Actor, musician, comedian, radio host and Chicago native Hal Sparks recently talked with Windy City Times about his career, activism and what drives him as a performer.
Windy City Times: How did your Saturday radio show for WCPT come about?
Hal Sparks: I was doing a Ustream show every Saturday that was growing in popularity. WCPT approached me about doing a weekend show so I took my Ustream show and easily modified it for the radio. They wanted my show to be a lead in for a new show from the Center on Halsted. (That show is currently not on the air but still in the works. Spark's show is followed by Dick Kay's show at the moment.)
WCT: Tell me the genesis of the Sexy Liberal tour with Stephanie Miller and John Fugelsang?
HS: John and I talked about touring together since our material was similar in content (they performed together previously). Also, people wanted to see Stephanie live, so we had to make this tour happen. I agreed to it, John got the thing rolling and Stephanie jumped on board. We started booking locations and it became a phenomenon shortly after that.
WCT: How has the tour gone so far? What message do you hope to convey to your audiences as you travel around the country? Will the tour make its way back to Chicago?
HS: It's great to see the response from people as well as how successful it's been. People want their voices heard and our tour is a response to that because right-wing radio shows get more airplay than left-wing radio shows. At our shows people start looking around and realize there are a lot of people out there who think like them.
As for our message: We want to let liberals/progressives know that they are being heard and their voice matters.
Also, we will be coming back to Chicago on March 3 at the Chicago Theater.
WCT: What was it like to come back to Chicago last June for the Sexy Liberal tour and the Pride parade?
HS: It was amazing. Chicago is my favorite city in North America. There is the hustle and bustle of NYC and the relaxed open-mindedness of California fused together in a midwestern mash that is healthy and has a sensibility that I really like.
WCT: Tell me about the WCPT broadcast you did with Miller and Fuglesang during the Pride parade.
HS: It was hilarious because one of the floats broke down right in front of our booth so they probably got more press than any other float in the entire parade. That was the funny, silly upside of the parade but the downside was some floats were vandalizedbut they got fixed and the parade still happened. What happened to the floats was a good example of how a few idiots can ruin something that took a lot of work, hope and heart to create.
The Tea Party is similar to the vandals that destroyed the floats. They aren't good at building things because it takes too much work. Their mission is to bring the government back to zero because they think that is the magic cure. It's the lazy, slacker way of doing something.
What I also find interesting is what catches the media's attention. Thirty Tea Partiers can be outside Congress saying, "Get your government hands off my Medicare" and that gets wall-to-wall coverage on CNN, but 800,000 people watching the Chicago Pride Parade this past June barely gets noticed by the national media.
WCT: You took a break from the Sexy Liberal tour in August [The Talk's Aisha Tyler filled in for him] to go to Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What was that like?
HS: It was the first time I've been in one city for a month straight in six years so that was a social experiment for me. On top of that you are in an incredibly old city with a lot of history. When there isn't a festival Edinburg is a quiet, genteel, highly cultured city and then once a year festival-goers roll in and the place is transformed into a party. Doing shows in the same city for a month was interesting because the same people came to see me over and over again.
Since I don't drink the festival didn't take a toll on me like it did to the other performers. Personally, I think there are enough crazy things in the world that can make you feel drunk like watching a Republican debate. ... Everything in alcohol that makes you feel sick seems to be in the Republican platform these days.
WCT: What drives your liberal/progressive activism?
HS: Politicians, corporations and individuals who want to take away people's rights. I want to find out what their motivations and political ideals are so I can stop them from doing what they are doing. It takes a lot of work especially if you want to do it in a non-hostile way.
WCT: You are a big supporter of the LGBT community. What do you think the next thing that the LGBT community should do to continue the march towards equality?
HS: Vote. No one in the LGBT community can afford to stay home on election day, ever. During the 2010 mid-terms some LGBT activists convinced liberal/progressive voters to stay home and what we got were legislators who want to reinstitute sodomy laws. People also stayed home because they felt President Obama was moving too slow on Don't Ask Don't Tell but they were proven wrong. The president got DADT ["Don't Ask, Don't Tell"] repealed in the right way through Congress so the next president can't just reverse it with an executive order. It's also important to vote in local and state elections to make sure that the republicans aren't sneaking anti-gay people onto the school boards, for example. ... If you don't vote you can't complain about anyone who gets elected that will work against you as an LGBT person.
WCT: Tell me about your new show, Lab Rats 2012. [He is currently shooting episodes for the first season, which will debut in early 2012 on Disney XD.]
HS: Lab Rats is lovely. As a new dad (his son is named Camden) it warms my heart to do programming aimed at kids that is healthy, smart, funny and silly that my son will be able to watch when he gets older. It's a science oriented series with jokes that make kids smarter in the process.
I play a motorcycle-riding billionaire inventor who is treated like a rock star. My new show is a really smart way to promote science with young people since our society doesn't celebrate scientists and science in general.
WCT: Technology is very important to you. Why?
HS: If there is a singular drive in the human soul it seems to be towards higher and more complex technological systems. ... Communications technology is shrinking the world and bringing people together in a way that was impossible even 10 years ago. These connections are healthy because ... it makes us realize that humans aren't that far apart in their thinking which is a good enough reason for technology to exist.
A platform like Ustream [where anybody can put on a TV show that looks good] was an impossibility four years ago. Technology has a democratizing effect on society and having the ability to do this all around the world is fantastic.
WCT: Explain what you mean by "happy ending."
HS: We talk about some tough stuff on the radio every week but it's important to give people good news. ... So at the end of my show I tell the listeners about positive developments in society, for example green technology. We do that so the listeners will have something to think about or look up online that isn't negative.
WCT: What are your other professional plans for the future?
HS: I have two Chinese movies that will be shot in China next year [an action movie and a romantic comedy]. Richard Hunter and I are working on a show and I'm working on a book.
WCT: You are very passionate about your sponsors. Why is that?
HS: I chose the companies I wanted to promote. With Threadless, I like their positive business model which gives independent artists a way to pay their rent by selling their designs to the store so they can be made into tee-shirts. I support Steaz, the energy drink company, because it is vegan, fair-trade organic and a low CO2 output company. As for Honda, I went to their safety classes [Sparks drives a Honda motorcycle] and saw the great things they are doing including greening their vehicles. Contrary to what Republicans say about liberal/progressives, I don't have a problem with businesses doing wellbut I want them to do well in an ecological and ethical way.
Sparks will be back in Chicago to perform with his band, ZERO 1, at the Mayne Stage ( www.maynestage.com ) in early 2012. To buy tickets for the Sexy Liberal March 3, visit www.sexyliberal.com . For more information on all of Sparks' activities and to connect with him via social networking, visit www.halsparks.com .