In his 2010 stand-up comedy special Charmageddon, Hal Sparks makes plenty of keen observations and delivers some potent, thought-provoking punch lines. But near the beginning of his special was one of the funniest lines, because of its being such an epic understatement: "Other than that, I have no opinion."
The fact is, the Kentucky-raised comic-actor-musician has an opinion on almost everything. When that opinion was applied to pop culture, it helped give him his first brush with fame, in 1999, as host of Talk Soup, E!'s talk show laced with reality-TV highlights, and appearances on VH1's various nostalgia-fests, I Love the (insert decade here). He also gained fame playing a central character on the Showtime drama Queer as Folk from 2000 to 2005.
Now, with a starring role on the Disney XD kid-friendly sitcom Lab Rats, his duties as guitarist/frontman for the rock band Zero 1, regular appearances on Talking Liberally with Stephanie Miller on Current TV and as a featured comedian on Stephanie Miller's Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour, Sparks is a guy who's staying busy and leaving his mark any way he can.
He brings his standup act to Comedy Off Broadway in Lexington this week.
"If I consider myself anything, it's a guy that can do all of it," said Sparks, 42, who grew up in Peaks Mill, north of Frankfort, but moved to Chicago as a teeenager. "As long as you can do it well, you should be allowed to do it."
Of all of Sparks' endeavors, however, he seems to be getting a lot of attention for his political humor. He regularly speaks out on issues related to special needs children, gay rights, education, animal welfare and marijuana policy.
Having a finger on the pulse of politics isn't anything new for Sparks. When he first started doing stand-up comedy as a teenager in Chicago, he was skewering the day's politicians at venues like The Cloud Club, telling Ronald Reagan jokes before he was even old enough to vote. He said a lot of his desire to stay informed on the issues comes from his father — and one very particular rule in his household.
"You could swear in our house, but you could not say, 'I don't know,' " Sparks said. "He wanted to hear the answer to the question or 'I'll find out.' "
Through the course of his comedy career, Sparks has managed to become one of the sharpest political comedians in the game. Of course, his current material certainly isn't always political in nature. He'll just as likely poke fun at the Kardashians or Starbucks as he will Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin. But Sparks said it's important for him to stay informed on the issues (he says he regularly reads entire policies, like the Affordable Health Care Act, before his radio appearances) and important for the audience to realize how politics connects to their daily lives.
"Any concept you care about is going to run into politics at some point because we're a democracy," Sparks said. "The reason I care is because you can't afford not to and the reason why people listen to me is because I did my homework."
When he plays Lexington this week, there's a chance one show could be completely different from the next, what with the amount of material he has and based on the feel of each crowd. Whether it's laying into celebrities or presidential candidates or his recent obsession with futurism —which he has dubbed "the jokes of tomorrow today" — Sparks said any topic is fair game if it's done the right way.
"I'm there to call bull---- on a bunch of stuff," Sparks said. "Laughter is job one. As long as I satisfy that part of it, I'm allowed to talk about whatever I want."
Blake Hannon is a Central Kentucky writer.