Clerk mixes homespun humor with keen insight

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 24, 2002

Leon Kirby, a typical family man in Jonesville, La., had eight daughters and no sons. When one of those daughters gave birth to Clyde Ray – the first male child in a generation – Kirby was a proud man.

Up and down the streets of Jonesville he walked, proudly displaying his grandson as well-wishers congratulated him and patted him on the back.

“Who does he take after?” one passerby inquired.

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“I’m not sure,” Kirby replied. “We haven’t looked at his face yet.”

And so began the life – and so begins the presentation – of Clyde Ray Webber, longtime Concordia Parish Clerk of Court and self described court jester and humorist extraordinaire.

Although Webber first began his speaking career in 1957 preaching at a small church in Monterey, La., the “court jester” aspect of his talks truly developed in 1980 when he was elected president of the International Clerks Association.

The position required he travel the country and speak to various municipal bodies. Drawing on his experiences growing up in the South, Webber’s unique sense of humor struck a chord with most of his audiences.

Word of his talent soon spread, and he now juggles nearly 50 speaking engagements a year with his elected position and the two churches at which he preaches. Of course, he doesn’t travel as much as he used to.

“My wife would complain about me being away so much, so I told her to get a hobby,” he said. Upon returning from a trip, his wife, Gwen, told him she had done just that, and was now raising chickens.

“She said she had 12 hens and two roosters.” Webber said. “I said, ‘Now Gwen, I’m no farmer boy, but I do know that you don’t need two roosters for 12 hens.”

“‘You do if one of them’s on the road all the time,’ she said. I don’t travel as much as I used to.”

But he does travel enough to meet scores of interesting people – his favorite aspect of his moonlighting gig.

“The people I talk to are the cream of the crop,” he said. “People that don’t care don’t go to meetings or belong to these groups.”

His travels have also allowed him the opportunity to meet several politicians and celebrities – including musician Garth Brooks and then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, although the meeting with Brooks holds a fonder place in Webber’s memory.

“I was speaking at a meeting in Nashville. I was the emcee, he was the entertainment,” Webber said. “I got to ride to the airport in his limousine.”

But famous meetings aside, Webber does what he does to make people laugh.

“There are a lot of things in this world that you have to laugh at,” he said. “If you take everything seriously you’ll wind up jumping off a building.

“And where I live, the buildings aren’t very high. You’ll just wind up hurting yourself, and then you’ll have another problem.”

Webber’s philosophy on humor is best described on a plaque hanging in his office. It reads “Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they will never cease to be amused.”

Much of his humor is self-deprecating. Many of his jokes involve his family and the traditions and customs he learned growing up in rural Louisiana. While his stories usually invoke nostalgia among Southerners, his act his priceless above the Mason-Dixon.

“I have a tendency to put my accent on a little thick when I’m up North,” he admitted. “Sometimes they think you talk slow because you’re stupid. I don’t care if they think I’m stupid as long as they think I’m funny. And as long as they pay.”

His presentation contains a mixture of content and humor – heavy on the humor, he said, but always with a message.

“It helps if what you’re saying has a point,” he said. “Then even if it’s not hilariously funny, you can still give the audience something, maybe bring a smile to their face.”

His content varies depending on the group to which he speaks, but many of his engagements are speaking to government groups. A politician of 35 years, Webber has plenty to say on the subject.

“I had an optimistic woman come see me the other day,” he said. “Wanted to know when her marriage license ran out.”

While his job is sometimes fodder for jokes, his jokes more often than not help him at work.

“Humor can help diffuse almost any stressful situation,” he said. “I can’t really think of anything the right kind of joke couldn’t make better.”

Webber even uses his sense of humor in his church sermons – a practice he wishes more Christians would use. “Christians don’t laugh enough,” he said. “We should be the happiest people on earth, but you wouldn’t know it to look at us.”

While Webber is nearing retirement age, he’s reticent to attempt a full-time career as a speaker. “To be frank, I don’t think I’m good enough,” he said. “Plus, I like a good, steady paycheck. There are no guarantees on the road.”