A GoPride Interview

Hal Sparks

Hal Sparks: Chicago for me was the turning point where entertainment went almost farcical and fantasy for me.

Thu. May 10, 2012  by Jerry Nunn

Chicago for me was the turning point where entertainment went almost farcical and fantasy for me.
Hal Sparks

Chicago-native and LGBT ally Hal Sparks talks to Jerry Nunn

Hal Sparks played the unforgettable Michael Novotny on the Showtime hit show Queer as Folk appearing in every episode for five seasons. Since then he has been a straight ally for the LGBT community and liberals everywhere.

He started a stand up career early in his life before hosting Talk Soup for E! in 1999. He later would return to Showtime with a comedy special called Charmageddon before currently landing a role on Disney's Lab Rats.

He makes his way to our part of town with his band ZERO 1 and here is what he had to say about it.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Hal. It is good to talk to you again. I believe the last time was at Center on Halsted.

HS: (Hal Sparks) Yes, I would say a year actually.

JN: You are coming back to town this week?

HS: I am. I will be doing WGN on May 11 with my band. We will be at Glendale Heights that night then at Reggie's downtown a week later.

JN: I like to see bands in that venue. Explain to people what the concert will be like. Will it be rocking?

HS: We are a melodic rock band so we deal in the spectrum of emotion but we have a great time doing it. It is an arena rock band looking for its space.

JN: Is the first single called "American Psycho?"

HS: Yes, the first single off the second album. The first record had a few Internet hits on it. I released it independent and below the radar on purpose. "She Waits" became very popular and a song called "Mad Season" too. It is interesting to see which songs we have requests for at a show. You put an album out almost for yourself and then it gains ground on its own.

JN: You have a new album coming out?

HS: This summer and it is called The Sacred Nothing.

JN: The band has a website?

HS: We use www.reverbnation.com/ZERO1 and our Facebook page gets a lot of activity as well, which is Zero1Nation.

JN: You have had a long history with Illinois. You went to New Trier High School in Winnetka.

HS: I went to high school there then went to Second City. I started doing stand up when I was 15 years old in Chicago. Chicago for me was the turning point where entertainment went almost farcical and fantasy for me. People have the accidental discovery mentality.

You have to build a career just like in any other business. As you get better then you get better jobs then you learn more skills and it grows. I think Chicago more than New York or LA teaches you a process. People just think they are going to be tapped on the shoulder. There is serendipity and accidents to almost anything in entertainment but that is true in almost any field. Chicago took the fantasy out of it for me in a great way.

JN: When you auditioned for Queer as Folk did you think it would last all of those seasons?

HS: I knew it would go for six weeks or the whole run. The big question was will they even let us air. We had shot nine episodes and there was a genuine question if we could get on the air because the lead character was dating a 17 year old. That was a legal question that we had to deal with. It boiled down the legal age of consent in Pittsburg, which was where it took place. That became the defining thing, which was sixteen. That legally gave us room to tell the story.

JN: That is really interesting.

HS: There was a lot of battle back and forth about that show. Theoretically it was a very strong story and needed to be told.

JN: Someone told me that Randy Harrison was difficult to work with.

HS: I like Randy a lot. He is an amazingly talented actor and a genuinely sweet guy.

JN: I am glad that is just a rumor.

HS: I am difficult to work with!

JN: (laughs) I don't think so…

HS: You can tell that is how I ended up on a Disney show.

JN: I am sure you are practical joker on the set.

HS: In some cases yeah but in an instance where we are doing so much drama no. We were dealing with the first HIV positive/ negative relationship on American television so it was not the space for me to be the comedian. A lot of it was me getting up there and doing the work.

JN: Do you keep in touch with anyone from the cast of Queer as Folk still?

HS: Oh yeah. I see mainly Michelle Clunie who played Melanie, Robert Gant, who played Ben, my partner on the show, and Thea Gill, who do the most political work outside of the show. From GLAAD events to marches on Washington, everyone has a different stance on how they will input it. Usually I am on tour and in another part of the country from them. Usually you get Ted or Michael so Scott is at other events. He really cares about the legacy of the show.

JN: Your character was a huge comic fan in the series. Did you go see The Avengers yet?

HS: I was at the premiere. It was spectacular. They give every character their due. Mark Ruffalo is the best Hulk so far. I am a big Edward Norton fan. I like all of his work and at that point he was the best Hulk at the time. The first movie was a wash, but the second was actually a good movie. Mark has some real personality there that he brought to the character.

JN: There was a lot of subtext just looking at his face.

HS: No question and it would be interesting to see the next Hulk movie with Mark. I think that has got to happen. That would be so ultimately watch-able.

JN: I'm sure he has a lot of new fans from The Avengers.

HS: He's a good soul too. His politics are in the right place.

JN: What do you think of Talk Soup lately?

HS: Now it is The Soup and on once a week. When I was on the show it was seven days a week seven times a day. It is a different kind of show now. E! always seems to be running away from the Talk Soup legacy. They have been since the day I showed up and before. I found out they were trying to kill that show two years before I came in. I had the highest ratings in the history of the show at that time when they kicked me to the curb. When they brought in Aisha it was clear they wanted it to go away and kill the show. They were looking for True Hollywood Stories. It is a shame because it is a good show and it costs nothing to make. Aisha is terrific and funny but they made her say what the writers told her to say. It should be your voice but the reason they hated me. I wanted to approve every work or write it. They were not fans of that concept partly because it worked. I like Joel but Chris Hardwick on Web Soup does a way better job or representing the legacy of Talk Soup.

JN: I am sure you are busy with band but what other projects do you have coming up?

HS: I am shooting another comedy special in Chicago in the fall at the Mayne Stage Theater.

JN: That is right by my house.

HS: I think it is in September and shooting Lab Rats around then so we need to phenagle the schedule to make it happen. I want to do it in Chicago. Last time I shot it in a place where they shoot mass recordings but this time I want to make it personal and take it home to Chicago.

Lab Rats is the number one show on the Disney network and is doing awesome. It has had the highest debut in their history. My wife on the show is black and I love how the interracial relationship is a non-issue. To me the interesting thing about it is that it really points to how socially we have shifted in this country. I can go from Queer as Folk to that show and nobody but extreme bigots will bat an eye. It fills me with hope.

ZERO 1 will be at Shark City in Glendale Heights on May 11 then at Reggie's Rock Club May 17. Visit www.reverbnation.com/ZERO1 for tickets and information.

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.


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