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Comedy Notes

Striking writer returns to stand-up

Brian Kiley, who works for 'Late Night with Conan O'Brien,' hasn't let the writers' strike sideline him. Brian Kiley, who works for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," hasn't let the writers' strike sideline him.
Email|Print| Text size + By Nick A. Zaino III
Globe Correspondent / January 18, 2008

Three months ago, comedian Brian Kiley had a daily routine: work 10-to-6, five days a week, come home to the family, and maybe get out to the clubs on weekends. But these are strange days for Kiley, a writer for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" for the past 13 years. Since the writer's strike began in November, he has alternated between the picket lines and trying to find a reason to get out of the house.

Kiley's wife is vice president of her local PTA, and he has been taking her surprising number of messages. "The phone rings off the hook," he says. "Most days I've actually been going to the library first thing when it opens so I don't have to be here and answer the phone all day."

Evenings are even stranger. "Late Night" went back on the air the first week in January without its writers, with O'Brien frantically improvising to fill time. Kiley has found tuning in difficult. "I watched the first week, and it's one of these things, I can't watch every night now," he says. "It's just too weird."

Kiley gets out to the picket lines about once a week, and though media coverage of celebrities dropping off food or showing their support may make it seem glamorous, Kiley says it has been mostly dull work.

"It's just like if you were waiting in line for four hours with your friends," he says. "There's nobody that you want to stand in line with for four hours."

Everyone is eager for the strike to end, and Kiley says rumors are rampant on the strike line. "You talk to five different people and everybody's got a different rumor," he says.

It has been more than 10 weeks since Kiley has had a writing paycheck, and since the strike could go another week or drag on for months, he can't say what his income will look like this year. He's been hitting the road doing stand-up to make up the difference, but not every gig will be as pleasant as tomorrow's Comedy Cabaret at Newton's Jewish Theatre of New England.

"I've been pretty lucky doing stand-up, getting pretty good gigs," he says, "but now I'm taking everything and sometimes it's like, oh, that gig sucked. That was a long drive. I'm remembering now, I forgot how hard stand-up is."

Kiley has been saving his topical material for O'Brien for years, and he might start dipping into that reserve if the strike continues. His style of comedy also makes headlining a bit more difficult. He is a gifted one-liner comic, which means he has to write a lot more material than a comedian who tells longer stories.

"The nice thing is, if you get on TV, you have a bunch of quick punch lines, which is what they want," he says. "The bad thing is, in the clubs sometimes they're like, oh, can you do 10 more minutes? It's like, oh, what, 40 jokes? That makes it tricky, believe me."

Career choice

Around Christmastime in 2006, improv actor Jean Villepique was home with her mother in New Jersey, talking about jump-starting her career by moving to Los Angeles.

"I said, if this doesn't work, I'm going to the Peace Corps," she says.

She had no agent or manager when she moved to LA last spring but managed to land guest spots on the only shows she watches - "The Office," "30 Rock," and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - enough work to keep her in show business. Villepique performs "Switchboard" tonight at Improv Asylum with two fellow Second City alums. She'll also teach a workshop tomorrow morning and take part in Saturday's Midnight Show at the Asylum.

Around town

The Jameson Comedy Tour starring Steve Byrne, Danny Bevins, Billy Gardell, and Michael Loftus is at the Comedy Connection tonight through Sunday. Def Comedy Jam host Mike Epps plays the Connection Sunday and Monday. If you have any particular favorites from the past 10 years of ImprovBoston shows, you might see a reprise Sunday at "The Complete Works of ImprovBoston (Abridged)," three two-hour shows starting at 5 p.m. that look back at the past decade of improv at the theater.

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