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Hal Sparks on playing Gay and loving the '80s
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Hal Sparks on playing Gay and loving the '80s

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Hal Sparks July 16-18 Parlor Live Comedy Club, Bellevue

Actor, comedian and musician Hal Sparks will appear at the Parlor Live Comedy Club in Bellevue July 16-18. For five seasons, Hal co-starred as Michael Novotny on Showtime's Queer As Folk. He is one of the stars of the VH1 hit pop culture series I Love The '70s-'90s. Hal is the lead vocalist and front man for the rock band Zero 1 and currently lends his voice to talk radio shows and cartoon characters. Hal has been a fierce advocate for LGBT equality over the years. I spoke with Hal on July 7 about his comedy club gig, the Gay movement, and why Seattle is a great city for music.

Knittel: Thank you for taking the time to speak with SGN. Have you been to Seattle before?

Sparks: I have, but never for work. I've only gone to visit with friends and see shows myself. Seattle's a great town for music, so I've been like three or four times over the course of a few years.

Knittel: What can we expect from your show at the Parlor Live Comedy Club?

Sparks: Well, I'm sort of a thinking man's comic, so I take a topic and just go with it. I don't expect to get the Sarah Palin crowd, which makes Seattle an appropriate city to perform in.

Knittel: A lot of people know you from your TV and movie work, but you've been doing comedy for a while.

Sparks: I've been a stand-up comedian for 24 years. I think it's the purest solo art form there is, because there are no limitations except laughter. As long as I make people laugh, I can say anything. With my jokes, I tend to go to the root of things as opposed to what's just at the surface. Although I'll talk about some things that are in the press, overall, I try to get the bit to where if you heard it 10 years from now it'd still be funny.

Knittel: I heard you've been doing a lot of radio work lately. How did that come about?

Sparks: I filled in for Stephanie Miller for a few weeks and been doing a lot of progressive talk radio stuff. On air, I am somewhere in between funny, talking policy, and liking the sound of my own voice. [Laughs.] I'll tell you this much: I got to see Rachael Maddow work, and that woman is the most dedicated researcher ever. If she went after cancer the way she goes after researching politics, you could smoke and eat Twinkies because she would have cured cancer long ago. But really, talk radio is fun and I become engrossed in it, which is what stops me from doing it more, because five years later I wouldn't be able to recognize myself.

Knittel: Speaking of radio, how are things going with your band, Zero 1?

Sparks: Great! We are working on our second album now. We added another guitar player and a new drummer. When we tour, Seattle is high on my list of places to perform.

Knittel: You were in the Fall Out Boy music video for their cover of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." How did that come about?

Sparks: I kind of know those guys in passing. They actually went to the same high school I went to in Chicago. In the video, I play the leader of a fight club that uses Michael Jackson moves to fight. So I had to whip out my best MJ! You only see a little of it in the video, but I did a lot more. I did the moonwalk, a little poppin' and lockin' - I ain't scared! [Laughs.]

Knittel: Over the years, you've been involved with a lot of LGBT advocacy work. Last month was national LGBT month. What were some of the things you were involved with?

Sparks: I largely spent it doing radio advocacy, which was great. I was able to totally open up, double-gun, on LGBT subjects. I am pro Gay marriage, and I include some of that in my comedy routine. People ask me if I ever modify my material when I go to places in the country that aren't Gay-friendly. I tell them, if anything, I double down on the material. So much has changed with the LGBT movement - it's a good, palpable change. You can see it. In the pantheon of the civil rights movement, the Gay movement is a young one. But within a relatively short amount of time, it's impressive to see just how far the community has come. But, obviously, there are still a lot of minds that need to be changed, and there is still a long way to go, which is why I continue to support the LGBT community. It's really reassuring when you go from town to town and city to city and see the population of "Planet Asshole" dwindling. People are changing.

Knittel: Your character on Queer As Folk, Michael Novotny, went through a lot of changes. What was that experience like?

Sparks: My character had to go through a growth process. At first, people didn't like Michael. In the beginning, he was a complete follower, running around after his best friend. In the end, not only was he married to his HIV-positive partner, he basically becomes almost the town spokesman for the cause - that is a big shift. I felt lucky to be a part of that show. It isn't often a comedian gets asked to play a character that is dramatic and soulful and meaningful. I've traveled all over the world, and people still come up to me and tell me their story of how the show helped them in some way. Someone telling me that the show helped them come out is the biggest compliment I can get.

Knittel: The show did make a big impact, so it doesn't surprise me that people are still talking about it.

Sparks: I used to catch hell all the time when the show first started because I am straight. For some reason, some people just couldn't get it through their heads that I could kiss guys and simulate sex onscreen and be straight. What they were really asking when they would ask 'Are you Gay,' was 'are you Gay yet?'

Knittel: How so?

Sparks: Well, there are still some people out there that think being Gay is a choice. Being Gay is not a choice, just like being straight is not a choice. It's classic homophobic panic. They want to think that if one day they woke up and felt Gay, they could think their way out of it, or if they end up having a kid who is Gay, they could talk them out of it. Those kinds of people couldn't understand how a straight actor could kiss guys on screen and not be Gay. It's ridiculous.

Knittel: You've been a regular on the VH1 I Love the & series. I gotta ask: '70s, '80s, or '90s?

Sparks: Definitely the '80s! I just liked the joy of it all, maybe partly because I was in high school so I was blissfully unaware of politics. I'm a '80s metal head, I like big hair and big riffs, as it were. The '80s were such a formative time; I lost my virginity, moved out of the house, and drove to California to be an actor. I don't know about this decade yet, this whole decade has been a wash, really. Then Obama comes sneaking in making everything all awesome again.

Knittel: Anything you want your Gay fans in Seattle to know?

Sparks: You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook and all that stuff. I run the sites myself, so I actually reply. Oh, and also that I do a meet-and-greet after the show for free. Some guys charge for that stuff, and I just don't get that. So come up and say hi. I'll sign CDs or Queer As Folk stuff and you can get your picture taken if you want. See you at the show.

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