The Aaron Kleiber Interview
When Actor/Comedian Aaron Kleiber decided to get serious about his role as a performer, one of his primary goals was to get a paid gig at the Pittsburgh Improv. Now, after opening for some of comedy’s biggest names, Kleiber, who was named 2012’s “Best Local Comedian” by Pittsburgh Magazine, is set to take the Improv stage for his very first headlining show this Thursday at the Pittsburgh Improv. We caught up with Kleiber to chat about his career, Pittsburgh comedy, and how the comedy scene is a lot like church.
Isaac Kozell: In 2005, you helped create – and starred in – A Great Disturbance, a Star Wars fanboy mockumentary that blurred the lines between reality and improv. Would you consider that to be the beginning of your comedy career?
Aaron Kleiber: Not really comedy in general but it did get the wheels in motion for me that I might be interested in pursuing being a comedic actor. Traveling to film festivals and ‘nerd’ conventions, meeting fans, people quoting lines that I made up. That was really cool. Like, “Whoa, people are seriously cracking up at what I’m doing.”
I started goofing off in middle school as a defense mechanism to be accepted. In 8th grade, I was encouraged to get involved in drama as an outlet. It was attention too. I wanted it. Around the same time, I met some guys I befriended by going to a church youth group. They happened to be making funny videos. So I joined the video production club. From there, we made tons of videos. I decided to go to Point Park for film. I never saw myself as a performer but a creator. I don’t think I knew how to harness my strengths, let alone what they were then. I was gonna be a filmmaker.
IK: At what point did the desire to be a performer overtake the desire to be a creator?
AK: I think it was those experiences with audiences from our films Captain Blasto and A Great Disturbance at various festivals and showings. I also started to do a lot more improv comedy in town, Friday Nite Improvs at Pitt and some other places. Getting that kind of gratification from an audience felt good.
IK: Was there a specific moment when you realized you could actually make a career out of performing?
AK: When I decided I wanted to invest as much as I could into an entertainment career, I gave myself three goals at the beginning of 2009 to complete within three years or I’d be done: Perform at the Improv for money, get on the WDVE morning show, and get my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. I did all three in less than a year. It was always about the small goals. And FYI, I still barely make a living doing this.
IK: You’ve performed with some pretty big names, Bob Saget, Ralphie May, Steve-O, Tom Green. Do you have any crazy stories you would be willing to share?
AK: Actually, I really don’t have many crazy stories. I try to stay out of trouble.
IK: What is the current state of Pittsburgh comedy? What are the highlights? And what needs to improve?
AK: I think it’s on a huge upswing. In the past five years we’ve had a lot of comics come up through the Improv and Funny Bone who have moved on to bigger comedy markets like NY, LA, Austin, Chicago. Those guys are making headway. In the last two years, the number of open mic comics have grown exponentially. I think a lot has to do with more quality open mics and the willingness of bars/venues to try it out. That has created a good community of comics who befriend each other, hang out, encourage each other, like a good church. Also, the success of the improv troupe HustleBot and the growth of the Steel City Improv Theater helps the comedy community.
What we need is more awareness that this exists in the city. If you asked 10 people if they knew there was comedy every night of the week in Pittsburgh, 0 out of 10 would know. We need press.
IK: I’ve heard the nickname “Youth Pastor of Comedy” being thrown around in reference to you. What’s that all about?
AK: Haha! Well, I was a youth pastor for about 5 years. I went to college for adolescent ministry and counseling. I hope it’s a positive connotation. I actually do see a correlation between a comedy community and a healthy church community. The gathering together weekly, supporting each other, all having a commonality and reason they are there. I’ve had some great personal experiences with friends I’ve met through comedy.
Aaron Kleiber performs at the Pittsburgh Improv Thursday December 20th at 8pm. Tickets available here.