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WILKES-BARRE — Apparently a fairly steady diet of pizza provides the necessary nutrients to assure academic and creative excellence in this world.
How else can you explain Forty Fort native Rob Klein’s successful life?
I’m kidding, of course. There are many reasons other than pizza.
Klein, 34, is one of three head writers at Saturday Night Live, the iconic weekly sketch comedy show that remains edgy and funny after 40 years on NBC.
The son of Gene and Marilyn Klein of Forty Fort, Klein comes home often to visit family and friends. Grotto Pizza in Edwardsville is a must stop. He loves Sabatini’s in Exeter and Victory Pig in Wyoming. Dukey’s Cafe in Wilkes-Barre for clams is high on his list. His father, Gene, said he and Rob go to Sabatelle’s in Pittston for Italian meats and delicacies.
On May 21, Klein will return to his alma mater as featured speaker at the Wyoming Valley West National Junior Honor Society ceremony at the Middle School. It’s no insignificant gig, especially to Klein, who values his roots, his alma mater and his favorite pizza joints.
After graduating from WVW, Klein went on to Harvard after receiving a perfect score on his SATs.
Like I said, pizza fuels the heart, mind and soul.
Klein lives most of the time in Manhattan, but he recently purchased a home in Bear Creek. He’s getting married April 25, and will postpone his honeymoon until after the final three weeks of the SNL season.
Klein hasn’t decided what his message will be to the Valley West students, but we’re sure it will be positive.
“Hopefully I will tell them something that helps and that won’t destroy their lives,” Klein said.
He loves to talk about “the Valley” — its people, places and community fabric.
“The Valley is as good as any place in the world to come from,” Klein said. “It’s a supportive place filled with good families. Not everywhere is like that.”
Kind of profound when you lean back and think about it.
Klein is sincere and genuine when he says Northeast PA will always be his home.
“It’s where my parents are from and it’s where I’m from.” he said. “It’s shaped me in a million different ways, big and small.”
Klein said the region has deep personal history for his ancestors on both sides, and he said it has also played an amazing role in America’s history.
“It’s full of good people — great teachers,” he said. “And it’s a beautiful part of the country. What’s not to love?”
His godfather, Bob Roccograndi, was co-owner of The Beer Deli in Forty Fort. Klein loved the place. And Hottle’s in Wilkes-Barre was another frequent stop.
His mother and grandmother worked in the Wyoming Valley West school district. Klein, who went to WVW from 9th through 12th grades, said he received a great education there. His first eight years of schooling came at Wilkes-Barre Academy, where he was a member of its first-ever class.
A teacher at Wilkes-Barre academy, Nancy Evans, gave Rob his first theatrical experience. Evans encouraged Klein to get involved with Little Theater on North Main Street. His first role was in “Oliver,” where he said he was around a lot of creative people.
“That got me really excited about theater and performing,” Klein said. “It meant a lot to me.”
First impressions, they say, are the most lasting.
Klein keeps many friends from his high school days. He and Chris Jordan and Kevin Washicosky stirred it up quite a bit, like most high schoolers. Another chum, Jimmy Martin, has appeared as an extra on SNL.
Klein also credited his parents for shaping him.
“They really love the Valley,” he said. “My parents have given me so much.”
And now Klein plays an integral role in creating and shaping 21 SNL shows per year. These are shows that make people everywhere laugh and think. The shows receive critical acclaim and, at times, are panned.
Klein said he is always hearing ideas from people (including his parents) on possible sketches for SNL. He and the team of SNL writers peruse the headlines each week to pick and choose what’s “in the air” that week and to figure out how to make it funny.
Klein likes his behind-the-scenes post at SNL, and he has appeared on the show several times. He says his job is cool because he gets to work in New York City, which is close to home — close to the Valley he loves and appreciates.
He talks about the SNL process like a coach. He said it’s a team effort and the team members succeed together.
Klein said the only way to achieve success each week is to go all in. He said he practically lives in the studio while charting out each week’s show.
“Part of it is wanting to be a contributing part of that,” he said.
Klein’s dedication is to be admired. His love of his home town is refreshing. Too many Valley natives sometimes don’t realize just how lucky we are.
Northeastern Pennsylvania was built on the hard work of its good people. We have a lot to be proud of, including people like Rob Klein.
Not to mention the pizza.