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Spark's on Fire!

Spark's on Fire!

by Rene Williams,
first published: March, 2005

approximate reading time: minutes

Judging from the script and how I played him‚ he was just an idiot.

He was born in some small hick town in Kentucky; he used to have really bad Spinal Tap metalhead hair, and he had a small role in the straight-to-video thriller Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town. He overcame all those hardships though, and now he can be found cracking wise on endless repeats of E! Televisions "I Love the '90s" (and the '80s and '70s we presume). He spoke to Alarcon one afternoon not too long ago and shared his thoughts on his stalker/fans and his future career as a glam rock superstar.

Hey Hal, it's good to talk to you.
[Like the Fonz on helium] Heyyyy.

How's your day been so far?
Oh you know, my music, stand up, etcetera.

Well, it couldn't be that bad. I mean, you have a pretty rabid fan base. You even have a few fan Web sites: The Halcoholics, Hal's Angels, the...
Yeah, great fans.

Is that kind of scary? I mean, they even know your inseam measurements and bizarre stuff like that.
Eeeeh--Oh, they've mailed me pants, yeah. Um, you know, I like it because they're a good bunch. They're all, you know, pretty solid.

Yeah, devoted--I guess that's a good word. They seem to know everything, down to every part on every a failed sitcom you ever did in the early '90s.
[Laughs] Oh yeah, they know and they don't let me forget. It's like stalkers without all the uncomfortable letters, so you know, they're a good group.

Can you tell me a bit about how you got started, how you came to be the host of Talk Soup which really jumpstarted your career.
Let's see, I moved to Chicago from Kentucky and I got into the Second City--started doing that, and Second City actually altered my style a lot because even before I started doing standup, I was kind of--you know, a lot of shtick, and Second City is all about organic comedy, coming from the moment, and being a cooperative effort, and at the time I wasn't much of a cooperator because no one wanted to play with me in Kentucky, so...

You started doing standup at 15, right? Where were you able to do standup at 15 years old?
Well, they have forensics in high school, which is competition acting and drama, and I was doing a thing called original comedy which nobody did--which, by the way, in the '50s, was called after-dinner speaking--and I did it basically as standup, and therefore got really bad marks. I was in 24 meets and got as high as fourth place--once.

So it was kind of like debating for comics.
Yeah, we'd just tell a story that kind of didn't have a point--some false situation that you'd set up, which to me sounded really dull so I just started making jokes.

So getting back to Talk Soup because that's where I first saw you on television and John Henson, did he give you any words of advice on his last day and your first?
Nope. He pretty much took it in stride and just kind of waved as he walked out the door. He wasn't really - let's put it this way, E! couldn't have lured him back. When he left, he left.

It's kind of like the Shelley Long syndrome with him though, don't you think? He leaves a successful show thinking it's going to be feature films galore, and then you never really hear from him again.
Yeah, well, he has a development deal so he's got to take time and figure out what that thing you want to do for a long time is. Because TV contacts are long, so if you want to start a project, it better be something you can see yourself doing for 7 to 10 years.

So Talk Soup was a great springboard for you in that it helped you land Queer As Folk. What's in your future plans?
Well, I've always looked towards the future 'cause I'm from Kentucky and I always have had to climb. But I do feel a responsibility to make the best of what I'm doing while I'm doing it. I feel like I owe that to the fans that have been following for a long time, and I owe that to the new fans.

Speaking of old fans, did you get any hate mail from succeeding Henson with Talk Soup and playing a gay guy on Queer As Folk?
A little, but it was surprisingly small. I was expecting a lot. They got tons when John took over for Greg [Kinnear, the first Talk Soup host] and it was really brutal--they didn't like John at all. And you know, it didn't matter. He built up his audience after a while. But to get back to your question, there was only like two out of a hundred people that complained.

So tell me more about your early TV work. You did an episode of the old Lois & Clark series, right? I believe you played "Skateboard Kid?"
[Laughs] Yeah, it was an episode where the bad guy was a master of disguise so I may have been the murderer, or I may have just been an idiot on a skateboard. Judging from the script and how I played him--he was just an idiot.

And was that your real hair? [At the time of that episode, Sparks looked like a really retarded member of Motley Crue.]
Oh. You saw that. Yes, it was my real hair. Yeah, yeah, that was, uh, my real hair--I was Captain Metaldude back then.

Yeah, I was reading your bio and I saw that you're a big Queensryche fan. That must be the hair influence. Then you cite Enya and Tori Amos as big influences as well, though, so I'm intrigued.
Right, I definitely lean towards the heavier side, but I'm a Libra, so you know--I need balance.

Speaking of music, you're working on a CD, right?
Yeah, yeah, it's going pretty good - my band's called Zero 1. It's funny because it was practically ready when I started on Talk Soup and Queer As Folk, and I thought, eww, now there's a chance that people might actually hear this now. So I got a lot more critical about the whole thing.

What kind of music is on it?
It's progressive rock - it's not really a Dream Theater [a really dated late-'80s hair metal band] level of musicianship, but more like really chunky guitar, like Pink Floyd.

Is it ever going to be properly released?
Yeah, I was actually working on one of the songs this weekend.

So is it one of those things where you're Prince and you're playing all of the instruments yourself?
Well, I have a songwriting partner, but between me and him, we do everything ourselves. Like Tears for Fears, except it's hard rock. Okay. Maybe it's not.



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