Beyond the Bio: Rev. Susan Sparks
The TEDxPeachtree team spoke with some of the upcoming speakers at TEDxPeachtree on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017 at the Rialto Center for the Arts to dig beneath the surface of their biographies. In this edition of Beyond the Bio, we spoke with Reverend Susan Sparks, A trial lawyer, turned standup comedian and Baptist minister. Here’s what we found:
Growing up, who was the funniest person in your household and why?
Me – but then again, I was basically an only child so the bar was not that high. :0
If you define “household” broadly, the true award for funniest person in our household was a tie between my mom and my Aunt Sudie, this crazy, colorful woman that lived in a little mill house in Gaffney, SC where my Dad’s family was from. One of her many eccentric habits was being a life-long lover of unfiltered Camel cigarettes – to the point that over the years her voice had morphed into a strange combination of Bea Arthur and Barry White.
I’ll never forget sitting in her parlor, she’d fire up one of those camels, turn to me, take a long inhale and say in this scratchy, gravelly voice, “how you doing dah-ling.” Then she’d launch into some wonderful hilarious story until the ash on that camel became terrifyingly long.
She was a great storyteller for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which she always knew when to stop. In fact, she had a built-in timer. Right before the ash dropped onto the plastic arm coverings of her favorite chair, she would flick it off in her ashtray (the lid from a Duke’s mayo jar), light her next cigarette from the old one, and say something like “and that’s the story about that.”
Today I gauge the timing of my sermons by the number of Camels it would require.
Where is the most interesting place you performed as a comedian?
I’ve performed comedy everywhere from a rehab unit at NYU Hospital to the Clinton Presidential Center.
The most interesting place, however, was a college show in Alabama with the Laugh in Peace Tour staring me, Rabbi Bob Alper and Muslim Comic Mo Amer. What made it so unique was that it was jointly sponsored by the Christian Student Association, the Muslim Student Association and the Jewish Student Association. To watch these Jewish/Muslim/Christian students all working together, all laughing together – in Alabama — gave me hope.
I pulled up your website and the first picture I saw was one of you on a motorcycle. YES, super cool! How long have you been riding? And it looks like your heart belongs to Harley family.
I am definitely a biker chick. It is so freeing as clergy to fling off the robe and sport around in biker leathers and fake tattoos.
My husband Toby rides a big Harley Road King and I ride a Harley Sportster 883. I started riding about 20 years ago, but then wrecked my first bike and was scared to get back on. (While I wish I could say I survived a dramatic flameout on a rocky cliff, I actually just crashed into a guardrail in a grocery store parking lot in Connecticut. See “Lose the Training Wheels.”)
After ten years and many tiny baby steps, I regained my confidence and bought my beautiful red Sportster named “Lightning” – because we bought her in an electrical storm and she runs like lightning! She’s the bike pictured on my website.
If time travel became a reality, would you travel back in time or into the future, what would you bring with you and why?
I would go back in time taking two things: a current newspaper and a pecan pie from my grandmother’s recipe that I’ve never quite gotten right. I would visit my grandmother with the pie, and Thomas Jefferson with the newspaper and ask the same question: “Are you sure this is what you intended?”
I would ask you, what you would be doing (career wise) if you weren’t doing what you are currently doing now? But you seem to be doing everything!
After I retire from the church (and assuming I won the lottery), I would like to live on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, run a dog sled team and be a fly-fishing bush pilot.
In reference to your journey in life so far, what comes to mind when you hear the words: hope, healing and humor?
HOPE – I am a ten –year breast cancer survivor. I hear “cancer” and remember those the disease has taken, yet celebrate its survivors and the hope that we may one day find a cure.
HEALING – I am a big believer in holistic healing, especially in spirituality. So many times we approach God with only the shiny, squeaky clean parts and check the rest at the door. Life is like a jigsaw puzzle, we can’t be healed/whole unless we give God all the pieces. That means the anger, the resentment, the fear, and yes, wait – the laughter! It’s all holy.
HUMOR – A gift from God, annnnnnd one we don’t fully honor. As the philosopher Voltaire said, “God is a comedian playing to an audience who is afraid to laugh.”