One-On-One with Fritz Coleman
Weatherman FRITZ COLEMAN is a widely-known staple of NBC Channel 4 News throughout Los Angeles County. The San Fernando Valley resident studied radio, television, and film at Temple University in his hometown Philadelphia. When he’s not giving us the forecast, he is performing stand-up at The Improv, Ice House, and many other So Cal clubs, writing award-winning one-man plays, or cycling around town (he enjoys riding 10 to 12 miles daily).
Coleman also devotes much of his time to charitable events organizing and hosting evenings of entertainment for local and national services. He was given the Humanitarian of the Year Award by the U.S. House of Representatives for his American Red Cross fundraising efforts and conducts his annual Fair Weather Golf Tournament for the Salvation Army.
He would like to encourage everyone to spend a hilarious evening with Fritz and Friends to help raise much-needed funds for the Valley Interfaith Council this Saturday, Sept. 28, at the beautiful Sherman Oaks East Valley Adult Center Great Hall facility.
How did you get started in radio?
I was in the Navy from 1969 to 1972. They sent me to radio school for eight weeks after boot camp and then assigned me to the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier. Every day I did a four-hour radio shift and the evening news which they would video tape then duplicate and helicopter to the other dozen ships [in our group]. The beauty of that job was regardless of how bad you were you could never be fired because you stayed there until the government got rid of you. I sucked and it was so fantastic because the gift of being allowed to make mistakes and not get fired was awesome!
Which came first, the stand-up comic or the weatherman?
I came out to California in 1980 to do stand-up; I was in the radio business before that for 15 years in Syracuse, Buffalo, and Philadelphia, getting jobs hosting in clubs and as house emcee. I had this ongoing gig at a jazz club in Buffalo where I had to start the shows at the same time every night, but because the bands went by their own cosmic clock, I wrote material to protect myself from the audience to fill out the time between the start of the show and when the band decided to play. I developed a following and the club owner gave me my own night of comedy. We were selling the place out on Monday nights for four years. I moved to L.A. and worked the clubs here, and then in 1982 I became a paid regular at The Comedy Store. One night my old boss from NBC was in the audience; after the show he asked me if I had any interest in doing vacation relief and weekend weather for him at Channel 4. I was making $45 a night at The Comedy Store so I asked him, “When do you want me to start?” Two years later my predecessor left, I was bumped up to the weekday job and have been there 31 years.
How has doing the weather changed during the past three decades?
It’s gone from being fairly liberal, humor-oriented to more business-like, brief nuggets. The news has gotten more competitive and the advent of the ‘clicker’ shortened the American attention span so we are not as loose on the air as we used to be. Now we have social media; anybody that really wants to know anything about anything knows it before we even go on the air so we have to be immediate, just the bullet points.
Why do you think you are so ‘likeable’?
That may be a product of time; I’ve been around for a while. People’s reaction to local news is very interesting … two things happen. You’re on at the same time every day, a regular part of people’s lives and there is a psychological connection there. Secondly, we are the type of communication that breaks that fourth wall; we look right at the camera. We are not like a sitcom where people are acting out a situation; we are talking to people so there is an emotional relationship the viewers have that gets proven to me every day. Somebody will come up to me at Vons on a Saturday and say, “We’ve been watching you for years and we love you, but please don’t wear that tie you wore on Thursday … It was very unflattering to your hair!”
You performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson eight times; many comedians have said being on that show was the highlight of their profession.
Oh, without question; it’s your comedy Bar Mitzvah. It could change your whole career, but see I already had the weather job. My hook was the funny weatherman and that’s how they billed me the first couple of times. When I would say “I’ve got to get back upstairs and do the weather now,” Carson loved that!
Why do you think you won four local Emmys?
Probably because what I did was something not done a lot elsewhere. A weatherman hosting comedy specials was innovative and very few people had the duo-act that I had.
Your first one-man play earned you the Artistic Directors Award. When did you discover you possessed writing skills?
The first play I wrote was an accident. My father passed away and I didn’t know as much about him as I wished I had. I vowed that I would not let that happen to my children so I sat down to write an outline of everything I wanted to tell my sons who were only seven and nine at the time. I told some people about it and they thought it was a wonderful idea for a stage presentation so I took It’s Me, Dad to various theatres. It was at the Actors Forum on Magnolia in North Hollywood for a year. KCET bought and aired it on Father’s Day for seven years. Then I knew I could expand the stand-up to include theatrical.
You dedicate a lot of your time and efforts to charities.
The community outreach aspect of my job is the most satisfying to me. Television is a powerful medium; if somebody invites you to be a part of their fundraiser and just by showing up you can sell out the tickets it would be immoral of me to turn them down! And it is a lot more satisfying to me than being inaccurate about the weather four or five days a week.
Why the American Red Cross?
I work with the Glendale-Crescenta Valley Red Cross because every time there is a national catastrophe the Red Cross is the first group there. I owned a home [near] the College Hill Fire about 20 years ago and I watched these guys save homes. I went to the mayor of Glendale and I asked him if I could do a comedy benefit for the fire fighters. He thought it was a wonderful idea and pointed out that who really needed the money are the people who support the fire fighters, the Red Cross. This November will be the 21st year we have done the comedy fundraiser!
And the Salvation Army?
They are such a humble, loving group of people who have services including homes where the families of AIDS patients can stay, alcohol recovery programs for people who are homeless and economically destitute.
Let’s talk about your upcoming Fritz and Friends event in Sherman Oaks!
It is a comedy night Saturday, Sept. 28, 6 p.m. at the Sherman Oaks East Valley Senior Center (5060 Van Nuys Blvd. in Sherman Oaks) giving all the proceeds to the Valley Interfaith Council. They supply free warm meals to seniors who need the service. The Mortsteins, a mind-reading act are opening for me and they are hysterical! It’s going to be a great time!
Ticket info for Fritz and Friends: vic-la.org or call (818) 880-4842, ext. 3002.
For more information on Fritz, visit fritzcoleman.com.