He's Yellowknife's "favourite son and hometown hero."
At least that's what Alex Sparling calls himself, with a distinctive hint of humour.
The 27-year-old was born and raised in Yellowknife, moving to Vancouver about six years ago to pursue his comedy career. Since then he's done his standup routine on countless stages, and most recently made it to the finals in an NBC showcase.
Sparling says he started out doing standup for Sir John Franklin High School's talent shows ("Falcon for life!" he exclaims during a phone interview).
While he was working at N.W.T.'s Snap Lake mine as a dish washer, he saw that a small bar in Calgary was hosting an open mic night. About two months in advance, he emailed the bar and asked if they'd find a spot for him.
"Of course they were like, 'Sure, if you want to fly all the way from Yellowknife to do this open mic, you can do the open mic...you psychopath,'" Sparling deadpans.
That's when he truly caught the comedy bug.
"I had some really bad jokes, some really bad jokes," he says.
"Plus I had two eyes at that point, and nobody's funny with two eyes!"
'A pretty big deal'
Sparling lost an eye in 2008 when, in a case of mistaken identity, several men attacked him with a hammer in a Vancouver home invasion.
Now, his one eye serves as a punchline.
"It's a pretty big deal," he laughs.
That uniqueness is also what qualified Sparling for NBC's StandUp for Diversity showcase. The network holds the massive search for new, diverse talent annually — some of the comics showcased have gone on to star in movies and television shows such as Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock.
"Standup comedy doesn't attract a lot of overly gorgeous people," Sparling says. "So it is basically for everybody that's not your typical tall, white leading man."
Sparling auditioned for the StandUp showcase two years ago and made it all the way to the finals.
Just a few weeks ago, Sparling and nine other contestants took their routines to Los Angeles for the finals.
"I got to play the Hollywood Improv, which is a comedy room that I've known about and read about since I was a kid, since I was 13," he says.
"I felt it only appropriate, as the only Canadian, to walk out to the Hockey Night in Canada theme song."
Only a few people in the room knew the song, but "if you can touch one person, that's all I really want," he jokes.
Sparling's routine includes a lot of Canadiana, with a northern flare.
"I have a bunch of material about house parties and about how much Whitehorse sucks," he laughs.
But he says he left out references to bush parties and bonfires for the U.S. audience.
"I was talking to one guy down in L.A. and finally got across where I was from and he was like, 'Oh my god, it's like –40 C, it's –50 C, that's nuts, you go outside, you'd lose a finger.'
"I was like 'I know, that's how I lost my eye.'"
Sparling recently found out he didn't win the NBC diversity showcase, but says he's not disappointed at all.
"I already felt like I won going down," he said. "I got to play the Hollywood Improv. I got to do everything that I wanted to do."
And the journey may not be over — finalists in the NBC showcase are headed to Kentucky for a one week standup showcase. From there, Sparling and other comics will have the chance to meet with U.S. college reps and hopefully book gigs.
Sparling just needs to deal with the "Canadian comedy dream" of getting a work visa in the U.S.
"If anyone in the Northwest Territories wants to sponsor me as a bit of a make-a-wish, that would be amazing," he laughs.
As for a stop in Yellowknife, Sparling says his father and tons of friends still live in the territory.
"I'd love to go home more often than I do," he says.
"Do some fishing, do some camping, blow stuff up — stuff you can't do in Vancouver."