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Weathering Life’s Storms on Path to TV

At 16, Fritz Coleman had a “religious experience.” Seeing George Carlin at the Valley Forge Music Fair in Devon, Pa. in 1964 transformed his life.

“I was completely smitten by watching this man control the emotions of 3,000 people with just a mic and his twisted thoughts,” Coleman says. “It was the most amazing night of my life. I thought, ‘I’d love to try that.’”

Even before then, Coleman had long wanted to be on TV. Growing up an only child in Philadelphia, he enjoyed being the center of attention among adults and could always make them laugh. His heroes were Johnny Carson and Bob Hope.

“I always wanted to be inside that box, but I hadn’t finalized what form to take,” Coleman says. It ended up being weather, of all things. Coleman, 67, has spent over 30 years merging his stand-up skills, timing, spontaneity and affable personality as NBC4 Los Angeles’ weathercaster.

Not that TV seemed attainable for Coleman in college, when his poor grades caused him to enlist in the Navy. He was lucky, though; in addition to avoiding Vietnam during the war’s peak while his aircraft carrier cruised the Mediterranean, his 3½ years working for Armed Forces radio and TV introduced him to his future career.

Out of the Navy, Coleman worked in radio in the 1970s. Regularly invited to host at events and clubs, he emceeed at the Tralfamadore Café, a famous jazz club in Buffalo. N.Y. He wrote material to fill the time before the musicians went on, which led to a career in stand-up. He soon had 15-20 minutes of material as the de facto opening act. The owner eventually gave Coleman his own comedy night. It sold out every week.

Having “conquered” Buffalo, Coleman felt he was “ready for the big time,” so he moved west.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t go well at first. Coleman was good by Buffalo standards, but in Hollywood his competitors included Garry Shandling and Billy Crystal. Coleman kept at it, improving his observational comedy act at open mics in coffee shops and improve venues and, two years in, he was a paid regular at the Comedy Store.

In 1982, Coleman had another lifechanging experience as a result of a comedy show. KNBC’s news director happened to be in the audience as Coleman spoke about doing weather in the Navy; after the show, he asked Coleman to fill in as a weekend weathercaster.

“When that opportunity presented itself, doing weather on TV for the second-largest market in the entertainment capital of world, it sounded like the end of the yellow brick road,” Coleman recalls.

Radio and comedy turned out to be great training for a job in TV news, particularly for Coleman’s understanding of the relationship with listeners, point of view and the “discipline of time.”

That comes in handy when Coleman has only a minute or two to deliver the weather forecast for nine different microclimates in Southern California, or delve into larger issues such as El Niño storms or the state’s drought.

“Fritz makes it so relatable,” says NBC4 morning meteorologist Crystal Egger. “He understands every community so well.”

Colleagues say Coleman is the happiest person in the building. He always smiles, never complains and brings everybody Starbucks. “Fritz is it. He’s the real deal,” says coanchor Colleen Williams. “The guy you see on TV is the guy you see in person.”

Nowadays, comedy is only a hobby for Coleman. He still appears at various venues and has his own night at The Ice House in Pasadena. Over the years he has put on four single-topic, one-man plays—about being a parent, a divorcé, the local news and being over 50.

Where Coleman spends much of his time is out in the community, speaking at town halls and speaking at charity functions and fundraisers. “He is more philanthropic with his time than anybody I know,” Williams says.

“He feels it’s his job to give back to the community that’s spent so many years watching him,” Egger says. “He wants to thank them.”