Aaron Kleiber Wasn't Born Standing Up

The local comedian has taken an unlikely route to stand-up and screen success.

Photo by Becky Thurner Braddock

Some people are actors. Others make movies. Some learn improv or pick up a mic and tell jokes at a comedy club. Some dabble in a little dinner theater to earn extra cash. But Aaron Kleiber is different. He’s driven, and he casts a wide net. Kleiber wants to make it big, and he’s trying everything.

Kleiber, 30, is not a household name, but he’s persistently surrounded by them. He appears in commercials. He shows up in movies. He performs in Pittsburgh and on the road. As a stand-up comic, Kleiber has worked with Jim Krenn from WDVE-FM and has become close with Steve-O of “Jackass” and “Last Comic Standing” winner Josh Blue and contestant John Evans.

“If I could keep my house in Pittsburgh and travel around, I would,” says Kleiber, who lives in Munhall, a short distance from his childhood home.  “My wife and I have talked about it. I’m eventually going to have to do work in L.A. But I take it one shot at a time.”

It took Kleiber, a father of two, years to realize he was a comic at heart. As a student at Geneva College, he studied ministry and counseling. After getting married, he worked as a youth minister for two churches. But spiritual work left holes.

“It stems from my need for attention,” Kleiber says.  “When you’re working with people [as a counselor], it has to be about them, and that was hard for me. I’m too selfish.”

Meanwhile, Kleiber always loved working with video. In 2005, he helped create a “mockumentary” called A Great Disturbance; that film followed five science-fiction fans to a Star Wars convention in Indianapolis. The fans were characters, improvised by several actors—Kleiber included—who interacted with a real and unknowing public. He calls the film “Borat before Borat.”

Kleiber estimates that several thousand DVDs were made, but because of limited publicity and distribution, copies are difficult to obtain. Still, Kleiber received a steady stream of fan mail. “I realized that I’m funny,” he recalls, still sounding astonished.

He hung out at Friday Night Improvs in Oakland, worked with improv comedy groups like Hustlebot and started writing stand-up routines. He spent a summer studying performance at Second City, which required regular drives to Chicago and back. The Second City coaches helped him hone his comedy form.

“It was like NASA,” Kleiber says.  “They would say, ‘You have this weird tic that you didn’t even know about. We can use that.’ It’s like AA. It’s almost like a psychological breakdown of why you’re funny.”

Frank Nicotero, a Pittsburgh native and thriving L.A.-based comedian, offered Kleiber his first stand-up gig in December 2008 at the Corner Café. And, against all expectations, Kleiber found out that he was a natural.

What has followed is an avalanche of small successes. A minor role in the upcoming film Warrior, due out in September, has led to bigger Hollywood aspirations. And his role in the original Web series The Mercury Men, which was produced in Pittsburgh and sold to the SyFy Network, will land Kleiber on a laptop near you.

“It’s still not easy,” he concedes. Although he hasn’t needed to hold a “real job” since 2009, he picks up odd jobs to make ends meet.

“My goal now is to find new clubs, to be a road comic as much as possible,” he says. “It’s really about building authentic relationships. I love people. In comedy, relationships are everything.”

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