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Comedian Hal Sparks played Zanies on September 21. I sat down with him in the green room of the Nashville comedy club to chat about gay rights, his television roles, and the role of comedy in society.
Hal Sparks is part underdog, part top dog. The triple-threat actor/comedian/musician currently stars in Disney’s popular Lab Rats sitcom as successful billionaire genius Donald Davenport, a character Sparks describes as “completely full of himself.” During this fourth and final season of Lab Rats, Sparks will not only star in the show, he will also direct at least four episodes. But success was not always a given for Sparks, who grew up as a poor kid in Kentucky.
“In high school, I was a ‘zero,’ and in many ways I won,” he recalls. “I was not expected to succeed in any of the stuff that I have sought to be.” Sparks paid homage to his unexpected journey by naming his hard rock band “Zero 1,” a subtle nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
His underdog past may have helped him connect to his arguably most groundbreaking TV role, Queer as Folk’s Michael Novotny, a character with whom Sparks shares very little. “I have nearly nothing in common with Michael…I’m much more bullish in my life. I’m much more in control,” the actor explains. “The one thing [that I shared with Michael] is that I’ve always been panicked by the beauty of life. There are moments where it just floods, where you’re just like, ‘Oh, my God, this is all so beautiful, it’s silly.’ And Michael [had] that. He had that ‘I love you’ that came from somewhere rooted and deep and natural. And that’s what I liked, I think, most about him.”
Sparks isn’t shy about how heartbreakingly difficult it was to play Michael from 2000 to 2005, the five seasons Queer ran. “He was such an innocent, and he was so broadsided by life,” Sparks remembers. “It was an amazing acting experience to play Michael but it was like walking into a gut punch every time…There’s no other way to do it with Michael. You’re never guarded. So, it’s just always an open wound.”
Although Sparks describes the opportunity as utterly meaningful, it’s hard for him to miss the role. “Part of me can’t because it was brutal from that aspect. Everybody thinks it’s because playing gay and sex scenes and all that stuff. ‘That must have been the hard work of it.’ It was by no means,” he adds. “But being in a relationship drama [portraying] a character who was loving and innocent to his core in a lot of ways was just a recipe for emotional disaster.”
Though Sparks himself is straight, he has been an advocate for gay rights since the early 90s—years before Queer came along. “I used to do the sound at [spiritual author and lecturer Marianne Williamson’s] lectures in L.A. Marianne[’s meeting] was one of the few spiritual gatherings in L.A. where gay people could come and feel accepted,” he notes. “At that point, with her, and with people at her lectures, I was volunteering for AIDS Project Los Angeles.”
In addition to his work with Williamson, a personal connection groomed him to be an ally. “I used to have four running buddies when I was growing up in Kentucky. Two of them have come out as gay. Fifty percent of my best friends when I was a kid were gay.” No “aha” moment was necessary for Sparks to support equality. “I didn’t have [an] end-of-[an]-after-school moment where I was like ‘I need to learn to accept gay people’…The realization was that I never minded, really, and I couldn’t really wrap my head around the lack of acceptance. That part didn’t compute…It was that anybody gave a shit was peculiar to me.”
According to Sparks, a comedian’s role is to explore society’s viewpoints and examine fresh perspectives. “We all live in this highly complex social order and the more complex it gets, the more we run into what I would call like ‘psychological cul-de-sacs’ where everybody seems to be walking down a dead-end road and going in a circle doing something stupid or repetitive or pointless that we keep doing,” he explains. “Everybody’s doing the same shit and it’s not helping anybody and it’s not making us feel any better. So a comedian comes out, makes a big joke about it, and is essentially like a traffic cop going, ‘Everybody turn around. We’ll go back the other way. Nobody walk down this road anymore. It’s a dead end.’”
Sparks considers homophobia to be one of the “dead-end” destinations in this culture. “I always laugh at the idea of a gay agenda. The person drowning does not have an agenda. They just want to breathe. The person holding a person underwater is the one with the agenda. There’s a homophobic agenda. There’s not a gay agenda…Only straight people who don’t think gay people should have rights have an agenda about how to do it and they file legislation and do legal briefs and they do all kinds of stuff,” he continues. “So I’ve been very open about being straight because—it’s not because I’m trying to distance myself from my gay friends, my LGBT friends—it’s because I want the straight friends who don’t like that idea to know very strongly that I’m straight and I support everything about gay rights and fuck you.”
With a busy schedule that juggles his stand-up act, TV work, and playing and recording with his band, Sparks is committed to his craft. “That’s the whole job of being a singer, an artist, a poet, a painter: [to] convey understanding of a different point of view or give elevation to a hidden point of view or perspective that people are hiding from.”
For those with a thirst to celebrate, Red Bull Unlocked is the key. In city after city, the most exciting bars, clubs, mixologists, performing artists, and more take over a local landmark building to showcase their signature ambiance while also collaborating for a must-see mashup. And now it's Music City’s turn to seize the spotlight, as the event brings 10 bars together in East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood.
Fueled by the best of Nashville’s thriving music scene, Red Bull Unlocked has curated an eclectic night of show-stopping entertainment performances including a pop-up Whiskey Jam show, DJ sets, musicians, and more. The full lineup is here:
- Whiskey Jam (feat. Dozzi, Willie Shaw, and Johnny Hayes)
- A.B. Eastwood
- Daisha / Rap Girl
- Boom Bap (DJ Collective feat. DJ-Rate, Case Bloom)
- Whiskey Disco (DJ Collective feat. Coach, Jim O'Shea)
- Old Crow Medicine Show’s Jerry Pentercost (DJ Set)
- DJ Stretch
- DJ Griffin Green
- The Play Mates (Drag Show feat. Sasha, Vanity, Deception, Aura Mayari, Corlis Todd, and Carmin Triple C)
Counting down to the epic celebration, Daisha shares, “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to perform in so many of Nashville’s top spots all in the same night. Fans can expect a lot of bops and high energy. I want people to dance and have a good time.”
Ward Guenther, Whiskey Jam Founder, adds, “Red Bull has been enjoyed at Whiskey Jam since the very first night, so it's only fitting Whiskey Jam is enjoyed at Nashville's first Red Bull Unlocked. Looking forward to this!”
Red Bull Unlocked Istanbul
Photo courtesy of Red Bull
Local favorites including Pearl Diver, Tin Roof, Lipstick Lounge, White Limozeen, and more will join forces for one epic night. Full list of bars and partners below:
- The Dive Motel
- Lipstick Lounge
- Pearl Diver
- Play Dance Bar
- Rosemary & Beauty Queen
- The Stage
- Tin Roof
- Whiskey Jam
- White Limozeen
- Woolworth Theatre – Opening Fall 2022!
- Eleven Eleven - Opening 2023!
Date: August 21, 2022
Time: 6 PM – 11PM CT
Location: 1102 Forrest Ave, Nashville, TN 37206
Entrance: Ticked event
Rumble Boxing, the boxing-inspired group fitness studio, opened its doors for the first time in Nashville on June 20 at 609 Overton St, Nashville, TN. The hottest workout on the block is hosting its official grand opening from August 4th-7th with daily classes, membership specials, and prizes from local vendors. The new Rumble Boxing studio is currently offering a buy one class, get one free promotion for the Nashville community.
Rumble Boxing delivers 45-minute, 10-round, strength and conditioning group workouts, crafted around teardrop-style aqua boxing bags and high-intensity strength training circuits. This brings all fitness levels together to experience what Rumble is known for: combining the sweet science of boxing with high energy and positive vibes.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
This boutique fitness brand offers serious benefits like increased stamina and strength, with cardio that’s actually fun. The seasoned trainers at the new studio are thrilled to serve their local community while offering this fun, new modern approach to boxing and welcome members of all fitness levels to the Rumble family.
The new Rumble Boxing studio is owned and operated by Blake Baskin and Antonio Compton. With their background in the fitness industry, this dynamic duo is excited to bring their passion for boxing and group fitness to Nashville. As business and life partners, Blake and Antonio aim to create a strong community within their new Rumble Boxing studio and share their message of non-apologetic inclusivity.
Black and Gay-Owned Business
Rumble Boxing Store with Dolly Parton Mural
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“We own who we are, and this brand aligns with that perfectly,” said Antonio. “This is what we want to create and bring to this community: a fitness class that is designed for anyone and a place for people to be who they are. As a Black and gay-owned business, we want to help lower the division we see in the world right now. Our goal is to bring people together through Rumble, set everything aside, and have fun.”
To echo their message of acceptance and inclusion, Blake and Antonio commissioned a local Nashville artist to paint an 11 X 6-ft. mural of Nashville icon and philanthropist, Dolly Parton. The massive portrait features the country star in Rumble Boxing gear in the lobby of the studio.
The excitement and buzz around Rumble allowed Blake and Antonio to recruit top-tier trainers to head up the new studio, including Head Trainer Oronde Jones, a well-known celebrity trainer in the Nashville market.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“Compared to other fitness classes, Rumble is a class you can truly get lost in for 45 minutes. With the dark room, you don’t have to worry if anyone is paying attention to you. The music is awesome and inspiring, and the beat drops right when you need it the most. Also, with boxing being a sport you can never truly master, you’re always improving and crafting your skill. On the floor, you’re consistently doing something new, which prevents you from ever hitting a plateau.” Said Oronde Jones about his favorite part of Rumble.
Rumble has massive brand loyalty and widespread appeal, partly thanks to attracting top names like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Jason Derulo, David Beckham, and Kevin Hart to its studios.
About Rumble Boxing
Founded in New York City in 2017, Rumble is a group fitness concept delivering a mix (or combination) of boxing-inspired circuits and the transformative power of resistance training. Pro and amateur fighters glove up together, no matter their fitness level or skill, to reveal their inner fighter. The experience is a 45-minute, 10-round, full-body cardio and strength workout crafted around specially designed water-filled, teardrop-style boxing bags. Rumble was founded by Noah Neiman (former Barry’s Bootcamp Master Trainer, and cast member of Bravo’s Work Out New York), Eugene Remm (Co-Founder of Catch Hospitality Group (Catch Restaurants, CATCH STEAK, Lexington Brass), Andy Stenzler (Co-Founder Cosí, Kidville), and Anthony DiMarco (13-time IRONMAN, former Managing Director, Google).
Who would have thought that we would have to get through a pandemic in order to appreciate the small things we have, such as the ability to simply pack our bags and hit the road?
For two years, there’s been nothing left for us travel junkies to do but sit at home and try to find new destinations that we will conquer once we defeat what appears to be the biggest villain of the 21st century. But once that happens, hold your bags tight because we will be up for some of the most interesting travel experiences. Take a look at some ideas for your post-COVID traveling plans:
A Gay Cruise
One of the best options to have in mind when all of this passes is a good, nice and long (pun intended) gay cruise. Or cruise in general, for that matter. Bear in mind, social distancing will still be a thing in the post-COVID world. But COVID-19 likely doesn’t mean that cruises will cease to exist. On the contrary, though cruise ships will probably keep the number of passengers smaller than before, it is believed that they will become an even bigger hit in the following period, especially because they are all going to go a lot more environmentally-friendly. On the bright side, is there any better way of celebrating the end of the pandemic than by cruising around some magnificent seas, stopping by at great cities and having romantic dinner nights at nice restaurants?
A getaway in nature
On the other hand, there is always the option of stepping away from the hustle and bustle of large cities, and spending some time in a place that’s not only healthy, but also beautiful. Some of the destinations that plenty of people will look for are the ones that can cater for both peace of mind and amazing things to see or do. One such destination is New Zealand, one of the greenest countries on Earth right now. Not only will you be visiting the magnificent country that gave us the beautiful Shire from Lord of the Rings; this is also a destination that’s excellent for everyone who prefers relaxing to partying. If you’re up for some partying, you will be able to hit Auckland, while if you’re for something calmer, there’s plenty of amazing places that you can see and visit.
Dancing Around at Pride
Pride parades are also events that you want to have in mind for the post-COVID world. Such events have always been quite important, but it seems that they are now more important than ever. The virus has canceled more than 75 Pride parades all around the world, which is one of the reasons why we must support the ones that will see the light of day once the pandemic stops. Truth be told, the upcoming Prides will perhaps be the best Prides ever organized. Give the gays a couple of weeks of quarantine, then let them outside and see what kind of party they are able to throw!
A road trip
If you’re, as well, waiting for the day to wake up and say “long gone are the days when we were not allowed to go wherever we wanted?”, and if staying at one place gave you a lot to think about, then your first post-COVID travel experience should definitely be a nice road trip. You can practically choose which country you want to tour, and you can either take your own car (you have probably missed it so much), or rent one at your destination. Australia is an amazing country for this, though, as it offers the possibility of seeing the Great Ocean Road, which is an amazing thing to see and experience. On the other hand, if you do not want or cannot leave your country, you can also choose to go on a domestic road trip – there are amazing things to see in your vicinity as well.
Holiday for a single guy
If you’re single, or you’re traveling someplace with another single friend, then you should definitely organize a nice vacation for yourself or for you and your single friend, and hit one of the best European cities. Europe has been greatly affected by the virus, which means that now it’s time to pay it back and get it back on its feet by traveling there and seeing all the amazing things it offers. Any city you choose in Europe – you will not make a mistake. Apart from being able to see great landmarks, you will also have the chance to have a drink at great gay clubs and pubs, and join unforgettable gay parties. And if the gay scenery is not your forte, worry not, as Europe indeed has to offer so many different and magnificent things.