Kirby reflects on 20 years as irreverent, irresistible Mormon voice

First Published      Last Updated Oct 31 2013 12:55 pm

How does a longtime police officer become Utah's best-known humor columnist?

The transition, according to The Salt Lake Tribune's Robert Kirby, was more seamless than one might expect.

Journalists and those who work in law enforcement often have surprisingly similar personalities, said Kirby, speaking Wednesday on TribTalk with moderator Jennifer Napier-Pearce.

"Both have a strong notion about what's right and fair," he said. "Reporters chase stories the same way cops chase bad guys."

Kirby said former Tribune editor Jay Shelledy hired him more than 20 years to write a religion column.

His irreverent but irresistible take on Mormonism and life in Utah proved so popular with Mormons and non-Mormons alike that Kirby soon became a full-time columnist for The Tribune.

For more than two decades, he has used humor to describe everything from the difference between dogs and cats to the challenges of interfaith marriages.

Each time he sits down to write, Kirby writes to those he sees reading his column.

"I've come to understand just how far I can push it for most people," he said. "You're always going to push too far for some people."

What readers see at sltrib.com and in the print edition of The Tribune three days a week is Kirby "thinking out loud" with the colorful tapestry of Utah and the LDS faith as a boundless source of ideas.

"My column almost writes itself," he said.

Only once in 20 years has a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called Kirby to suggest he has crossed a line and ask that he tone down his writing about the church.

"I've never felt threatened," he said.

At the same time, "I've never written a column someone hasn't objected to. Even people who share the same sacred cow aren't going to have the same sense of humor," he said. "The goal is to get the point across without offending everyone."

And make his point he does, so often that readers routinely ask Kirby to weigh in, even on the most serious of issues.

He said he's most proud of the fact that he's demonstrated you can be a faithful Mormon without always fitting the mold.

People say "you make it OK for me to stay in church and continue to be a Mormon," he said.

Kirby's column appears in print on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, and typically is available online at sltrib.com a day earlier.