I first saw Ossia Dwyer two years ago performing stand up on stage at a taping of The University of Pittsburgh’s student-run, late-night show, Pitt Tonight. She held nothing back as she shared hilarious stories of her awkward encounters and personal blunders—stuff you might be uncomfortable saying in front of a new friend, let alone a couple hundred strangers and the internet at large.
I’m a bit surprised when I introduce myself to her after she walks into the restaurant and she seems a bit timid. Doing stand up comedy, she says, has really helped her to overcome a lot of the shyness she felt growing up.
“My family doesn’t believe I do comedy because of how shy I was,” Dwyer says. “I don’t think I talked to another adult that wasn’t my parents until I was like eleven. I was painfully shy.”
She’s joining me in East Liberty for some hot chicken and frozen cocktails at Bird on the Run. We place our orders at the counter, carefully considering the 0-5 heat scale, before grabbing a table.
The red and white checkered, country picnic aesthetic is a large departure from the original concept for the restaurant, which was meant to be a 90’s hip-hop themed eatery called The Coop. There was a public backlash when it was announced, as many people felt that a white couple opening a hip-hop fried chicken shop in a historically black neighborhood reeked of cultural appropriation and played heavily into racial stereotypes. In response, Chef and owner Adam Kucenic, who also owns neighboring restaurants Muddy Waters Oyster Bar and Kahuna, delayed the project for three months to reconsider its concept.
I’m interested to see how well people have embraced Bird on the Run a year later. The restaurant is small with only about 30 seats that are mostly filled by 7 p.m. The line to order grows steadily, as a number of customers take their orders to go.
After our food arrives and I go to take her picture, Dwyer warns me that she has the tendency to blink in photos. I assure her that I’m certain it won’t be a problem. I page through the six shots I snapped, and somehow her eyes are closed in five of them. I wasn’t even using a flash.
To me, Dwyer seems to be one of those people who has a knack for getting herself into funny situations. She takes advantage of it through her comedy, leaning in to the awkwardness in her everyday life.
“At this point, I don’t think I can embarrass myself,” she says. “I’m like, ‘who else did this weird thing? Oh, nobody? That’s fine—I’ve got ten more to talk about.”
One such anecdote that Dwyer shares over our sandwiches is the story of her dad meeting her boyfriend. Dwyer’s father flew in from Vermont, where she’s from, to see her perform in the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival.
“I made the mistake of having him meet my boyfriend right before the show for the first time,” she says. “They sat next to each other as he’s watching his daughter do jokes about having sex with the guy that he’s just met.”
The image makes me blush harder than the spices on the chicken.
The heat scale at Bird on the Run is slightly overstated. Dwyer is a self-proclaimed “wuss” when it comes to spicy foods and she’s not batting an eye at her level one which is supposed to be “Hot.” I got a level two “Extra Hot”, and it warms up my face a bit, but I expected a good bit more. Personally, I would rather my meal by less hot than I can handle than more, but I think the set expectations and reality could be closer.
All in all, It’s a good tasting chicken sandwich. It’s salty, well-seasoned, smokey and even a little bit sweet, with the tang of the mayo and the bite of the pickles on a soft brioche bun. We’re also pleased with the waffle cut fries, cole slaw, and frozen cocktails. But, the beignets aren’t anything to write home about.
Even though at 23 Dwyer is the youngest comic I’ve interviewed, she’s been doing stand up for a few years now, and she’s got some great achievements under her belt, like being chosen for a month-long residency at Burning Bridges Comedy Club.
“There are so many good comics in Pittsburgh and I always think of myself as a child compared to everyone else. When I started I was still in college, so everyone thought of us as these college kids with too much time on our hands, but then we stuck around enough to get good.”
Dwyer’s comedy is often self-deprecating, and she’s not afraid to “go there.” She tells me her mom is British and it all makes sense. She grew up with the U.K.’s dry sense of humor that’s bursting with just-barely veiled euphemisms and that doesn’t pause for laugh tracks.
“People think British people are very proper, but if you watch their comedy it is gross,” She says. “My mom has a very dirty sense of humor but she’s British so people are like ‘oh this proper lady,’ but no.”
If you want to see her in action, Dwyer will be at Burning Bridges on Jan., 26 at 10:30 p.m. Right now, she isn’t quite sure where the comedy road will take her, but she’s having a good time.
“I think I’ll just do it as long as I’m having fun with it and see where I end up,” Dwyer says. “I would love if comedy was my job, but I think I’ll always have it in my life because at this point comedy is a community and everyone watches out for each other. It’s a nice feeling. “