Comedian and actor Hal Sparks returns to Boston this weekend with a series of performances at Laugh Boston that are sure to leave you in stitches. Touted as one of the few performers who can successfully cross multiple genres and bring laughs to any audience, Sparks is a man of many talents. From his top-rated television show “Lab Rats” on Disney XD to his comedic tours around the country, and his innovative rock act Zero 1, which sells out consistently across the country, Sparks is one of the most versatile talents in the business. The “Queer as Folk” star is very much looking forward to his Beantown performances and recently took the time to chat with the Boston Comedy Scene Examiner about his multi-faceted career.
BCSE: So how do you balance all of these different things that you're doing? You've got your comedy, your music, your TV work; how do you keep yourself from going crazy?
HS: I think it's just putting the proper saddle and bridle on your A.D.D., because you just chase your view wherever it goes naturally. If you try to organize it too much, you end up choking off creativity and order everything else. You definitely have to structure your work day like a work day, but within the confines of that, you can’t necessarily dictate which art form will get the most attention at any particular time. There’s a big element of inspiration. If you try to override that, you're just going to kill the fun of it. Then it comes too much work, and that's why most people don't do more than one thing at that level. I guess they just discipline themselves too much, not in an emotional way but a functional way. One or more the activities just becomes too boring or not worth it, so you just have to find the love of whatever you're doing in each thing as you're doing them and then you have to, like with kids, you have to pay attention according to their needs.
BCSE: So when you're out on the road performing – you’ll be here for about three days when you're in Boston next week, how do you fill that time when you're not performing and you're just holed up in a city?
HS: A lot of times when you’re on the road, you see the city more than the locals do, so I make an effort to take in the tourist sites and the cool spots that a lot of locals know a lot about, but kind of avoid. They’ll go when they have business in town or something. By the time you've spent three days in a town for stand-up, you feel like you've been there for six months, because there's so much life in the bar gigs. The rest of the time, I'll spend writing because that's the least set-heavy thing I do, not prepare music or something along those lines. I'll go to a coffee shop and be in my own head, or an old fashioned notepad and pen or paper and write.
BCSE: It's funny that you mention the old fashioned pen and paper, because as much as I love my iPad, I don't think I could ever get rid of my notebook.
HS: Yeah, there's a tonal difference in what comes out when you do it long-hand. It's slower, but that's kind of beneficial in some ways. The interesting thing about typing is that it's a very efficient way to communicate, but it's not a very creative way to communicate a lot of times, because it’s almost like your hands can get ahead of your brain’s editor, not the harsh one, but the natural one. The one that makes you rethink a sentence as you're doing it. I think there’s some element for creatives in typing that eliminates a little bit of the mess. There's nothing more depressing than striking out two whole sentences on a big piece of paper.
BCSE: Very true. So when might we see another special from you?
HS: More than likely, this fall. Interestingly enough, I have enough material for two, but I haven't been able to refine the show in the way that I'd like, simply because I've been shooting my series, and it takes a great deal of time to do that. Honestly, at this point in my career, I could improv a show that I think is special-worthy and do an hour off the cuff and feel comfortable with what comes out of my head, because it's a skill you develop over time. You should have that ability. When people ask me if I’m good at stand up, answering that question is like asking a plumber who’s been doing it for 28 years if he knows where the pipes go in your house. I mean, there’s probably some on-site training that’s necessary for that kind of work, but at the same time, you should be able to develop a skill that you can count on. I’m in that curious space now - like, my representation is so used to dealing with people who spend almost two years working up to a special, and still don't think it is right. I fell like, not to get too Prince-like about it, but I could do three a year and be comfortable with the work that I’m doing. A lot of the stand-up that I like is a little more honest and spontaneous. While there’s some word-crafting that’s necessary, a lot of it now automatically comes to my head. The short answer is, this fall.
BCSE: Well, that's great. I know your last special was a huge success, and I still hit that up every now and again when I need a good laugh.
HS: (Laughs) It was so good that I think a lot of my reps think it was a fluke. You kind of don’t know how to take that, so, that’s when I explain, nope, that's what I do. I hope all of my specials will be like that, where everyone says "oh, that was terrific". Well yeah, they're supposed to be.
BCSE: And they always are. Thanks so much Hal, and we’re really looking forward to seeing you in Boston. If you need someone to walk the freedom trail with you next weekend, let me know.
HS: I’m for it! I'm absolutely going to do it. I do it every time I'm there, and that's the great thing about performing in Boston, particularly, but in cities where they have a lot of history to them. It kind of grounds what you're doing. Lately I've been telling jokes about the future, as I think we have a more distinct vision than ever of where we’re going to some degree. Now that we’ve sort of jumped the Armageddon hook – I think because we know where we’re going you can start to do predictive humor, and it’s great to do that in a city that has a tremendous attachment to our past.
Sparks, who was born and raised in Kentucky, began his career in comedy as a member of the famed Second City Troupe in Chicago, where he was named "Funniest Teenager in Chicago" by the Chicago Sun Times. Not too long after, he was selected to host E!'s Emmy Award-winning "Talk Soup" which led to his starring role on the groundbreaking Showtime series "Queer As Folk" (2000-2005). As the celebrity spokesperson for major equality and civil rights, Sparks is not only politically active in his cutting-edge stand-up, but has been involved with such causes as the NOH8 Campaign, AIDS Walk LA, and animal rights groups like The Humane Society. His vast knowledge of breaking news headlines along with his sharp wit brings a level of depth and charm to any performance.
Don’t miss Hal Sparks as he headlines Laugh Boston this weekend, with special guests Langston Kerman and Charlene Prunier, from Thursday, June 12 to Saturday, June 14. Tickets are on sale now at Laugh Boston.