Hal Sparks: 21st century renaissance man – comedian, serious actor, and a musician.

Whether you know him best as the former host of E! Television’s Talk Soup, the boyish
Michael on Showtime’s Queer as Folk, or as the bubble-wrap wearing cult leader
desperately seeking the “continuum transfunctioner” in Dude, Where’s My Car, comic
actor Hal Sparks has been cracking up film and television viewers since his feature debut
in the 1989 cult classic Chopper Chicks in Zombietown. Hal took time from his busy
schedule to chat with us for a few minutes recently.

Belated birthday wishes. I understand you celebrated another birthday Thursday.


Did you do anything special to celebrate your birthday?

Well, actually I treat my birthday like New Year’s. I do all my New Year’s resolutions,
and my plans and goal-setting for the year. So I have by most people’s standards a
boring version of a birthday, but to me it’s more functional and ends up having a lasting

The older you get do you find yourself celebrating your birthday more differently
that when you were, say 20?

No, not really. And I don’t know if that speaks to the fact that I always took it very
seriously, or I take it less seriously now. It’s hard to balance that I suppose. I was born
on my mom’s birthday, and so I’ve always kind of shared that with her. It’s kind of a
different experience when you’re aware every birthday that your mom gave birth to you
on that day. She did all the work and all you did was show up. There’s kind of an
element of respect for the day that you get, which is nice. That’s how I look at it.

You’re kind of a 21 st century renaissance man – comedian, serious actor, and a
musician. First of all, how did you get interested in comedy?

Well, I don’t know I was always funny, but I certainly had a head start according to my
mom and my family. We grew up without a lot of financial means, and so you make
your own entertainment in those times. Being funny sure helps a lot. In that, I really
developed the tools that later became my career. You just find out at a certain point, like
I moved to Chicago and I realized people treat comedy like a real job – like an actual
living. As opposed to most of us kind of look at it like a magical thing that people have
talent. It just sort of happens. “Oh, some people are born that way.” Then you move to
Chicago and you realize there are schools and training facilities, and theaters that people
work at for years, if not decades to hone their craft. This is kind of a serious business.
Luckily the timing worked out when I moved to Chicago right about the time I was
considering comedy as something I could maybe do in light of the fact that I wasn’t
qualified to do anything else. (laughs) And so that really was it. I started in standup when
I was 15-years-old.

How were those first crowds when you started doing standup?

They were fine. I had a rather adult sense of humor – always had, and that’s largely
thanks to my mom, my dad and my Aunt Susan, and people like that who I always grown
up around, grown up around funny things. It wasn’t like my jokes were children’s jokes
when I first started on stage. I was kind of already ahead in that department. At Second
City they always taught you to assume your audience is always more intelligent than you
are, which in my case is difficult. (laughs) Nonetheless, it’s important. It raises your

Who did you learn the most from at Second City, or from being in the business in

My two biggest influences are definitely George Carlin and Steve Martin. Carlin, for his
treatment of standup as a long-term career, as a professional choice – as a mission, even.
And then Steve Martin for his abstractness and his goofiness, lack of fear being perceived
as an idiot, even though you know he’s not. I think that’s something that gets lost in a lot
of comedy, is that people are, especially now afraid of not looking cool. I think those two
things fused together – those two guys in their alternating styles really made a huge
difference in me. And of course I love old Richard Pryor stuff and Jonathan Winters, and
stuff from the ‘60s. You learn a lot.

What was it like playing second fiddle to Ashton Kutcher in “Dude Where’s My

Actually Seann William Scott was second fiddle to him. I was a featured cameo, thank
you very much. (laughs) It was fun. It was a good time. Everybody on that film was
relatively friendly and easy to work with. Here’s the thing: People will come at you with
this sort of assumption that “Aren’t you a little embarrassed to be in ‘Dude, Where’s My
Car?’? If you were embarrassed at something like that you would have left when you
read the title.
It was always called “Dude, Where’s My Car?”. It wasn’t like, “Ooh, ‘Silkwood II’
This is going to be great Oscar-contending role. (laughs) It was always called “Dude,
Where’s My Car?”. It’s sort of ridiculous to assume that a.) I should be ashamed of it; b.)
I’m ashamed of anything I’ve ever done. That’s another thing people have a hard time
understanding. I fear no man in regards to what I do in my career and my choices as a
comedian. If I can’t afford to be a jackass, who can? (laughs) And it’s a lot of fun
making movies and doing these kinds of things. It’s a great time. It’s silly, but fun. I’ve
done my fair share of serious acting work and I’ve sort of physically and emotionally
paid the price for it and how difficult that work is to do. Quite frankly I’m much happier
and comfortable doing stuff that makes everybody laugh. And that whole think about are
you worried that people are laughing at you and not with you – I don’t care.

As long as they’re laughing.

Yeah. The “why” is not really important. The “why” is something my ego is on the line,
that somehow I think that other people’s opinion of me matters. (laughs) That’s the only
way you can be ashamed about anything.

Tell me a little bit about the band you’ve got going, Zero 1.

We’re a three-piece metal band. I’ve been writing songs for a long time. I grew up in a
very musical family. It was just something you do. It was understood that I being the son
would have a birchier guitar. So I’ve been at it a long time. Most people if they know
you from TV or they know you from acting, they’re not aware of that, so it seems like
something new. Our sound is sort of a fusion between Ozzy and Alice In Chains, Skid
Row and KISS – all my influences. And I’m proud of it. I really like the music I’ve
made. I’m writing the second record now, so it’s good times.

You spend a lot of time on the road obviously, plus you’ve done television such as
“Queer As Folk” for five seasons, “Talk Soup” plus movies. Which do you enjoy
more, the aspect of being on the road or do you like being situated in a certain area?

They each have their own benefits. They really do. There’s something great about being
in the road and seeing people individually and meeting them face-to-face and watching
them enjoy what you do without any question. That’s pretty terrific. Then you know
you’re doing a good job. On a movie set or a TV set you have an idea. You can use your
past history and your experience, but for the most part you don’t really know until later
what the expression is going to be from the audience. So the live thing is great, but I’m
not one of those people who go live theater is the real thing. That’s BS, too. Quite
frankly, uninterrupted art is the best way. If a painter had to stand there with somebody
behind them the while time going, “I think blue would be better.” (laughs) You’d never
get a good painting done. I think there’s something to that acting in a one-camera
situation that’s helpful. The nice thing about standup I have the freedom to be myself no
matter what. Nobody’s putting words in my mouth. It’s my opinion, which is a very free

Do you find a certain part of the country you enjoy seeing more than others?

No. There are some hotspots that are really fun like Chicago and San Francisco, Seattle,
Tampa. There are some places where you can go like Washington D.C. that the
audiences are really smart and engaged. But sometime the challenge is fun, too.
Sometimes it’s better working with somebody or an audience that isn’t hip and isn’t as on

I understand you can speak Chinese.


What went into learning the language?

I studied Kung Fu for a long time – 20 years now. I’d always been culturally fascinated
by it. My instructor at one point had wanted me to go to China and study with his
contemporaries for a while. Where my instructor speaks perfect English and Chinese, but
the people he wanted me to study with didn’t speak any. So I started learning a little bit
thinking that maybe I’d go with a translator. Then I started to pick it up. It wasn’t as
hard as I thought it was. As a matter of fact, after I get finished talking with you I go
work with my tutor. So I continue to study.

After you get through with this tour what do you look forward to doing for the rest
of the year?

I voice the cartoon “Tak and the Power of Juju” on Nickelodeon. Then a “Tak” video
game comes out. I just got through with that. It comes out in November. I just did a
cameo in the new Mike Judge film. “Extract”. I’m not sure when that comes out. In the
spring I would guess. I’m also writing and developing stuff on my own. The nice thing
is I’m starting to split time where I don’t have to be on the road 100 percent of the time is
that I can start developing projects.

– Dave Weinthal

Hal Sparks will be performing Sunday, October 5, at the Comedy Catch.

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