When Hal Sparks does stand-up, he usually analyzes the worlds of politics and pop culture. So when the 2016 presidential election resulted in celebrity businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump becoming the next president, well, let’s just say it’s an intersection between pop culture and politics that Sparks thinks has some comedy potential.
“The funniest part of all of this is going to be actually watching him do the job,” the Peaks Mill native said. “I have no doubt there will be plenty of new things to make fun of in the coming years, at least in the next year and a half.”
But in a world where political humor is increasingly available, and late-night TV shows that lambast the political news of the day have more than doubled since we last spoke to him four years ago, Sparks is employing a slightly different approach — for the sake of both his comedy and his career.
I grew up in Kentucky. I didn’t have anybody in the industry when I moved out to L.A. to give me a leg up. When you’re doing that, the only key you have is ubiquity. You have to be everywhere so people can’t ignore you.
He’s an openly liberal performer who prides himself on being extremely informed on the ins and outs of policy, so it’s easy to picture him joining the likes of Trevor Noah (“The Daily Show”), Samantha Bee (“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”) and Stephen Colbert (“The Late Show”) and hosting his own show that blends comedy and politics. He has become recognizable as a TV commentator in his previous roles, both as one of the first hosts of E!’s “Talk Soup” and as a go-to contributor to VH1’s “I Love The …” series, which looks back at various decades in pop culture.
Sparks said being a late-night night host might be fun, but it would also be limiting in its opportunities. The comedian-actor-musician has acted on screen for more than two decades, including his breakout role as Michael Novotny on the Showtime drama “Queer as Folk.” It was one of the first shows to portray numerous homosexual characters in multidimensional ways, and he can see the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage constitutional as another instance in which politics and pop culture collided, and a significant moment for him since his last Herald-Leader interview in 2012.
“I played the first married gay man on television, and I got married in Canada,” he said of his character’s wedding, held in Ontario because it was illegal in the States when the episode aired. “You play a part in that. It’s an extraordinary moment, and that’s not lost on me. It will never be lost on me.”
Sparks continues to stay busy on a much different kind of TV show, as egocentric scientist Donald Davenport on Disney XD’s “Lab Rats” for the past four seasons (he also directed a handful of episodes) and its upcoming spin-off, “Lab Rats: Elite Force.” For Sparks’ next big role, he is again taking a trip in the throwback machine as Nelson, former flame of DJ Tanner on the Netflix hit original series and 1990s sequel “Fuller House.” Sparks called the opportunity to act on the show “random as hell” after getting a call while he was doing stand-up on the road. When the original casting for the role fell through, he was their first choice as a replacement.
I played the first married gay man on television, and I got married in Canada. You play a part in that. It’s an extraordinary moment, and that’s not lost on me. It will never be lost on me.
“In the press for ‘Fuller House,’ they were referring to me as ‘TV veteran’ Hal Sparks,” he said. “I guess I offer a stability to some productions that is appreciated. (They say) ‘he’s reliable, he’s funny and he actually cares.’ Word is getting around.”
“Fuller House” allows Sparks to dip into some nostalgia, but Sparks is always forward-thinking in all aspects of his career. His rock band, Zero 1, recently released a new single, “Strange,” and he is set to star in the indie comedy flick “Bachelor Lions” in 2017. As for his stand-up material, he focuses largely on futurism and crafting evergreen political and public analysis like one of his heroes, George Carlin. As for the amount of material he is creating, he recently recorded his currently untitled stand-up special in San Francisco to be released in the near future and has plans to record a comedy concept album, tentatively titled “Red, White and Blue,” featuring sets of his angriest (Red), cleanest (White) and dirtiest (Blue) jokes.
Sparks figures he’ll always have a successful career as long as he has multiple ways to be creative while working to be consistently on people’s radar.
“I grew up in Kentucky. I didn’t have anybody in the industry when I moved out to L.A. to give me a leg up,” he said. “When you’re doing that, the only key you have is ubiquity. You have to be everywhere so people can’t ignore you.”