The Bitter Buddha Descends on New York
Mandee Johnson Eddie Pepitone tapes his stand-up special at The Bell House this Tuesday and Wednesday
Stand-up comic Eddie Pepitone is central casting's dream: the angry, middle-aged New Yorker. You've seen him play that stereotypical, outer borough rageaholic in countless TV shows. Heck: on Conan sketches, he literally plays "angry New York guy". A cult figure in stand-up circles, Pepitone was scratching out a living with occasional TV work, until a documentary on his life (2012's The Bitter Buddha) and episodes of Marc Maron's WTF podcast first broke him for a wide audience. At 55, he's now building a fan base of non-comedians, drawn to his reputation as a comic's comic. He's taping his very first TV stand-up special at The Bell House this Tuesday and Wednesday. We spoke with him last week by phone from Los Angeles.
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How are you, Eddie? Sorry about being late for this call.
Don't worry about being a couple of minutes late, because in Los Angeles, there is no time. It's just sunny 24/7. There is no night time. It's just blazing irrepressible sunshine. So we have no concept of minutes.
Excited about the special?
Very. I've never done a formal comedy special like this. It's funny when you get pumped like this, you kind of have to ignore it. I've been watching the Rangers make a run for the Stanley Cup, and this is a like a Stanley Cup-type thing for me: I have to keep my emotions under control to play well. I can't get too crazy about it, because I'll drain my energy. It's a dance I do with myself mentally. I say: "Oh, this is nothing, this is just another couple of nights with some shows". But then another part of me says: "Holy shit, this is a big deal... a five-camera shoot, and this could be really be good." You have to kind of pretend it doesn't mean a whole lot.
Will the show be largely improvised or material-based? What kind of show can people expect?
A combination of both. My best shows are when I'm so connected with the audience, that I'm riffing, in the moment, on the state of my mind. I'm constantly letting off steam. I'm one of these guys with a built-up angst. I'm a New Yorker trapped in LA. I have all this angst and it comes out on the stage and if the audience is really into me, stuff will just start coming out. I have a defined set list too, but well see how much I get to.
Steven Feinartz made a feature-length documentary about you in 2012. The Bitter Buddha. You must be proud that exists.
It was a bizarre experience because it's all me, and it's all about me and it's a very intimate thing. So it's tough to watch sometimes. But I am proud of it. It's a wild thing to have a documentary made about you. I recommend it.
The "angry guy" is a classic trope of stand-up. But you're atypically angry. You're savvy and knowing. Call it a therapized rage. Where does the rage stop and the self-knowledge begin?
I try to make a point with my anger. I don't just vent with it. I use my anger to make statements about anger. I make it a cartoonish rage. When I'm on stage, I'm actually the opposite of angry. I'm kind of in a blissful setting and I can deal with my anger in an insightful way. Ultimately, rage is a waste of energy. It drains me, so I am highly therapized about it.