by Toons” series on the Funny or Die platform. That project explored the roots of anti-Semitic stereotypes. He embraces the role of activist — advocating for inclusion and diversity. 

Jewish Journal: What was it like being on “Bring the Funny”? 

Hughie Stone Fish: It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I had been with Lewberger for about three years, and we’d had some success with a couple of viral videos. But this was a chance to perform in a heightened state. When we got to the finale, we thought about how we could go even bigger. We collaborated with producers and came up with amazing final performances. Our final song was called “Lock My Car.” It was a song we had already done in a video, but we rewrote it to make it more of a Broadway style for the show.

JJ: Did the exposure from the show lead to any opportunities?

HSF: It did. After the show, we were able to get strong management. We also planned a college tour. It was going to be a two-month long tour with over 40 colleges. This was before COVID. Of course, the tour didn’t wind up happening.

JJ: When did you first become interested in music?

HSF: I’ve been doing music since I was born. I come from a musical family. My mom is musical and her brother is my musical mentor, and music has always been part of our lives. I have three brothers and we have eclectic tastes, but we have music in common. Throughout middle school and high school, I was in plays and musicals. After high school, I was accepted to the Berklee College of Music [in Boston], and graduated with a degree in songwriting. 

JJ: Did you move to L.A. after graduating?

HSF: I left for L.A. a few months after graduation, and I’ve been here for about 10 years now. When I first came to L.A., someone I knew was a part of an improv group and she told me about it. That’s how I learned about musical improv and sketch comedy. It was a big shift for me to discover that combination of music and comedy.

JJ: Eventually you joined the improv group Second City, yes? 

HSF: Yes, I was a musical director at Second City Hollywood for several years. It was a wonderful experience and I made many great friends through that community. It’s also where I learned a lot about social justice, because we did projects related to social justice — where music and theater are used to make the world a better place. Second City was a great place to hone my skills.

JJ: Tell us about your activism.

HSF: My friend Mirage Thrams and I started a group called Hollywood Accountability. It was formed to hold theaters accountable for making spaces more diverse, and removing barriers of entry to improv and sketch comedy theaters. We’re drafting a letter that we’ll be sending out to theaters across Hollywood, and hopefully it will be replicated and used across the country. It’s based on the [June] open letter [from Black Jews and non-Black Jews of Color and their allies to Jewish federations, foundations, organizations and initiatives], “Not Free to Desist,” by Lindsey Newman, Aaron Samuels and Rachel Sumekh. 

JJ: How does it feel to be an Emmy winner?

HSF: Very surreal. Growing up, it was very strict in my house when it came to watching TV. But the exception was “Seinfeld.” We watched it whenever it was on. So, to win an Emmy about something I care so much about, and to have it be [shared] with (“Seinfeld” cast member) Jason Alexander means so much. Being a creative person in L.A., or anywhere, we do so much work that goes unrecognized. We always think, or at least hope, that the next thing will be the one that blows up. To finally have a piece that is recognized on such a high creative level is so powerful and rewarding. 

JJ: What was your involvement with the song?

HSF: I do the rapping at the end of the song, and I was also credited as a writer. When I showed up on the project, a lot had already been written by Dwayne Colbert and Neil Garguilo. They had done such a good job with it, even though they weren’t Jewish. Which goes to show that just because you’re not part of a group doesn’t mean you can’t play a part in making a difference. They didn’t allow not being Jewish to stop them from writing this incredible piece about anti-Semitism. 

JJ: What is your relationship with Judaism?

HSF: I’ve been in a beautiful discovery process of my Jewish tradition, faith and culture over the past couple of years. I grew up going to a Jewish day school. I had a bar mitzvah. But for many of us, it’s a lifelong journey. Finding Judaism for myself has been very powerful and I’m firmly in my faith now. 

JJ: And how does that connect to your activism?

HSF: There’s been a rising tide in anti-Semitism and I feel really proud to and grateful to have taken a stance about that. It’s important look at the forces that influence people to think the way they do, whether it’s homophobic, anti-Semitic or racist. Just admonishing people doesn’t get us anywhere if we want to get to the root of hate. The way to combat it at a deeper level is by looking at the reasons people formed those beliefs. That’s the first step in erasing those things.


Allison Futterman is a writer based in North Carolina. 

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