Comedian Zak Sprung Is Remembered As One of Dallas Comedy's Biggest and Funniest Hype Men

Comedian Zak Sprung, pictured here performing at Trees in Deep Ellum, died at age 39.
Comedian Zak Sprung, pictured here performing at Trees in Deep Ellum, died at age 39. Sam Brand Photography
Comedian Zak Sprung really wanted to make people laugh, even when that meant ceding the spotlight. A lot of people who met and knew him say he devoted his time and energy to ensuring that anyone who wanted a shot to perform comedy could get it.

"I've gotten him on shows but he definitely provided me with way more opportunities," says comedian Chris Hopkins. "A lot of people will say, 'Oh, I don't see race or color' and all that. He was somebody who truly lived it. There wasn't a demo[graphic] he shied away from or made feel bad. I made a joke that he would drag me to the piano bars and the hood bars."

A former firefighter from New Mexico, Sprung became a comedian known for his neon-blue mohawk and an ability to tell hilarious stories with a boundless sense of energy and passion. He died suddenly on Thursday, Jan. 5, at the age of 39, leaving behind his wife and their daughter.

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Comedian Zak Sprung.
Sam Brand Photography
Family, friends and other comedians set up a GoFundMe for his family that has already surpassed its $2,500 goal. They also held a benefit and tribute show for Sprung on Wednesday at the Addison Improv, which was attended by comics and club owners from across North Texas .

"Everyone shut down their business and not only that but other club business owners showed up to the show last night to honor Zak," says comedian George Redd Speaks, who performed several times with Sprung on stages and podcasts. "That says a lot."

Comedian Noah "Shark" Robertson says he first met Sprung at one of his open mic showcases. Sprung had just started doing comedy and meeting other comics as venues started opening up again after the coronavirus pandemic.

"He was a really good comic and for doing it for a very short time, he seemed like he knew what he was doing," Robertson says. "He was very comfortable on stage, a very goofy character and very outgoing."

Sprung threw his whole body and heart into his performances, no matter how much time he had before getting the light.

"When he came off stage, he was sweating bullets," Speaks says. "His shirt would be wet. He was hopping around, falling down, bending over, doing act-outs. He was totally dedicated to the bit 100 percent, which is very rare but also his talent as an actor."

Sprung also worked as an actor, appearing as an extra in shows and films and as a commercial actor in campaigns for products like OddSox's SoxBox subscription service.  He also loved to tell stories. His signature anecdotal humor included stories about his childhood experiences with the DARE Program, an outdated and fruitless drug prevention campaign run by local police departments to discourage kids from using narcotics. It became one of his regular bits and inspired friends attending Wednesday's tribute show to wear DARE T-shirts.

"The whole joke was the DARE Program came into his school to teach the kids not to do drugs but they made the drugs so attractive," says comedian Ryan Gerard. "That was like his classic bit."

Sprung was working to build the comedy scene for all comics. He wanted other newcomers to get their shot and expand and improve their stage presence and material.

"He helped me with comedy when I decided to get into it," comedian Amy Gokey says of Sprung. "I only talked to him a week and a half ago because I was going to his open mic at Canucks [in Lewisville]. He did so many open mics and pushed for everyone so hard. He never hated on anybody."

Speaks says he met Sprung in 2020 just after Speaks finished serving a prison term that he now jokes about on stage, and "immediately, I was sprung for Sprung."

The two spent a lot of time over the last three years performing on each other's shows and open mics and even went on the road together for gigs. Speaks says Sprung pushed him to do his first 20-minute set in (we checked, and this is the town's actual name) Point Blank, Texas.

"For a comedian, that's a very scary thing when you do your first 20 minutes on stage and the name of the place was the Bullet Grill House," Speaks says. "It was a country town and to tell you the truth, it's one of the best shows I've ever done. We were both very new to it but he was like, 'Fuck it. Let's just get out here and just fucking do it.'"

Robertson says Sprung was also just as dedicated to the people who came out to shows to support live comedy, whether he was the headliner or the emcee.

"One of his shows got canceled," Robertson says. "The very next show he did, he bought a bunch of tables for his fans and offered them a show for free just so they could come to a show. He was always doing stuff like that."  Sprung's family has not released any details about the cause of his death. His wife posted the news of his passing on Facebook along with some of their fondest memories from their first date at the Albuquerque Zoo, and about a song he wrote and produced as a gift for their 15th wedding anniversary.

"Zak touched many lives depending on when you met him and who he was to you during his journey," she wrote.

Robertson says the news brought out a lot of people with stories about Sprung's generosity and selflessness.

"I've been struggling with a lot of issues," Hopkins says. "Usually, anybody in stand-up comedy has, but he told me it was OK to get help through therapy and helped me work through my depression. He literally saved my life. As long as I'm alive, his name will live on." 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.

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