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Character Comedy 101: The Sparrow Method

To say Alexander Sparrow has plenty of character is an understatement. Sparrows dark and sometimes twisted sense of humour and clever quips have been making waves in the New Zealand comedy scene since 2011. Some of the comedic characters he performs as include Bernard a German pick-up artist, Enigma the flamboyant peacocking pick-up artist, Fred from Featherston, a Donald Trump character impersonation, and The Marquis de Sade who is an imprisoned French aristocrat famous for his libertine sexuality. However, it’s Sparrows black comedy take of his Donald Trump character he is most noted for, having gained media attention in New Zealand, and internationally, with The Wall Street Journal recently publishing a piece on him. Marty Vidal sat down to chat with the comedian.

What inspires your characters?

I read a lot, and often characters will come from that. It’s important the characters have a unique viewpoint – I love shows that challenge the status quo – and so they often have questionable beliefs at first glance. Drawing people out of their comfort zone, rather than telling them what they already believe over and over again, is one of my favourite parts of performing. It makes me work harder, and it makes things more memorable for audiences.

Which of your characters is your favourite?

This is a hard one – I only write shows about characters I’m really excited about. All of them have something great about them. Trump takes no setting up; I can dive into the hard-hitting stuff straight away. Enigma (the pick-up artist) talks about body language, which is one of my favourite topics. Sade is an hour of crowd work, including some bizarre scenarios and crazy demonstrations. I’ll probably have to go with Sade.

You’ve had some recent media attention surrounding your President character, including TV appearances and a recent article with The Wall Street Journal, what has that exposure done for your career?

I now work full-time as a writer/performer. That’s a direct result of last year’s media exposure of my Trump show, The President. It’s great to be able to focus on what’s most important to me. Last year I did three solo shows; it looks as though this year there will be five (including returns of previous shows, de Sade and The President). It’s an exciting time.

Which of your characters would win in a fight?
Enigma. Trump is old, Sade has been in a prison cell for over a decade and would have slow reflexes. Plus, Enigma (being a motivational speaker) is most likely to secretly have black belts in various martial arts. I think if Sade and Trump were to take on Enigma in a fight (unlikely, I think they would both rather watch than participate), Enigma would take out Trump with a floor sweep, then punch Sade repeatedly in the face until he gave in. Sade would probably enjoy that.

De sade, Trump, Enigma… Fuck, marry kill. Go!
Fuck Sade, marry Enigma, kill Trump. There’s no real alternative. Sade’d be killer in bed (theoretically), Enigma has social skills and would be a good conversationalist in marriage, and I’d rather not spend decades with a 70-year-old that watches that much television. Avoiding banging Trump is high on my list of priorities.

What’s the best advice one of your characters could give President Donald Trump right now?
Best advice in my opinion, or his? In my opinion, it would come from Sade, who’d say: “liberty is not to be decided by family or the state, nor is it to be taken lightly”. It makes sense to have as few rules as possible, and ensure the ones we do have are essential. In Trump’s opinion, it would come from himself: “Keep doing what you’re doing, you’re doing a tremendous job – just ask your friends, they’ll tell you you’re their favourite president. Everyone else’s president is terrible.”

Using only film titles, describe something about yourself.
Post-show appearance: Frankenstein
Morning appearance: Bride of Frankenstein
Where I live: House of Frankenstein
What my child will look like: Young Frankenstein
Backflip ability: This is the End

Pineapple on pizzas – delicious, or blasphemy?
Delicious – and they do it in Italy too, I’ve seen it. There are definitely worse things to put on pizza. Like shoes.

I’ve seen you perform many times as yourself, and in character. Describe the differences between performing comedy as yourself, and performing comedy in character.
I get away with more as a character, because no matter how good the character is, people know it’s not a real person. When you pretend to be someone else, you put up a barrier (build a wall, if you like) between you and the material. I don’t think those things, the character thinks those things. Performing stand-up as me means much less prep time on appearance. I can walk up, do the set, and there’s less pressure. That said, because the jokes come from me, rather than a character, they have to be relatively safe. I can say horrific things as Trump, but weirdly, if you’re racist/sexist as yourself, people don’t take kindly to it. Bizarre. In a stand-up comedy line-up show, it’s easier to perform as myself. In an hour show, I infinitely prefer being a character.

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