By Haley Frederick
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor
Before I could meet Tyler Ray Kendrick at Pizza Taglio in East Liberty, I had to pick up a bottle of wine to BYOB.
In search of something local, I stopped by Pittsburgh Winery. Their usual space at 2815 Penn Ave. is under construction, but the temporary one at 2710 Penn Ave. is more than nice enough for the year they anticipate being there.
I tell the woman helping me that I’m looking for something to bring to a pizza restaurant, and she gives me a taste of their Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s their most popular wine, she says. I won’t embarrass myself here by attempting to describe it, but it’s a pretty classic Cab. I grab a bottle and go.
It’s a nice day, so the front of Pizza Taglio is opened up onto South Highland Avenue. I join Kendrick at a table and the server comes and uncorks the bottle of wine with the kind of ease that only someone who does it 30 times a day can have.
Kendrick moved to Pittsburgh seven years ago without a big plan. Eventually he started working as a security guard, first at the Carnegie Museum and then at the Warhol.
“I feel like I met my people there,” he says. “I knew I wanted to do art somehow, but I really didn’t know what it actually was.”
Kendrick says he’s always been a bit of a performer. He used to stand up in front of his elementary school class and perform scenes from black comedies like “Friday”—which none of the kids or the teacher in his all-white class had seen—to try and make them laugh.
As an adult, he found his way into performing through Steel City Improv classes.
“The first class I took in the eight weeks over there, I was so excited I just ran all the way home,” he says. “It was the first time I ever felt a performance high.”
So he kept going. He found his way to stand up and to the stage. He did an immersive theater show called “Dodo” at Bricolage, and then another called “Hollow Moon” with Vigilance Theater.
It’s time to order and Kendrick chooses one of the “red pies” with a tomato sauce, the Bob Malnati, which comes adorned with smoked mozzarella, sweet sopressata and calabrian chilies. I choose a “white pie” called the Bianca because it lists “lots of garlic” along with fresh basil, mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. It’s delicious. I could handle a bit more garlic, but I also might be a weirdo.
Kendrick and I agree that we love the crust. It’s thin with a few tasty charred bits from the hot, hot oven, but it’s also more chewy than crispy, giving it a satisfying bite.
We decide to do the old swap-a-slice so that we each get to try each other’s pizza’s, too. His Bob Malnati is very different from my Bianca. It brings the meaty flavor and the chili heat—to which Kendrick added some chili flakes on top. It’s good and spicy.
Kendrick is an easy talker. The conversation just keeps on rolling, and I’m enjoying hearing the Tyler Ray Kendrick take on things.
Take his thoughts on fatherhood, for instance.
“Everyone’s like ‘you’d be such a good dad,’ and yeah, but I don’t want to be one…but being a stepdad I can definitely do.
“It’s like ‘oh, you have your own father for emotional support and financial support? Cool. I’m here to be your biggest fan, but when it comes to big issues—ask your dad.’”
Or what about quitting smoking?
“I quit smoking two years ago…A really easy way to stop smoking: be poor.
“Be poor and have to choose between food and cigarettes,” he says. “Also, quit in wintertime.”
In every remark he makes or story he tells, he has the timing and inflection of a performer.
Kendrick has plans now. He’s currently producing a podcast with the Warhol called “15 Minutes,” about celebrity and fame that will make its way to the museum’s website in the fall.
But he’s got even bigger projects in mind. Bigger cities. Big awards.
When he talks about the future, he doesn’t say “if I’m a Hollywood actor,” he says “when I’m a Hollywood actor.”
“I’ve always been all in on this…kind of like Thanos almost, how he’s like ‘man, it’s inevitable that I’m going to get these stones,’” Kendrick says. “It’s my destiny.”
I make him promise me one thing. If he ever makes a stand up special—or should I say when he makes a stand up special—he has to use the title that just flashed across a promotional image of his face in my head.
It says “Tyler Ray Kendrick: Inevitable.”