Aaron Kleiber is a busy guy. When I invite him out for a meal and he says he can squeeze me in for a Sunday brunch as long as it’s in his neighborhood, I’m happy to oblige and join him at Honest John’s in Homestead.
Why is he so busy? Kleiber is working in entertainment full time. He hosts a monthly comedy game show called the “Stand-Up Get Down” at Arcade Comedy Theater, where he also serves as stand-up director. He hosts a weekly showcase, “Comedy Sauce,” at the Pleasure Bar in Bloomfield. He releases new episodes of his podcast, “Grown Dad Business,” on iTunes each week. He’s racked up a sizable list of acting credits in TV shows, movies, shorts and commercials. He travels across the country performing stand-up. And this week he’s launching a new merch line, a Patreon account and preparing his taxes.
Oh, and today after this meal he has to go home and decorate a unicorn cake for his daughter’s fourth birthday. (Go check out the finished product on his Instagram @aaronkleiber—it’s impressive.)
So, when he penciled me in for a Sunday morning, I assumed it was the only time Kleiber had left. But while talking to him, I’m starting to feel like he may have an ulterior motive. The guy loves breakfast.
“Breakfast is one of my favorite things ever. Everywhere I go around the country I try to find a cool breakfast spot,” Kleiber says. “I get the simple eggs, meat, potatoes and toast. And then you try a little tasty-taste of one of the pancakes or french toast.”
Kleiber follows his breakfast blueprint to a T, ordering the Honest John’s Breakfast with his two eggs over medium, bacon, home fries and texas toast (they’re out of wheat today). I get the rosemary and roasted mushroom scramble. And then for our ‘breakfast dessert,’ as we decide to call it, we ask that an order of the french toast be brought out last for the two of us to split.
Kleiber is so passionate about his methods for ordering food that as he’s explaining them to me, his emphatic hand gestures knock over the small jug of creamer for our coffees.
“Get this lil’ ass cup out of here,” he says, feigning anger and holding back a laugh.
Honest John’s opened in Homestead in 2017. It’s a new(ish) neighborhood spot for Kleiber, who grew up in Pittsburgh and has built a life here with his wife, Wendy, and their three kids, who he refers to on his podcast “Grown Dad Business” as The Professor, Luke the Nuke and Lil Firecat.
He’s so friendly now that it’s a bit surprising when he describes his young self as a “little jerk” who eventually came around through theater and church.
“I was kind of a bad kid,” Kleiber says. “There was a group of us who just started doing musicals to meet girls…and then suddenly you have all of these lines and you have to sing two songs and you’re learning how to tap dance…I loved the attention.”
He decided to go to Point Park University for filmmaking and acting, but at the time the programs were focused on Super 8s and Shakespeare, so he didn’t feel like he was learning the modern skills that would help him have the career he wanted.
“The whole time I was working with kids because I wanted to give back,” Kleiber says. “I felt like there were people who were good to me and payed attention to me and helped my life, especially in my community through church.”
Kleiber then went to Geneva College to get a degree in adolescent ministry and counseling. He spent the next few years working with kids at an after school program and a church. But eventually, he knew he had to move his focus back to entertainment.
“That job is a very selfless job, and I’ve always said from day one, people are like, ‘Why do you do comedy?’ and I say, ‘Because I’m selfish,’” Kleiber says. “I like some attention, and you can make people happy doing [comedy]. That’s a pretty cool deal.”
But the counselor in Kleiber isn’t gone. Whether you’re listening to his conversations with Jason Clark on “Grown Dad Business” or talking to him over breakfast, you can tell that Kleiber likes to give guidance. While my personal experience is limited, I’m willing to bet that he’s good at it.
“I’ve always felt like I’m like the youth group leader of Pittsburgh comedy—I love meeting new comics,” he says. “That’s why I do my show ‘Comedy Sauce’ at Pleasure Bar. I’ve been doing that for almost 8 years, every Tuesday.
“It’s really the only thing I do that keeps me connected with the new comics, the young comics. It’s like my youth group. I just hang out and pass out whiskey and we all make each other laugh.”
A lot of newer comics look up to Kleiber because of his 10 years in stand-up and because he’s been able to make it into a full time job. But Kleiber is honest with them about how hard it really is—about how many times he’s been told he’s about to have a ‘big break’ that didn’t come, how even the ‘big breaks’ that do come don’t change your career overnight and how he still works his ass off for every payday.
“It’s not a lucrative living all the time; it comes in ebbs and flows…and so the hustle is never gone.”
But even if it sounds like he’s preaching, that doesn’t mean he feels like he’s above anyone; Kleiber doesn’t pretend that he’s reached the proverbial ‘promised land.’ In some ways, he feels more like he’s in comedy purgatory.
“Last year, months ago, I filmed a comedy special with seven cameras, someone paid for the whole thing, and that’s still in limbo,” Kleiber says. “That’s sitting at Netflix just on somebody’s desk. And I’m sitting here just trying to pay my bills.
“Everyone has a different path and I’ve been super blessed. You just learn as you go and you experience things. Those experiences let you know that you’re never going to ‘arrive,’ or you’re not going to ‘arrive’ as soon as you think you are.
“Look, this is me giving a pep-talk to myself right now,” he says. “You gotta know that there’s room for you and you’re on your path. It’s going to happen differently for everyone.”
We’ve gotten so deep in conversation at this point that we forgot the french toast was even coming, but when it does we’re stoked for some breakfast dessert. The three slices are topped with spiced honey butter and candied pecans. It is, in Kleiber’s words, “stupid good.”