Over the past decade, comedian Hal Sparks has performed hundreds of shows at venues all over the country, pointing his razor-sharp wit at a range of social and cultural topics.
Assuming this stretch of rain subsides as promised, few of those venues likely compare to a quaint outdoor downtown square at the base of the Sleeping Lady. , a free annual event hosted by the Mill Valley Arts Commission, is set for 6:30-8:30 p.m. tonight in the , with Sparks and fellow comedians Myq Kaplan and John Fugelsang performing, along with stalwart host Mark Pitta.
While Sparks, whose resume includes a five-year stint as the character Michael Novotny on Showtime’s Queer as Folk and a hosting gig on E Channel’s Talk Soup, is excited by such a unique setting, he says performing in a public outdoor setting presents an interesting challenge.
“Not to dissuade people, but most of the time, standup outside is a mistake,” says Sparks. “To some degree in the world of standup, if you’re saying something worth saying, it should probably be done indoors, in a dark setting, where no one can hear you say it. But if you’re going to do it, that’s the part of the country to do it in.”
Sparks, who has had feature roles in such films as “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, became a first-time dad when his son Camden was born last month. He doubts he’ll draw much on his newfound fatherhood for comedic material.
“Most of my stuff comes from the pop culture world rather than political, which defines us politically often times moreso than the actual politics itself. All the news about Anthony’s weiner eclipsed all the talk about jobs, which is the real issue.
“It’s the Kardashian-ization of the political process,” he continues. “You can make all the jokes you want about (Tim) Pawlenty. And they’ll be toilet paper next year. I just find that it’s better to hack at the roots than trim the branches.”
Sparks hosts “Humpday” on the Stephanie Miller radio show. He’s currently on tour with Miller as part of the Sexy Liberal Show, along with Fugelsang, who has made a number of appearances on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect and is regularly featured on CNN, Fox News, Dennis Miller, Air America, NPR and CNBC.
Kaplan, who grew up in New Jersey, made a name for himself as a comic over the past decade in Boston, where he attended college. He was named Boston University's Funniest Student and was featured at the inaugural Great American Comedy Festival. Most recently, he finished in the top five of NBC’s Last Comic Standing and spend about five months on the show’s subsequent comedy tour.
Kaplan, 32, has also played a variety of venues over the years, from steakhouses (where he made jokes about him being a vegan) to retiree communities that he expected to be dismal but actually turned out to be fantastic audiences.
“I did one of my least favorite gigs in the basement of some kind of Elks Lodge or community center,” he says. “It was a bunch of Italian men who were basically the opposite of me. Sometimes all the stars align for a night to be horrible, where just as you’re about to come, they announce, ‘OK everyone, the buffet is open and also there is a comedian.”
Kaplan’s dry, acerbic style has been on display in Mill Valley before, as he stopped into Pitta’s vaunted Tuesday night Mark Pitta & Friends standup night a year ago at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre and loved it.
Sparks is equally complimentary of Pitta and the Throckmorton.
“If you have a good room to play, comics will crawl through mud to get there,” he says. “It’s more indicative of how awful most clubs are to play. Nationally, you’re lucky to get a room that is that classy and interesting and fun and smart enough to get your best material.”
The 411: Comedy in the Plaza, Wed., 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., free. No one under 13 years of age. Seating is limited - bring folding chairs.