From a young age, Corey Sparkman’s life was filled with negativity. His dad, an angry man, often sent him running scared into the family living room with his brother where they would watch Adam Sandler or Chris Farley and feel the fear melt away.
“I always knew I wanted to be that,” said Sparkman. “The person who made something that could turn the fear of a scared little boy somewhere in the world to happiness.”
Sparkman, an Eastern Kentucky University sophomore, has always known what he wanted to be when he grew up. Now he is dedicating his time in and outside of the classroom to pursuing a career as a professional comedian and turning a negative history into a positive future.
Sparkman credits a course he took his freshman year with creating the foundation he has built upon. The class, Honors 307 Comedy as an Artistic Approach taught by professors Matt Johnson and Gaby Bedetti, teaches a complete historical overview from clowning at the beginning to stand up at the end.
“That is the only class I have ever had that I can without a doubt say has changed my entire life for the better,” said Sparkman.
Johnson spoke fondly of his former student and his participation in his class.
“Corey is a young comedian who really feeds off the audience,” said Johnson. “He has set material but excels at flying by the seat of his pants when in front of a crowd. He’s a natural born storyteller and an enthusiastic student of comedy.”
Sparkman was also involved in the comedy show titled The Soft Generation. The show served as a final exam for the Comedy as an Artistic Approach class in May of this year. The Soft Generation was a compilation of skits and stand-up all mocking the idea that the generation following the baby boomers is sensitive and unable to take a joke.
Sparkman’s contributions to the show include being the head writer for a Steve Irwin-themed sketch titled Capitalism Safari, and co-writer of Eugine to Todd: A Coming of Age Story. He also wrote and performed his own stand-up slot.
Sparkman’s efforts towards his career in comedy did not cease for summer break. This summer, Sparkman spent his time working on his material. Early on however, he noticed a plethora of problems that his hometown presented him. One notable issue is there is only one place in the area for amateaur entertainers to perform.
“I worked the only open mic in my hometown of Whitesburg at a bar named Summit City all summer which usually had a few people listen to my more experimental stuff and that was hit or miss,” he said.
Sparkman says he has had much more luck finding a stable audience in Richmond since returning to campus this semester. He says his favorite place to perform is the monthly Alpha Psi Omega Cabaret in the Pearl Buchanan theater attached to Keen Johnson.
“It’s just a great crowd of good people with open minds ready to have fun,” Sparkman said.
Sparkman’s most recent Cabaret performance took place on Sept. 19. During the show, he details an encounter with his roommate who he calls “Jimmy Dean” in order to preserve anonymity. His stand-up routine is a part of an ongoing series he began his freshman year in which he illustrates the contrast between him and his roommate’s backgrounds and how the differences make themselves evident in their daily interactions.
Sparkman was raised on a pig farm in Letcher County. In his most recent routine, he told the story of when he came back to his Burnam Hall dorm room covered in pig blood, much to the surprise of his roommate who nearly fainted and spent the night locked in their shared bathroom. This was met with laughter from those in attendance.
Fellow HON 307 comedy classmate, Adam Holhubner, noted the audience’s reception to Corey’s work. He said Sparkman received tons of laughs, which he believes is directly related to him having the courage and will to be on stage. What he said he found more interesting, however, was Corey’s mood following his set.
“While so many performers would normally be elated to receive such loyal and constant positive feedback from a crowd, Corey was visibly displeased by the lack of criticism in the crowd,” he said. He recalled Corey turning to him and explaining that if he is not given at least a morsel of criticism or heckling in the future, he was going to stop performing.
“That ideology was so fascinating and fairly admirable from my vantage as an actor and fellow performer,” said Holhubner. “Even after the audience caught every punchline and laughed at each joke, he was unsatisfied because it stunted his growth as a comic. That is, in my eyes, the primary quality that separates a lackluster comedian from a great one — an insatiable invitation and receptiveness towards critique.”
Sparkman aims to turn his drive for critique into a career of comedy, and at the end of the day what is most important to him is making his father proud.
“My dad may not have been as nice as you’d expect a parent to be to either of his sons, which I have always been bitter about, but I love him nonetheless,” said Sparkman. “He is a good hard working man who used his words the only way he knew how, and when I tell him about my career choice, he may not have faith in me, but one day I will make him proud of the man I have become and that will be the day I know I chose the right path.”