BYU graduate to star in LDS movie


    By Scott Christopher

    A BYU-international-relations- graduate-turned-standup-comic will take the starring role in an upcoming film turned down by popular LDS actor Kirby Heyborne.

    “We just all agreed that I wasn”t right for the part,” said Heyborne, the star of “The R.M.” “The character is quite a bit older than me.”

    Pay was also a big factor, he said. The two parties couldn”t come to agreeable terms, but Heyborne said that there are no hard feelings.

    “It was a major blow,” said Dave Hunter, the film”s producer, regarding Heyborne”s exit. “But we love the guy, we”ll support him forever.”

    Jeff Birk, 37, of Orem, was tabbed to replace Heyborne as Nelson Parker in “The Hometeachers.” The film will be the third comedy from Halestorm, the company that produced “The Singles Ward” and “The R.M.”

    “I had no idea they were doing another film,” Birk said. “I knew Kurt (Hale, director) and Dave (Hunter) from a small part I did in ”Singles Ward,” but I hadn”t even heard of this one.”

    Michael Burkeland, Birk”s co-star and a Halestorm regular, said he”s excited about working with Birk.

    “I knew what they were looking for style-wise,” Burkeland said. “I told them, ”You gotta see Jeff Birk.””

    At Birk”s first audition the producers were sold on him.

    Hunter was ranking the actors as they auditioned. After a few seconds of watching Birk, Hunter knew he was the right one for the part.

    “He had us rolling. He was one of the funniest guys we”d seen in years,” Hunter said. “He”s perfect for the part.”

    Birk”s roots are in standup comedy and he grew up as the class clown, he said.

    “I was routinely being thrown out of Sunday School as a teen for making everybody crackup,” said Birk. “Occasionally, though, the teacher would downgrade it to just heaving an eraser at my head.”

    Johnny B”s Comedy Club in Provo became a frequent hangout for Birk, who decided to give “open mike night” a try in 1990. He was an instant hit. They brought him back to open for touring comics. Soon he was the headliner.

    Over the past dozen years he has traveled the country performing his routine. He won the National Lampoon College Comedy Pop-off in 1991 and was handled by the William Morris Agency in Los Angeles.

    Acting in films, if at all, has not been a career focus for Birk.

    “At BYU, the extent of my acting experience was walking through the theater building as a shortcut to my car,” Birk said.

    He”s taking time off from his “day job” as a corporate speaker and presenter to shoot the film.

    “It”ll be 20 days, 12 hours a day,” said Birk, ” but working with Michael (Burkeland, also a club comic), it”ll be like 20 days of doing standup.”

    Heyborne, meanwhile, has signed on with an agent in Los Angeles and has his home up for sale. He hopes to move with his wife and two small children sometime this summer. He has three other LDS-themed films due for release this year.

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