Hal Sparks burst into stardom while playing the role of Michael Novotney in “Queer As Folk” (QAF), the controversial but popular series that ran on Showtime from 2000 to 2005. He was one of the straight guys to be cast as a key gay character on QAF, and playing the role gave him a huge public platform to discuss why he is an outspoken straight ally of the LGBT community.
But after the show left the air, Sparks felt like casting directors were typecasting him just like openly gay QAF actors such as Peter Paige and Randy Harrison, and they all were losing out during auditions for new shows and movies.
But these days, Sparks is headlining comedy clubs across the country, and couldn’t be more excited about bringing the laughs.
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In an exclusive interview with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, Sparks is passionately focused on discussing politics, the Far Right agenda, and how the groundbreaking “Queer As Folk” affected his career in unexpected ways.
“Everybody on the show has lost jobs over being on this show,” Sparks said, countering the perception that his career took off because of QAF.
“The good news is I’ve never had to work for a bigot again,” he said, laughing.
Gay casting directors even failed to give the QAF actors a fair chance at landing parts, Sparks said. “They couldn’t see past our characters,” he said. He accused them of falling into the same trap as their heterosexual peers, who somehow believe that gay actors playing gay is easy to do. “They are just playing themselves,” he said in explaining the prejudice applied to gay actors. “They think that a straight actor playing gay is harder to do. That line of thinking is just absurd.”
Seven years later, with Sparks now starring on the Disney XD Channel in “Lab Rats” and touring with progressive radio talk show host Stephanie Miller and her “Sexy Liberal Show,” Sparks still waxes poetic over QAF for tackling taboo topics and heavy issues. He chided critics who dismissed QAF as the “Gay Sex In The City.”
“QAF was the first show to deal with an HIV couple,” he said. “We featured gay marriage, gay adoption, the HIV cocktail, heavy issues.” The show’s writers created “well-built, flawed, important characters” that resonated with the audience.
Appearing on QAF also brought on the haters, particularly the anti-gay group, Westboro Baptist Church, that attacked Sparks and other actors on the show. He still gets hate mail after all these years, and cites examples of how the haters and the right-wingers try to sabotage “Sexy Liberal Show” tour dates. “They buy big chunks of tickets to our shows and then return them at the last minute hoping that we cannot sell out,” he said. “In Philadelphia, I think, they pulled the fire alarm at the theater, and we had to evacuate the building. They were trying to make us go over our allotted time in the theater, and disrupt the show.”
Still, Sparks is so appreciative of QAF and said it did change his life more so than his career.
“It didn’t change my attitude toward LGBT rights,” he said, because he already was a big supporter of the gay community. “The biggest change is that it gave me a voice to share my beliefs to the widest possible audience.
“Being a straight man who is a gay ally, the media seeks me out,” Sparks said. But that comes with a price, because some people have a difficult time accepting that. “Some people believe I must be gay because only a gay person would care about these issues.”
How Hal Sparks became an ally
Hal Harry Magee Sparks III was born on Sept. 25, 1969, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He said his mom was visiting the Buckeye State when he was born, and he was raised in the tiny town of Peaks Mill, Ky. It was a lonely life: There were only 46 people in town.
As a teen, he moved to the Chicago area to live with his dad, who enrolled him at New Trier High School in upscale Winnetka, Ill., where he fell in love with the theater. Sparks said he ran around with four kids during high school, and he would later learn that two of them were gay. “These were my running buddies,” he said.
He was 15 when he started doing stand-up comedy over the objections of his dad. And he studied with the famous Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, where he realized that one of his teachers was “clearly gay,” except that he wasn’t out. “It was a glass door he was hiding behind,” Sparks said with a laugh.
When Sparks moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, he said this was at a time when the AIDS crisis had its second peak, and he was seeing people he knew dying of the disease.
“We were out delivering food to those who were dying,” Sparks said. “Who could not help but be supportive? That’s why I support the rights of human beings to be able to live with dignity and love whom they wish.”
Sparks said he has always been supportive of gay and lesbian couples having the right to marriage.
“Barack Obama probably has always been supportive of gay marriage too,” Sparks opines. “I think he just needed to slowly move the country along on this issue before declaring his support.”
A progressive voice on radio amid a sea of conservative blow-hards
Sparks loves talking about politics. He is a regular guest on the national “Stephanie Miller Radio Show,” and his three-hour spot on Wednesdays is called “Hump Days With Hal.” He also tours with the “Stephanie Miller’s Sexy Liberal Tour” and draws huge crowds. Starting in September, Sparks will be heard on Sirius Satellite Radio with his own political talk show.
He rails against the Far Right and its stances against LGBT Americans, women, minorities, immigrants, you name it.
Sparks blasts the Republican Party platform for 2012. “They should just put out a sign that reads: ‘Women Haters Club,’” he said. “And another sign that reads: ‘LGBT Haters Club.’”
He believes the Republican Party has been hijacked by “extremists” from the Far Right who reject science and logic to further ideology. He also believes that the GOP is so out-of-touch with Americans that the political party is becoming irrelevant … except that he also worries that they are trying to steal elections nationwide through voter suppression efforts.
“People have moved on,” Sparks said about social issues. “Why are they messing with people’s lives? They just don’t care about anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their beliefs.”
Sparks finds it ironic that Republicans scream about freedom when in fact they want a monarchy or a theocracy.
“They elected two Bushes in a row, and want Romney, from a political family, as president,” he said. “They want to create a theocratic monarchy run by those who share their beliefs. They are the American Taliban.”
He finds that in direct contrast to our Founding Fathers, who ordered a separation of church and state. He notes that the nation was founded by people who fled religious persecution in Europe, yet the Republicans now want to persecute those who disagree with them.
“There is a full frontal attack on LGBT rights,” Sparks said. “What are there, about nine people in the LGBT community who truly believe in the GOP?” Forever the comic.
Predicting the presidential winner
Sparks wishes for LGBT equality … now, rather than later. But he is pragmatic, too, and understands how politics works.
“Obama has made a steady path toward change,” he said, saying he understands how the nation has had to be coaxed into accepting change throughout our history.
Sparks said Mitt Romney’s Mormon beliefs trump his personal thoughts about social issues, and that his running mate Paul Ryan displays a jock’s attitude that what gay people do is “icky.”
Mincing no words, Sparks stresses “that the sky didn’t fall” when some states legalized same-sex marriage.
Sparks boldly predicts the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.
“Obama is going to win in November,” Sparks said. “The Democrats may even take back the House, or at least even things out. And the Democrats will hold the Senate.”
Click here to visit Hal Sparks online.