‘Anything for the Church’: A conversation with Kirby Heyborne, RootsTech emcee and Latter-day Saint bishop

The actor, comedian, musician and audiobook narrator has loved the opportunity to be the emcee at RootsTech

Dressed in a light blue shirt and dark suit, emcee Kirby Heyborne stood on the main stage and smiled into the camera as he introduced keynote speaker Kristin Chenoweth on the final day of RootsTech 2024.

“I’m thrilled to introduce a true powerhouse of talent and a beloved figure in the entertainment industry. She’s an Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress known for her extraordinary versatility. Her phenomenal voice can reach the stars, and she is an absolute delight to be around. Her charisma is bound to light up the stage, and her incredible voice will leave you all enchanted. Do you all know who I’m talking about yet?” he said with a laugh. “Let’s give a warm RootsTech welcome to my new BFF, the one and only Kristin Chenoweth.”

For the next 30 minutes in talk show fashion, Heyborne carried on an engaging conversation with Chenoweth about her life experiences and invited her to share her musical talents with the audience. When it was over, thousands gave Chenowth a standing ovation. She gave Heyborne a hug as she left the stage.

Kristin Chenoweth talks with Kirby Heyborne on stage during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024.
Kristin Chenoweth talks with Kirby Heyborne on stage during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024. | Brian Nicholson

The final keynote had been a success. The emcee had done his job.

It was the fulfillment of something one of the RootsTech organizers told Heyborne a few days earlier: “You were born to do this.”

Heyborne sat down with the Church News during the three-day global family history conference to discuss his experience as RootsTech emcee, his call to serve as a Latter-day Saint bishop and other topics.

Who is Kirby Heyborne?

Heyborne, who served a Latter-day Saint mission in the Dominican Republic, is an actor, comedian, musician, singer, songwriter and award-winning audiobook narrator.

Many know the 47-year-old from his work in films centered around the culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as the “The Singles Ward” (2002), “The R.M.” (2003) and “The Best Two Years” (2003).

In 2019, he became the host of a BYUtv show called “Making Good,” in which he travels across America using his sense of humor and heart to help non-profit organizations to make a difference in their communities.

Kirby Heyborne plays Jared Phelps, a young man who takes a job as a waiter after returning from a Latter-day Saint mission in the 2003 film, "The R.M." | Courtesy Halestorm Entertainment

Becoming the RootsTech emcee

Near the end of 2022, Heyborne received an email from RootsTech organizers asking if he would be interested in serving as the event’s main emcee. Heyborne was thrilled to be considered.

They met for lunch. Heyborne opened the conversation by saying, “I’ll do anything for the Church.”

RootsTech is organized by FamilySearch International, which is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I feel like that is where I received the most satisfaction and the biggest joy,” he said. “They said, ‘Great,’ then came back and said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Oh absolutely, I would love to do it.’” He got the job.

Actor Sean Astin speaks with emcee Kirby Heyborne at the final day of the RootsTech conference at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 4, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Why Kirby? He’s not sure how he was chosen, but his BYUtv show, “Making Good” may have helped.

“On ‘Making Good,’ I’m funny and upbeat but I also interview people. That is a beautiful thing, to listen to people and get emotional with them and feel their spirit,” he said. “I can be entertaining but also serious. … I think they like my sincerity. So I had the show, and I think that helped.”

Called as a bishop

Heyborne said he was not afraid to stand in front of thousands at RootsTech 2023 and millions more watching online.

“It’s scarier getting up in front of one or two people,” he said. “Getting up in front of thousands? That’s easier.”

After two years of RootsTech online due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions, Heyborne helped restore the energy of the three-day family history in-person event with humor and enthusiasm as he interacted with keynote speakers and participated in other activities.

What many didn’t know was Heyborne had just been called to serve as bishop of a Latter-day Saint ward in Utah.

Before that happened, Heyborne said he had a strong feeling that big things were about to happen in his career. He invested in a large whiteboard, mounted it on a wall and began to list his goals and ambitions for 2023.

Kirby Heyborne, RootsTech emcee, and comedian Henry Cho talk at RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Then at the end of January — weeks before RootsTech — he was called to be a bishop. He went back to the whiteboard, erased everything and began writing down “things that really matter,” such as the names of people in his congregation.

“It was amazing, the difference of going from that selfish feeling to having an increased love for your neighbors around you, and you are praying over them and thinking about them,” he said. “I needed that at that time in my life.”

The year 2023 still ended up being a good year for his career. He said he filmed a movie, continued his BYUtv show and narrated dozens and dozens of audiobooks. He also had RootsTech.

The big question that remained in his mind was, “How am I going to find time to devote my time to the Lord in his calling?” Somehow he felt magnified and strengthened to handle it all.

“I don’t know how — I don’t have any more time than I had before,” he said. “And now on top of it, I have this calling that requires a lot of thought. Going to the whiteboard is a daily thing for me. But it’s amazing. Somehow your time gets amplified. I was taught humility because you have to rely on God for everything.”

‘How simple it is’

Participating at RootsTech has shown Heyborne how technology has made it easy and fun to temple and family history work.

“I’ve realized how simple it is and how important it is that I connect to them,” he said while describing the process of using the “take a name to the temple” feature and then learning as much as you can about the individual. He looks for who they are, where they lived and the names of children. And he tries to imagine living in the time period and what they may have endured.

“We go to the temple to connect with Heavenly Father and the Savior,” he said. “I feel like it’s also important to know who you are representing when you go to the temple.”

Event emcee Kirby Heyborne speaks at the Impact Forum at RootsTech in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 1, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

Being kind

Speed walking around the RootsTech expo hall, Heyborne was often stopped or approached by people who asked for a photo or a few minutes to talk. Despite a demanding schedule, he never said no.

“That’s fun,” he said. “Anytime that you can be kind to someone and lift them up, you come away a better person. I love doing it. It lifts me up.”

Will he return for RootsTech 2025?

“I hope they will have me. I would do this till the day I die. I love it,” he said. “Obviously, the spirit of family history is amazing. But it’s the people I get to work with, they are amazing.”

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