Yellowknifer Alex Sparling, the wise-cracking class clown who once played a fart in a Sir John High School drama production, has just been tapped on the shoulder by NBC Universal.
On Tuesday night, the 27-year-old comic received an email informing him he’d been chosen as a finalist in the NBC Standup Diversity Showcase. That means NBC is flying him to Los Angeles to perform at the Hollywood Improv on December 1st.
“It was pretty crazy,” Sparling said, speaking to EDGE from Vancouver, where he now lives. “There might have been a bit of crying once I called my mother.”
The email came as a surprise. Sparling had entered the “cattle call” of comics who performed in July 2014 in Vancouver as part of the NBC diversity showcase, where people of different ethnic backgrounds, or with physical disabilities – “people not usually chosen for leads” as Sparling puts it – compete, ultimately, for TV comedy roles. Sparling lost an eye seven years ago after he was beaten with a hammer in a case of mistaken identity during a brutal Vancouver home invasion. He made it to the semi-finals, but never heard anything back.
Then this July, NBC invited him to Seattle to compete against about 100 comics at one of four regional semi-final competitions (regional competitions were also held in New York City, Dallas and Atlanta this year).
“There were a lot of African-Americans, Asians, a couple of fat guys, and me,” jokes Sparling. “I had a buddy who had cerebral palsy, but obviously prosthetic eyes are much funnier than gimpy hands.
“I talked about marijuana dispensaries, about how I got a card right away because I only have one eye, and cooking on MDMA,” Sparling says of his bit.
“In the semi-finals there was me and four other Canadians in a club with a hundred American comics, so that was kind of special too. Being Team Canada kind of a thing.”
Sparling recently quit his job as a Shaw Cable telemarketer so he could focus on an upcoming Yuk Yuk’s comedy tour through Fort McMurray and small-town B.C., which he will now extend to the Hollywood Improv in December.
“The point of the NBC competition is to get a TV deal,” Sparling says. “The room is full of NBC executives and producers and writers. The winner of the competition gets a talent holding deal.” But even without a win, he says the exposure will be amazing.
“I’ve always loved acting, but stand-up is still my true love,” he says, adding that after losing his eye, the comedy stage became a more forgiving platform than the screen.
Sparling, who runs his own comedy night at a Vancouver bar, says his first stand-up gig ever was at the Top Knight in Yellowknife, where he made $500, “which never happens. So that was a tough sum of money to start off with and then realize I will make that amount of money over the course of the next four years.”
His goal remains to make enough money to do stand-up the rest of his life.
“Those are still pretty lofty aspirations, I’m not looking to get famous or anything, and the Canadian entertainment industry is pretty unforgiving as far as stand-up goes.”
Still, he’s savoring a chance to immerse himself in the comedy culture of L.A., adding that with stand-up, “every little win is so big.”