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Friday, March 9, 2012

"Bitter Buddha" Eddie Pepitone Sees Comedy as a Way of "Subverting Life"

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2012 at 8:30 AM

MANDEE JOHNSON
  • Mandee Johnson

Comedian Eddie Pepitone is a Brooklyn-born teakettle who boils over with fear, anxiety, and dread. His frenzied reactions to American society and culture, and to the minutiae of his own daily existence, spring from his willingness to confront and pull apart exactly what is bothering him in clear, unequivocal terms. Pepitone's act does not rely on comedy clichés, nor does he ever use pedestrian transitions to keep an audience with him. His stream-of-consciousness style is carried forward by incredible energy (not to mention volume), the likes of which Californians truly do not get to experience often enough.

Pepitone stars in the "single panel web comic" Puddin' (new episodes posted daily, Monday through Friday), and his first stand-up album A Great Stillness was released in December.

He is coming to San Francisco twice this month: Tonight (Friday, March 9), he's at the Dark Room as a part of the Snob Theater show. On March 23-24 he headlines the Punch Line.

Pepitone spoke with us by phone earlier this week.

When did you first know you wanted to be a comic, and how did you initially start to pursue it?

I just knew, when I was a teenager, I was a born comic in the sense that the only thing I had an interest in doing in life was subverting life. One of the first things that happened was I took a play-writing course in college and I had a play produced. It was about a blind thief going into the wrong apartment. It was a huge thing for me. I started taking acting classes, but every time I did a scene in acting class, people would laugh. If it was Death of a Salesman, people were laughing. I knew I had comedy in my bones. I was always an absurd person. [laughter] I always coped with life by using humor. Anyway, then I started dabbling in stand-up. And in my 20s I wound up doing every type of comedy: sketch comedy, improv. I dropped stand-up for a while, because it can be really scary.

How long have you been able to make it on comedy alone?

I'm 53 now. I have not worked a "day job" since I was 40.

You've been based in L.A. for about 10 years now. How was that transition? What prompted it and how did it affect your act?

I was a New Yorker my whole life. But right when I hit age 40, Scot Armstrong, who was part of the Upright Citizens Brigade, co-wrote Old School with Todd Phillips. Scot asked me, "We would love to have you as one of the fraternity members." So I went to L.A. to film for three months -- I was in a lot of scenes, even though I didn't have a lot of lines. Then I got on Last Comic Standing and got more exposure because my management company was out here.

At first I hated L.A., because New York has such a specific type of energy. San Francisco I kind of like more, because it has more of a city feel with people on the streets. I still miss that. But L.A. has a great comedy scene, and the other thing is that so many of my friends had moved out here, so it started to feel like "New York West" to me. At first, I didn't find the audiences as smart out here. I didn't find it as electric. But I've gotten into this place. Like any place you spend time in, you get to know its soul a little. It's home to me.

a_great_stillness_album_cover_275x275.jpg

Your act and your attitude are so "New York." How do you connect with L.A. audiences?

I scream and yell at people for being asleep. But I kind of try to do it in a way so they know I'm not really serious. Although there are idiots who think I'm telling them they're assholes, which I guess in a way I am. I do have a lot of rage -- but I think I've been able to translate it into comedy.

I just played San Francisco during S.F. Sketchfest. I did Set List one night, and the next night I played Cobb's again, as part of a stand-up show. And that was interesting. I was saying some crazy stuff about how it would be hard to commit atrocities in San Francisco because the views are so beautiful.

[laughter]

How did that go?

The audience didn't really dig it that much or something. I was saying Hitler would have had a harder time exterminating people here because he would have just looked out and said, "God, it's gorgeous."

[laughter]

With all the outlets available for comedians online these days -- podcasts, Twitter, video pieces -- how important is it to put out an occasional album?

Stand-up is its own thing. I'm really proud of that album, because I wasn't expecting to even do an album. I was being filmed for a documentary called The Bitter Buddha, and it was such a great show at the Gotham Comedy Club. It was a great crowd. It's just great to have something saved like that, in the art form of stand-up, as opposed to podcast or videos or whatever.

How is Puddin' put together? Do you write and shoot a whole bunch at a time?

Matt Oswalt is the guy who sits next to me, in all of them, silently. He's Patton Oswalt's brother. Matt is the one who approached me and showed me these monologues. He's essentially written them all. It's his baby. He writes them, directs them. But he writes for me so well. What we do is we film about 20 or 25 once a month. We've been doing them for a little over a year and we've gotten really good at getting them done quickly. So we shoot a four- or five-hour night once a month and they go out Monday through Friday every week.

It's a great format.

Yeah. Like Matt says, it's like a Family Circus-style comic strip, except it's racist and misogynist.

All the things we always wanted Family Circus to be.

[laughter]

Eddie Pepitone appears at 10 p.m. tonight (Friday, March 9) at the Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), S.F. Admission is $10. He appears March 23-24 at the Punch Line, 444 Battery (at Clay), S.F. Admission is $19-$21.

Follow Casey Burchby and SF Weekly's Exhibitionist blog on Twitter.

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Casey Burchby

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