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LAist Interview: Comedian Hal Sparks - Appearing Tonight at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills

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You know Hal Sparks from hosting "Talk Soup" on E!, or as Michael from "Queer as Folk", or even from VH1's "I Love the..." series. Sparks has a local appearance before heading back out on national tour. He's also got a TV show and a couple feature films in the works, not to mention voicing Tak in Nikelodeon's "Tak & the Power of Juju" - LAist was pleased to be able to ask the busy Sparks a few questions before his appearance tonight at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills with fellow "Talk Soup" alum, Aisha Tyler.

Listen to the entire interview here:

LAist: Who inspired you to get into comedy?

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Hal Sparks: I'm definitely influenced by George Carlin and Steve Martin. I appreciate the all the work that went into the writing of George Carlin's comedy, and the esoteric silliness of Steve Martin. In a lot of ways, comedy is the last pure art form for performers, it's just you and your ideas, that's why I love it so much.

LAist: It's just about you and the audience.

Hal Sparks: It's especially about connectedness, shared experience, agreement, and a low tolerance for BS. I think that's ultimately the stand-up credo: let's not BS ourselves. It's about breaking stuff down that we take for granted, whether it's colloquialisms or mass marketing and applying a perspective is a centerpoint of my stand-up. The one thing that keeps us all from present-minded living is assumptive behavior. We know how we're supposed to react to things and we go through our lives by rote, it becomes a mechanical way of living that we get stuck in - a lot of that is based on horseshit. A lot of that is based on wildly false assumptions and silly automatic behaviors. Comedy has more of an opportunity than anything to break that down and allow you a moment to break that, realize it's hilarious, and pay attention to your own life.

LAist: You have an interesting perspective, you're originally from Kentucky before moving to Chicago and then LA. Do you find yourself drawing upon what life was like when you were younger?

Hal Sparks: Oh no question, one of the things I've dealt with in the last 8 years politically is that people are operating on this assumption that people from small towns in the South or rural areas are somehow "more real" than people from cities. It's used as a way to steer the public away from educated behavior. Being someone who came from a town with 46 people in it and 1 road, I have a unique personal experience about those places and I'm not as convinced of their superiority as most. Since I'm from there, I can call that out. There's a rule that you can't make fun of something if you are from "the outside" but since I grew up there, I can say all I want. If anyone gives me shit I can say that they can't argue with me.

People from there can really be dumbasses, they can be just as fake as anyone I've ever met in LA. When you are dreaming to be on Jerry Springer that's not a dream. To say that their votes should count more than somebody from San Francisco, New York, or Seattle is patently absurd. This is a unique opportunity for my perspective.

LAist: Will you be discussing this campaign season as part of your act.

Hal Sparks: I will talk about it for a bit but you have to realize that for part of the audience, their brains just turn off when certain buzzwords are said like campaign names, candidates, or the President, is brought up in an act. So what I decided is that instead of attacking them directly I would attack their ideas and their premises without ever bringing them up - that I found is a lot more effective. Don't attack Bush for saying this and that, for saying that he's a cowboy and that he's country and more real. Go after what's so real about being "country" and "cowboy". It's a lot healthier because it's not just a difference with Bush, it's more permeating.

You could go after the religious Right for attacking gay marriage, instead go after anyone attacking gay marriage and the absurdity of it. Or point out the fact that gay people invented marriage, that the marriage ceremony in the Bible is based on a Greek same sex marriage ceremony from a thousand years before. When you go at it from that level, you are helping deprogram people.

LAist: So wait, the marriage ceremony in the Bible is based on a Greek same sex marriage from a thousand years before?? Isn't that kind of close to when dinosaurs were fighting with humans according to Sarah Palin?

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Hal Sparks: Right, it was about at that same time and that's why people missed it, because they were too busy running away from Tyrannosaurus Rex, to realize that gay men were getting married all around them. And that women didn't have any rights because it was a patriarchy and you didn't have to have a marriage ceremony providing undying love to your partner unless she was a princess like Mary Magdalene, Jesus' wife - but I digress!

[Bringing these points up] have a chance at long term effect and deprogram at a deeper level. Instead hitting something head on and confronting it head on you hit it at an angle. This is what I try to do for standup. If I just tried to go "Christianity is absurd on its face", every person in the audience will bristle and shut down, whether they are all Christian or not. But if you go after the concepts but not the religion itself then you avoid the direct confrontation.

If I just shake up your world a little bit, it doesn't come across as an attack, but it might make you question your assumptions a little bit. Standup is about charm, not a full assault. You don't want to be in an adversarial relationship with your audience, the important thing is getting the message in.
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Hal Sparks appears tonight at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills with fellow "Talk Soup" alum, Aisha Tyler.