The Bitter Buddha Comes to Seattle: A Chat With Eddie Pepitone

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At 53, Eddie Pepitone is really starting to reach his stride. With his numerous guest spots and cameos on television shows, he’s a comedian and character actor who you might recognize even if you don’t know his comedy. Helped by the success of his Long Shot Podcast, and his frequent contributions to other comedy podcasts like WTF with Marc Maron, his career is on the rise. He has a documentary in the can, over a million views for his daily Youtube video series Puddin’, and he’s starting to tour nationally. March 21st he will headline at The People’s Republic of Komedy‘s Laff Hole at Chop Suey. Tickets are $10 ahead of time, and $15 the day of the show.

I caught up with Eddie over the phone and we talked about his career, how he sees comedy, and what’s to come.

Tom Mohrman: How long have you been a stand-up?

Eddie Pepitone: Well I’m 53. I started when I was twenty. I knew I wanted to be a stand-up, but it was really hard the first couple of years. I would vomit before I went on stage. So I started doing things with other people, like I did a lot of improv. I toured the country doing improv. I did sketch comedy- I formed a sketch comedy group in New York, and then I worked my way back to stand-up. I’ve been doing it solidly for the past 15 years or so.

TM: How is it going from sketch and improv to doing stand-up?

EP: You’re working your comedy muscles… it’s like working out in a gym. But the stand-up thing is different, because with sketch you are with other guys and women on stage, and you’re not sometimes the focal point of it. You’re learning how to be funny in front of others, but stand-up is so just you against them. It’s that thing where you’re proving yourself, you know? Like you’re slaying some kind of dragon. Like you’re dying for validation in some way.

TM: How long have you been in LA?

EP: 10 years, but it seems like The Shining. Jack Nicholson goes into the bathroom and Grady says “you’ve always been here.” That’s what it feels like.

TM: Are you more at home in LA at this point?

EP: Yeah, you know, it’s funny. This has become home now for me. When I go back to New York I fit in pretty well, but I have to say I’ve become kind of domesticated out here. New York is more of an intense city, where you get meals on the run. Here I tend to shop in supermarkets. I have a live-in girlfriend now. It’s like, “honey, should we watch Antiques Roadshow tonight? I’ll pick up some things at Ralph’s.” It’s like I’ve become a suburban dad, except I don’t have kids. I have 5 cats.

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TM: What do you know about the comedy scene in Seattle?

EP: I don’t know much about it. I went and did Bumbershoot a couple of years ago. A lot of the comics that I’ve met up there are really cool. The place I’m doing it is Laff Hole at Chop Suey. Those guys are really cool. It just struck me that in every city there are these cool alternative comics who create their own spaces. I just immediately related to the whole scene. Whenever I go to a new city or a new place where I haven’t performed, I’m always like, alright… how’s this going to go? But I remember I killed, and I was like, the sensibility is really cool here. I think hip cities, you relate. Like everybody is on the same page.

TM: Do you still see a difference between alternative comedy and mainstream comedy?

EP: Well I think alternative comedy is the comedy that has shown itself to be the way to go. Like Dane Cook has been kind of ostracised, and Marc Maron has the best podcast going, and it seems like the alternative comics won networks like Adult Swim. Really edgy shows from them. UCB has taken the country by storm. The “mainstream” stuff is dying. The clubs suck. Like in LA the Improv, the Laugh Factory, the Comedy Store– the great majority of that comedy is so dead. Audiences still come and see that stuff, and it’s so depressing.

I did a set at the Laugh Factory near thanksgiving, and all the comics were talking about how Muslims were going to blow up planes, Arabic women need hedge clippers to shave– just the shit that is so outdated, so right-wing nonsense. Just stereotypes, unthoughtful stuff. And it’s a shame, because audiences still expect that kind of crap. I give comics crap about that when I go up at these shows like that. It’s like “oh great, everyone is talking about their dick on this show.” I call it the Chelsey Handler-ization of America. Everybody talking about celebrities… just nonsense. Meanwhile the reality is that we’re having a revolution in this country with occupy movements, so many people are unemployed and homeless. The job market sucks, thousands of people get killed every day from industrial warfare, why can’t comedy talk about the really dark side, the injustices? Basically I think I like to attack stupidity.

TM: Are you on the road a lot?

EP: Not really, but it’s starting to happen for me now, as my popularity grows. I’m doing Seattle, and I’m doing San Francisco twice in the month of March. Fans have been asking me to come to their cities, so I’m going to try to get more shows. It’s hard to break into the rotation of these clubs. What I’m trying to do is book a lot of TV work out here in LA. There’s a documentary coming out about me called The Bitter Buddha. Right now we’ve submitted it to a few festivals, so we’re going to see what happens there. As my popularity grows through my exposure on television, hopefully I’m going to do more tours.

TM: How is A Great Stillness doing?

EP: It did really well. It charted in the top 10 on Billboard. I self-published that too. It was really nice when Billboard contacted me and said “who the hell are you?” It did really well. It was my first live comedy album, so I’m learning how to promote it. I just got the numbers on the first month, and they were good, so we’ll see. I’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback on it.

TM: I understand that it was kind of an afterthought putting the album out. Is that correct?

EP: That’s correct. My documentary crew was following me, and this was a big show. Patton Oswalt opened for me, and it was a packed place. There was no intention of recording an album, but they recorded the show for the documentary. When we listened to it, the director of the documentary was like, “we should put this out as an album.,” and we did.

I think that really helped it as an album, because I think if I would have thought about it, I don’t think I would have been as loose and raw. I think me and the crowd were really synced up that night.

TM: It seemed really spontaneous.

EP: It was. A lot of it was improvised on the spot.

TM: How beneficial are comedy podcasts for the scene these days?

EP: I think it really is good, because I’ll be somewhere out of LA people know about me and say they love my podcast. One guy who knew me from my podcast, the Long Shot Podcast, is writing a pilot for me. He really has my voice and the details of my life, and that’s great. And the other thing is being a regular on Marc Maron’s podcast has really helped my visibility. Maron’s has been great for me.

TM: What’s the back story on the Long Shot Podcast?

EP: Well I wanted to do my own, and I hooked up with this kid Jamie Flam, who is kind of a producer. Then my best friend in comedy Sean Conroy said that he’d like to do it, and he brought one of his former students. Sean teaches sketch and writing at UCB. Sean suggested that Amber [Kenny] would be this really funny counterpoint to our bitterness and age. It’s kind of turned out to be this weird mix- Jamie who gets intimidated by us, and Amber who’s very happy… It’s a melange.

TM: It’s sort of like a family dynamic.

EP: You’re not the first one who’s said that. I think that’s kind of a good thing. It’s like people are tuning in to watch our sitcom or something.

TM: Can you tell me a bit about Puddin’?

EP: Puddin’ passed the 1.2 million mark in hits recently. Matt Oswalt ( the silent one) writes them and directs them. We have great guest stars ( Andy Richter, Weird Al, Steven Weber, Patton Oswalt and others.) It’s been really good for me, people are always mentioning it when I am on road.

TM: Do you use Twitter to try out material, or is it its own thing?

EP: I am compiling a book or two right now from my tweets, because I get a lot of great feedback from them. I have an illustrator helping me out, so hopefully we’ll get some sort of publishing. I come on stage with a big green folder that’s kind of tattered that’s full of my tweets, and I read them out loud. I come on stage screaming THESE ARE MY TWEETS! When I read them on stage some of them go well, so I am going to try to incorporate my tweets into my stand-up, but I’m not really a one-liner-y kind of guy. I tend to be a kind of riff-y, storytelling thing.

TM: Were you a big comedy fan growing up?

EP: When I was growing up Saturday Night Live introduced me to Steve Martin, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd- there was this real edgy feel to it. It was wild. I became a huge Richard Pryor fan, and George Carlin. I’m 53, so I was into Laugh In with Lilly Tomlin. I got exposed to the Smothers Brothers. I was really into comedy growing up. I knew that’s what I wanted to do, to the chagrin of my dad.

TM: Was there a decisive moment when you knew it was the thing for you?

EP: I was in college, and I couldn’t take chemistry and stuff my dad wanted me to take, so I took a play-writing course. I wrote a comedy one act play and it got produced by the college. That was it. I was like “oh my God, I’m gonna be a funny guy.” I’ve always had kind of a theater background. My comedy tends to be kind of theatrical.

TM: What’s on the agenda for 2012?

EP: I’ve been taping a lot of TV. I taped House. I just came from a pitch session at Adult Swim where I pitched a couple of shows with my manager. I’m doing a Comedy Bang Bang for IFC taping. I’m in Sarah SIlverman’s new pilot for NBC. Mostly TV stuff. As far as tour dates go, in May I’m doing Rooster T Feathers, I might go with Dana Gould to the Laughing Skull in Atlanta, things like that.

TM: Is one of your goals to star on a sitcom?

EP: Yeah, to have my own show. To be the focal point on a show. I’ve been doing a lot of guesting, but I want my own thing.

Doing his own thing has worked for Eddie so far. His show at Laff Hole should be a great time. Maybe you’ll want to bring ear plugs. The Bitter Buddha tends to yell. Click here to read my review of his album, A Great Stillness.

 

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