Hal Sparks unapologetically talks too much.
The good thing is that the actor — Michael Novotny on “Queer As Folk” and inventive scientist Donald Davenport on Disney XD’s “Lab Rats” — is a smart guy so he says interesting stuff. Oh, and he’s a comedian, so his remarks are extremely witty.
Sparks first caught my eye as host of E!’s now defunct Emmy-winning, extremely irreverent “Talk Soup.” He also has spent some time behind the camera, directing a few episodes of “Lab Rats,” which recently aired its Season 4 finale. Sparks’ PR person said, “Hal and the cast are currently filming the spinoff ‘Lab Rats: Elite Force.’ ”
You can hear Sparks talking too much at St. Paul’s Joke Joint June 10 at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., and June 11 at 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. I did this interview with him when he was in the metro in April appearing at the Mystic Lake Comedy Club.
Sparks is not looking forward to a Donald Trump administration. In fact, Sparks is positive that won’t happen. But he predicts that the resurgence in racism that followed the election of President Obama means we’re due to see a rise in sexism should Hillary Clinton be his successor.
Sparks also has a Prince sighting that was a beauty.
Q: Last time I saw you, radio talk show host Stephanie Miller was making a joke about you pumping money into the economy by hiring women to paint jeans on you. Your pants are not as tight today.
A: That’s true. That’s only because I’m more svelt than I was last time you saw me.
Q: How do you do that?
A: A combination of intermittent fasting and veganism. That’s what did it, more than anything. My TV show “Lab Rats,” the Disney show, I knew what I was going to be story-line-wise. I had to be in better shape, three months out. Unlike weightlifters who would do a thing where you just bulk up and do a cut right before the big meet, you have to be on screen the whole time. So you can’t just be a puffy mess. So I tried to figure out the best way to lose weight and gain muscle while still looking OK on camera. The two best ways I found were intermittent fasting and veganism.
Q: I’m going to need some shorter answers, Mr. Verbosity.
A: No such thing. Here’s the shortest answer you’re gonna get: I don’t give short answers.
Q: Did you OK Carly Fiorina singing outside her shower?
A: I actually suggested to the Cruz campaign, via a Facebook personality that I put on, that people really need to hear Carly Fiorina sing. I think it was one of the best acts of political sabotage I’ve done this year — besides suggest Ted Cruz run in the first place. I also dressed up like Bill Clinton at a party and talked to Donald Trump and suggested that he run for office. That worked out well. That’s been a gold mine.
Q: Did you also suggest the lyrics Fiorina sang?
A: No, no. I would never for a moment suggest what lyrics Carly Fiorina should sing. I said, “Sing.” Improv on the spot. I apologize to anyone who was at home and their plants died.
Q: Do you have a favorite Prince memory?
A: Only a couple I can say in pleasant company. [He pursed his lips repeatedly.] The best one of running into him at a Starbucks in Toronto where he apparently was trying to get away from his wife at the time, mixing an album, dressed in purple and lavender pajamas and a turban with a gem on it like he was Norma Desmond, with a laptop and giant headphones.
Q: You are making this up, aren’t you?
A: No, I am not. And I exchanged a nod with him. That’s a pretty good Prince memory. And the other one is … Never mind. It’s a trade secret about sexually what I learned how to do just watching Prince videos. But it’s worked out very well!
Q: What subjects are influencing your current comedy act?
A: The future is the most important aspect of what I talk about in my stand-up. I think the past has been retreaded so much. I think our present is slipping by us at such a pace and I also find that most comics — this is me being verbose again — are dealing with the problems of the day, which is a valuable aspect of stand-up comedy. My thing is, we’re going to be here for a long time. We’re not going away. We’re not going to die as a race. We’re going to change, to move through technology that makes smartphones look like crank phones. I don’t think anybody deals with it. That’s where I come from these days.
Q: Are you also interested in the future because you’ve had a little one since the last time I saw you?
A: Yeah. I’ve got a 4-year-old. I’m into the future because I would like my son to have one. That’s certainly a large part of it. I’m not interested in raising John Connor, fighting an army of robots, scourging around for dead rats to eat until an Austrian cyborg shows up to blow them away in a sewer. That doesn’t sound like a future I would like to leave my son. Call me nuts.
Q: Can you see your personality in his comedy yet?
A: No question. My kid is funny and my kid is funny largely because I’m teaching him to be funny. He learned timing at 2 years old. I would teach him how to turn his face and do a dramatic [head turn]. The kid is funny. He’s going to make it no matter what he does.
Q: How many diapers did you change back when he needed diapers changed?
A: Half of them? I changed a lot of diapers. The idea that you would somehow have a problem with changing a diaper on a child as a male is absurd. To not be too frank, you wipe your ass three times a day, you can do it once for a kid you’re trying to keep alive. I don’t understand. It’s less disgusting because it’s you? Forget it.
Q: What does your mother say was the first funny thing you said?
A: Aw, wow. I used to make fun of my dad and my mom used to love that. My mom and my grandmother used to fall out of their chairs as I did impersonations of my dad, when I was 6 or something. The first time I’m aware that I intentionally made my mother laugh was when I imitated a gorilla for her and pantomimed the whole thing. [Beating his chest?] Picking weevils our of my sister’s hair and just ape walking all over the house. The more she laughed, the harder I did it.
Q: I was doing some research on you.
A: Uh-ho “Research.” Background.
Q: Did you really wear a sock on your penis on the set of “Queer as Folk”?
A: Not a sock. It was a pouch. It was flesh color. It had a draw string on it so you could stuff your junk in there. Cinch it up tight so it wouldn’t make a break for it in the middle of scene. I did sex scenes wearing effectively what we would loving call a [obscene word] sock. You can see one on my Instagram feed. I put up a picture of one. I still have three of them. I didn’t want anybody else to have them.
Q: Would anybody else want to use them?
A: No, not necessarily, but there are people out there who would like to have mine. Oh yeah. There are some fans out there. I could probably put my kid through school selling it to some weirdo in Europe. [Laughs]
Q: Does the sock really give you the sensation of being clothed?
A: No, no, no. It just means they can’t use shots of you without your permission.
Q: Now, I’m confused. Were you actually naked?
A: Except for that. They had to shoot around the sock; edit around, never exposing your junk without your permission. In the case of Michael Novotny, it made a lot more sense that you never saw him fully nude. I also had that rule: You know they say don’t perform with kids or animals. That applies with penises as well. If there is a kid an animal or a penis in the shot, nobody is hearing anything. You could have the most emotional and heartfelt scene you’ve ever had. Nobody’s hearing a word. Everybody’s just going: Hey, there’s a penis over there!
Q: Thank you for saying penis, I hate junk
A: Yeah right. It’s not junk. It’s lovely. Somebody else’s might be junk. Not mine.
Q: How often do men hit on you as a result of your part in “Queer as Folk”?
A: Humm. [Followed by the longest silence in this entire interview.] Snapchat, all the time. It’s horrifying. When we were shooting the show there was a lot more of that. Now people know who I am as a person and they are as respectful as men can be. MEN. It’s not a gay thing, it’s a man thing. Men think they can turn you no matter what your thing is. If they want you they think they can have you. Doesn’t matter, gay or straight. Has nothing to do with sexuality; it’s a masculinity thing. Think about all the straight men who think about lesbians and say: Oh, she just hasn’t had me, yet. Same thing.
Q: So how do you say No when a man hits on you?
A: Ahh. Ah. “No thanks. I appreciate that but I’m straight.” Pretty simple. It is an awkward thing because you want to be honest and you realize you are in a bit of a power position because you’re on television and they are approaching you. It takes nerve to approach somebody you’ve had an attraction to on film or on television of any ilk. You don’t want to be rude about it. It varies on whether they are coming on strong and being aggressive and odd or just nice. There is no pat way of dealing with it.
Q: Because of your extensive training in martial arts, if somebody messes with you, you can whip their ass?
A: Sure. Is that a short enough answer?
Q: I liked that answer. Between the first time I met you and the second (this is the third time), one of my great delights was seeing you on “Frasier.”
Q: You were the receptionist who wouldn’t let Niles and Frasier into the spa. Do you remember your line?
A: No, I don’t off the top of my head.
Q: “You’re not on the list.”
A: Oh, that’s right. Yeah. It was all about just the idea of prestige. David Hyde Pierce was doing this great physical gag, all wrapped up [like a mummy]. During rehearsals they hadn’t locked the table down and he sits up and goes to fall over and he landed on his head. It was like somebody dropped a bowling ball. It was the loudest noise I’d heard in ages. My mom’s a nurse so I just went straight to him. I was talking to him, making him count, stay conscious until the nurse gets there. He thanked me for keeping him steady and conscious, which is the most important thing if you have had a traumatic brain hit.
Q: Do you still have to audition or do people write for you?
A: Oh, I have to audition. Here’s the thing. Unless you are just a bullet-proof star, and you’ve proved it by being a bunch of movies since you were 9, most of the time the characters you do are [not] permanent. People can’t see past them. After I did Michael, most casting people couldn’t look past him at all. Now that I am playing Donald Davenport on “Lab Rats,” he’s such an egregious ass, which I love, probably the closest character to my real personality. But. They can’t see past that. The only thing that shakes them out of it is my stand-up. That’s the only thing where people cast me right away. “Lab Rats” I got because execs wanted me and they were fans. Casting directors don’t like me very much. They feel like I’ve sidestepped them or stepped over them. That happens a lot to standups. We get the role when they’ve got nine actors they have vetted and here some this [Richard]head who tells jokes, and they are not even sure you can act. Then they have to make all these uncomfortable phone calls to people in their nest. So I don’t think they like me very much.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to write yourself onto on television?
A: Yeah the “Walking Dead,” just to teach idiots how to stay alive. I don’t know how hard this is. They bite with teeth. DUCT TAPE YOUR CLOTHING! Teeth can’t bite through duct tape. Stop going out in T-shirts I scream at that show to no end!
Q: Hal, what about the willing suspension of disbelief?
A: I have no willing suspension of disbelief for anything that lasts more than two hours. My willing-suspension-of-disbelief nerve was burned up watching “Batman vs Superman.” It is now in flames. I was already [lit] because of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Don’t even get me started.
Q: What are you going to do when President Trump is inaugurated?
A: [Long laugh.] Wake up from the nightmare I was in. Trump is not going to be president. It will be Hillary Clinton and I think we’ll do just fine. I do think the downside of a Hillary Clinton presidency will be that we will see the hidden sexism of our country rise up the same way the hidden racism rose up under Obama. The Band-Aid will be pulled off and the exposed wound slightly cancerous.
Q: You think when President Obama is out of office he’ll admit that most of the obstacles put in his way by Congress and the public were because of racism?
A: No, I don’t think so. Admitting it would actually drive the knife deeper. He has to rise above it. Truth can be like sunlight. It needs some element of shade or it will burn you. You can’t give unexposed sunlight to some people who have been in the dark for so long and expect them to see clearly. I’m proud to have voted for him twice. He did more work than people give him credit for on all fronts. The abandonment by the liberal establishment is one of the worst things that happened to his presidency. This fictional revolution pie-in-the-sky nonsense that most people get caught up in — including Trump’s followers and to some degree Sanders’ — is childish and doesn’t appreciate the depths of the office and what’s required. You know what the problem was with George W. Bush? They say the great thing about America is anybody can be president; if you strive you can be president. After Bush, it was like: Anybody can be president. It took an A student, editor of the Harvard Law Review black man to hold the same office as a C student who didn’t show up for National Guard duty. If you want to explain the racial disparity in this country, that’s it.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9’s “The Jason Show,” which is starting a national tryout Monday.