Getting to know: Alan Olifson
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Getting to know: Alan Olifson

Software developer by day and comedian by night

Alan Olifson performs at Arcade Comedy Theater (Photo by Handerson Gomes)
Alan Olifson performs at Arcade Comedy Theater (Photo by Handerson Gomes)

As a software developer by day and a comedian by night, Alan Olifson finds a balance between his suburban family lifestyle and his longtime commitment to comedy.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Olifson moved to Pittsburgh in 2011, where he has settled into his home in O’Hara Township. He moved for work opportunities and to be closer to his wife’s family, and he quickly integrated into Pittsburgh’s comedy scene.

“One of the appealing things about Pittsburgh is that it’s a smaller city, so there’s just more room to kind of make your own way and make opportunities for yourself,” the Jewish comedian said. “When I moved here, I reached out to theaters and just kind of put myself out there and kept on doing what I had been doing in LA.”

Olifson initially made his mark as a comic in Pittsburgh by hosting The Moth’s monthly StorySLAM storytelling series at the now-closed Rex Theater on the South Side.

After the pandemic slowed his work in comedy, Olifson had to decide how to move forward with his career.

He found a strong community through the speakers and regular attendees at The Moth, he said, and, after it shut down, he was encouraged to establish a new program based on a similar concept. Olifson now produces a monthly show at City of Asylum called Story Club Pittsburgh.

Alan Olifson (Photo by Handerson Gomes)
“After two years of not doing anything, we were really looking forward to getting back to hearing people’s stories and performing,” Olifson said. “We started looking around for another venue to do it, and we found City of Asylum.”

Story Club Pittsburgh operates similarly to The Moth series: Each show has a theme, and people are invited to share their nonfiction stories relating to the topic. While Story Club Pittsburgh is part of a larger national organization, Olifson said he appreciates that he gets the freedom to tailor the show to fit the Pittsburgh audience.

Olifson also hosts and produces Speakeasy at Arcade Comedy Theater. The show was inspired by WordPlay, another project Olifson began in LA and brought to Pittsburgh before the pandemic.

Tying his interest in music with his comedy career, Olifson said he produces Speakeasy to show how music can influence and bring a whole new meaning to a comedy set.

“I’ve always been fascinated with how music drives a lot of the narratives that we consume, and we’re often not aware of it since it’s so in the background,” Olifson said. “You might not walk out of a movie and think ‘Wow, that soundtrack really brought that movie to life.’ But if it wasn’t there or if it were different, you would notice.”

Curious to see how music could impact storytelling, he began producing WordPlay.

“People would submit their essays and then I would go through with my music, and I would basically break the stories down into beats and put songs to each,” Olifson said.

While Speakeasy operates on a similar concept, Olifson decided to add to it by including a brief interview portion with the artist after each show, drawing inspiration from a podcast he co-hosted during the pandemic with local musician Nathan Zoob.

Olifson said he takes a late-night-style interviewing strategy, asking the performers questions about their story and their lives.

Across Olifson’s comedy career, he said he has struggled to find the right angle to tell his own stories, though.

“A lot of feedback I got when I was doing comedy in my 20s was, ‘Yeah, you’re funny, but who are you?’” Olifson said. “I would string a lot of funny ideas together, but if you think about all the good comedians, they have a specific point of view. Any topic they talk about, they talk about it from that point of view.”

Through writing his book “Manchild: My Life Without Adult Supervision,” Olifson found that much of his work returns to the theme of navigating adulthood.

“I had, like, 30 essays sitting around, and if you write that much, you realize you touch on the same themes,” Olifson said. “Everyone has their thing that they keep coming back to, and mine was always about not wanting to be an adult and having a hard time growing up and accepting responsibility.”

While Olifson keeps busy with his day job and family, he finds time to return to comedy through the shows that he produces.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve fallen into a nice equilibrium,” Olifson said. “Pittsburgh allows me to do this more than LA. I have a good job, and I can live my suburban family life and still have plenty of time to produce my own shows, go to others to do stand-up shows, and put myself out there as often as I want to.” PJC

Kathleen Gianni can be reached at

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