By Ryan B. McIlvain (’06)
THE most original pun John G. Bytheway (BS ’89) ever heard on his name: “One time a Delta agent at the Salt Lake City airport asked me if I was going to name my son Owen. ‘Oh and by the way.’”
The most common: “Oh, by the way, John.”
“It’s almost a reflex,” says Bytheway. “Some people just can’t help it, really.”
Bytheway, a popular speaker of youth-conference fame, seems to have embraced his name’s pun-ability, if only as a warm-up tool. An early cassette tape of humor, impersonations, and Primary-song parodies called Bytheway, It’s John . . . made the then-20-something BYU alum a household name in the Mormon community. He was billed as a “squeaky clean” comedic voice.
In the years following, that voice broadened and matured, and Bytheway worked to shake his reputation as a comedian first and foremost.
“When I first started teaching youth,” he explains, “my first question was, ‘How do I keep their attention?’ and my second question was, ‘What do I teach?’ Now, I ask first, ‘What should I teach?’ and then, ‘How can I keep their attention?’”
After putting out more than 20 books and tapes for youth, Bytheway’s humor is still very much intact, but it is gospel teaching that defines his work. “I hope to make the really substantial parts of the gospel interesting to youth,” he says. “That’s the challenge I enjoy.”
These days, Bytheway splits his time between BYU, where he teaches religion part-time, and Deseret Book, where he works as an advisor in its publishing department.