Review: Eddie Pepitone on Film and Live at Laff Hole

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For intrepid Seattleites, for those with grit and fortitude, for those brave comedy audience warriors the past week has seen lots of Eddie Pepitone. The first time Pepitone spent this much time in Seattle he took a punch (at Bumbershoot, as he described on the Long Shot Podcast). You’d think he’d still be pissed enough at Seattle to stay away, but last March he came back and killed at Chop Suey. More recently he’s done Edinburgh and came out on the other side with new chops and confidence as a headliner, and seeing him perform again in less than a year he seemed more refined and fearless than before, even though he would later say that he was doing a lot of improvising.

Pepitone headlined Laff Hole at Chop Suey once more this past Wednesday. The show started with a video by Linas Phillips starring Albert Kirchner that seemed among other things a declarative statement that The People’s Republic of Komedy isn’t going anywhere. It was silly, and Starbucksy, and good. Shane Torres came up from Portland to be the first act. Total pro. Big laughs right away. (Hope to see more of his stuff at Bridgetown.) Later Billy Anderson got laughs distancing himself from the pineapple blow job lobby, and in the night’s most bizarre performance Linas Phillips inhabited the character Shawnsey. When he pulled a mostly eaten ice cream cone from his coat pocket and licked it like Andrew Dice Clay would take a drag off of a cigarette, and then put it back inside his blazer, well, he had me. Also approved of the sword. More comics should be armed on stage. All of this primed the already on-board audience for Pepitone to come out and crush.

Pepitone’s act is like up to the minute zeitgeist as told by rage-filled post-apocalyptic infomercial. He did some material that we all wanted to see again, like his self-heckling, but a lot of what we saw was new, or something from the vaults of his unconscious, or a trick learned in his thirty years of doing comedy. One of his bits had him snapping and dancing a little like a lounge singer with punctuations of soul-rending painful screams. Hard to forget. Having seen him now twice on the same stage, it seems clear that the past year has been good for his career. He’s more confidant, but the anger that fuels his performances hasn’t gone anywhere. It will be interesting to see how his career develops once his material is based on his success rather than railing at his failures. He’ll always have the wall street guys.

We of course were all there to love him. We’d all crammed a lot of Puddin’s to get ready, and many of us were looking forward to his return in a few days for the screening of his documentary the Bitter Buddha at the Northwest Film Forum. For those that missed the screening, the documentary is now available for Video on Demand and download on iTunes.

The Bitter Buddha shows Pepitone meditating and feeding squirrels. He’s also shown tweeting in his small cat-filled Los Angeles apartment. You see him perform, and yell in traffic, and talk on the phone with his dad. There are lots of LA comics and friends singing his praises. (e.g. Sean Conroy, Dana Gould, Todd Glass, Marc Maron, etc.) If Sarah SIlverman, and Patton Oswalt count you among their favorite comedians, you’re doing pretty good.

It could be said that Pepitone owes a lot to Marc Maron, as many of his new fans were introduced to him via WTF. (That was the case for me, as well as director Steven Feinartz.) The scenes in the film between Maron and Pepitone clearly show a lot of tension, but there is friendship there as well. With both of them on stage the good feelings between them are clearer, or at least their mutual respect as comics shines through.

Pepitone in NW uniform at NWFF. Image by Tom Mohrman

Feinartz and Pepitone were both at NWFF that Saturday for a Q&A following the screening. Pepitone was asked about the rivalry between Maron and himself, and thoroughly enjoyed the suggestion that Maron resented him. He said that all comics resent each other’s success, but that him and Maron were close, and that he owed him a lot.

In the film Pepitone talks about his upbringing in Brooklyn and then Staten Island, his mother’s mental illness, his rocky relationship with his her and his father, and how that pain drove him to comedy. Much of the film is set around LA, and culminates with his show at Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. The show was of course a big success, and led to his album A Great Stillness, but the real climax of the film for me was seeing his octogenarian father hug him after his show and offer him praise. It was a nice payoff.

Seeing the film you get a lot of insight into Pepitone. It stands to reason that many people will see it before ever catching his live act. I was curious about if he thought it would be better to see his act first, or the documentary. He said that he thought the film would lead people to his act, which wasn’t really an answer, but it also wasn’t that great of a question. C’est la vie. To my credit, he asked the audience to raise their hands if they hadn’t seen him perform, and there were plenty of hands. For me seeing the film offered depth to a comedian I already thought was original and hilarious, and I look to his next visit to Seattle with anticipation.

 

 

 

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