Editor’s note: From 2002 to 2006, Brian Byrne delivered the daily weather report on KWGS, the University of Tulsa’s public radio station. His deadpan delivery earned him a cult following of listeners who tuned in, at times, simply to hear Byrne say something about the weather overhead.
I don’t remember the first comment I inappropriately inserted into a weather forecast. In fact I don’t remember much of what I said at all. I’ve had a pretty terrible memory for stuff I’ve said for a long time now, even when it makes people laugh. Maybe it’s on purpose; maybe I’m subconsciously ensuring I don’t go around quoting myself. At any rate, I can only give you a little bit of back story.
My dad told me all the time about running into friends of his who couldn’t believe I was his son, the guy who did the funny weather bits on the radio. Every time he’d tell me about a conversation like that, there’d be this note of wonder in his voice, like he was an immigrant just off the boat and someone just showed him the Sears Tower. It always amazed me. I guess I figured he’d have gotten used to it after a few years of me bitching on the radio day after day about how it was gonna be a hundred and twelve degrees again, but always he seemed amazed I’d come to that point, where people he kind of knew were talking to him about me.
I don’t know why they were so amazed by it, though: My dad’s been trying to make people laugh, and mostly succeeding, since long before I was alive. He was certainly the first person I ever saw being funny. He did help raise me and all. It’s not a huge logical leap.
I learned to be funny at the dinner table with him and my mom and my sister. It didn’t happen every time we ate, but sometimes a spark would catch on and we’d play off each other for what seemed like hours, and when my dad really got going, when his laughter sort of slid off a cliff into red-faced high-pitched free-falling hysteria, when it looked like he was close to actually falling out of his chair, that was huge. It was the best feeling on earth.
It wasn’t the first time I got him going like that, but the best time, and the time I remember the most clearly was a Saturday afternoon. We were sitting outside Med-X in Utica Square in our metallic green ’74 Dodge Dart, my dad in the front seat, me behind him, my sister Jenny next to me, mortally embarrassed at age 14 of our crappy old car amid the late-‘80s Dallas-like splendor of the shopping center. Mom was inside picking up a prescription. The windows were down, and it hadn’t gotten baking hot outside yet.
We were talking pig plates. Dad makes pottery for a living, and for the longest time he’s been selling these medium-large platters with cartoon pigs painted on them. One was titled “Consenting adult pigs committing unspeakable acts on the beach from 10,000 feet.” It showed a line, some waves, and several dots, one of which was slightly larger than the others and had a speech bubble saying “Oh, Harold!” coming off it. There was the physicist “Einswine,” there was a pig on a bicycle out of control, there was a nudist pig. Idle time like this was prime brainstorming time for pig plate ideas.
We’d been going for a few minutes, mostly so-so material, and there was a pause. I said “Pig putting lipstick on a chicken.”
At first I thought something was wrong, because Dad wasn’t making any noise. I did notice his shoulders shaking a little, though, and after what seemed like about a minute he started barely whooping at a very high pitch. It is normal to exaggerate; it is normal to exaggerate lengths of time when reminiscing; and it is doubly normal to do so when remembering childhood, since everything takes forever when you’re young. I take all this into account when I tell you that dad did not stop laughing at this idea for a solid ten minutes. It was full-bore stuff. Jenny had stuffed herself between the cushions of the back bench seat from sheer mortification at being seen with The Laughing Man In The Crappy Car. I was far too pleased with myself to care.
Making people laugh is as much a pathological need as it is anything else. Ask any comedian with an ounce of self-awareness. It’s just basic validation-seeking, exhibited in a way that people happen to visibly enjoy. I’m not suggesting that everyone who’s funny is a crying-on-the-inside kinda clown, or inserting melancholia to spur feelings of pathos in the unsuspecting reader. It’s just something I consider a basic fact, like how dogs bark or dust stings the eye. There are so few things better than trying and succeeding to make someone laugh—real laughter, not just polite chuckling—that anyone who gets a taste of it could be forgiven for becoming obsessed with making it happen again and again.
So if I can’t remember what I said the first time I taped the weather at KWGS, at least that’s what I was thinking: “Somebody out there will think this is funny. Right?”
Photo by: ra1000