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SXSW 2013: Eddie Pepitone on the art of stand up and being The Bitter Buddha

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Eddie Pepitone is a comedian and for those in the know, Eddie Pepitone is THE comedian. He is a true “comic’s comic,” who only recently started to see his comedy reach far outside of comedy circles. He has over a million views for his daily Youtube video series “Puddin’,” hosts a popular podcast called The Long Shot, he’s got a solid following on Twitter and frequently contributes to other comedy podcasts like WTF with Marc Maron. He recently released his first stand-up album, “A Great Stillness,” and he’s starting to tour nationally. If that wasn’t enough, Pepitone is also the star of a documentary called “The Bitter Buddha,” which is what brought him to SXSW. The film, directed by first-time filmmaker Steven Feinartz, is an in-depth portrait of the life of Pepitone and features some of our other favorite comedians including Maron and Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Scott Aukerman. The film is directed by Steven Feinartz, and stars Pepitone, Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis and a cavalcade of comics including Patton Oswalt, Todd Barry, Dana Gould, and Paul F. Tompkins. We chatted to the comedy legend about the film, a life in comedy and whether he’s using his powers for good or evil.

Have you ever been to SXSW before?

This is my first time. I just got off the plane and I think it’s insane. We were at the convention center and the amount of people and it just has this energy. I’m feeling the energy. It’s kind of early in the evening right now and I can feel the energy that it’s going to build into an intense thing. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.

What are you going to be doing at the festival?

We are screening the movie that’s about me. And I’m doing a bunch of stand up shows. Two tonight and two tomorrow. I”m hosting a thing called “The Bitter Buddha Blues,” which is me. I do a lot of song parodies …well, not parodies. I do a lot of characters, like lounge singers who have lost their minds. Like lounge singers who are having war flashbacks or lounge singers who are singing about crazy personal stuff instead of love songs. So I’m going to do that as kind of a musical comedy show tomorrow. And tonight I’m doing two stand up sets. So I’m busy. I’ve been traveling so much with the movie that I don’t think I’m going to any parties, but you know this is the type of place where the energy just kind of sweeps you along. I’m 54 now, but if I was younger, forget it. I would wind up living here for years on an acid bender. It seems like the place where you could. It feels like a Hunter S Thompson novel, like you could come to Austin for SXSW and lose yourself for a lot of days.

Like a very long “lost weekend”

Totally.

You’ve been working in comedy for 30 or 35 years now.

Yeah, I always say I started when I was 20 and I’m 54 now. I’ve doing all kinds of comedy, not just stand up. I’ve done stand up a lot and pretty heartily the last 15 years, but I’ve done one man shows, I’ve done improv groups, I’ve done sketch groups, so I’ve done a lot of different forms of comedy, but always comedy. I did study acting and I loved doing real plays. I haven’t done a real play in a long time.

After having been working for so long, now with the album and the movie, do you feel like it’s paying off?

You know people have been asking me that a lot, but I’ve been earning my living doing this for a long time, but I am kind of reaching the peak of my powers in a way.

Are you using your powers for good or evil?

I think a little of both. No, I hope for good. But I think I have finally figured out stand up. Stand up is very difficult. There are just so many different things that you have to be good at. You have to be good at words. You have to be good at performing. Courage is the biggest thing, I think. What I mean by courage is the courage to say what your truth is – which sounds pretentious and some comedians would probably laugh at me – but for me, I’ve just become more fearless as a stand up and I can get up on stage and speak my truth. I think that’s always the funniest thing with me anyway, because my truth is so twisted. Some comics do really abstract things, which is funny and clever, but you forget it two seconds later. You think, ‘Oh that was a clever joke. Ho hum, I’m going on to the next show.’ I think stand ups who have something to say are interesting. Like I’m into the whole genre of stand ups as social critics.

Who do you think of as stand outs in that genre?

The lineage of Lenny Bruce to George Carlin to Richard Pryor to Bill Hicks. Not Jerry Seinfeld, let me put it that way. He talks about why pizza is stuffed with cheese in the crust. I’m not saying that doesn’t have its place, but with all due respect, it’s quite superficial. But a lot of people like that milquetoast stuff.

When you talk about speaking your truth on stage, where does that truth come from?

For me it comes from trying to figure myself out. I had a tumultuous family growing up, just a dysfunctional family. My whole life I was an artist who has been figuring myself out, like, ‘Who the hell am I? What the hell do I want?’ I’ve been relating that and now, as I’ve matured, I also relate it to the world I live in. It’s not just about me anymore, it’s also about what’s going on in the world. I’m pretty upset about the economic inequality in the United States. I was very into the Occupy movement that got crushed. I think dissent it is going to be a big part of our future. I get really political. But the job of a comic is to be funny first. To be funny and then be political or be political within being funny. And I’ve developed a few bits that work really well.

This is a question we are asking everyone: What’s one high school experience that was really awkward?

Who doesn’t? Isn’t all of high school awkward? My awkwardness went way beyond high school. It’s so funny, I’m trying to think of the ultimate awkward experience and I am sure it has something to do with trying to ask women out. I was just …well now I’m married, thank god. But back then I was so terrified of rejection and I remember a couple times just blurting out, ‘will you go out with me?’ Just horrible and awkward.

Tell me about “The Bitter Buddha,” the documentary about you. I admit I haven’t seen it yet, because it just came out yesterday.

It’s been available on iTunes and video on demand since February, so you can order it now.

So you’re saying I have no excuse.

No, you really don’t.

I will go download it as soon as we’re done here. Did you spearhead this documentary yourself or were you approached by someone?

They approached me.

What’s it like when someone comes to you and says, “I want to make a documentary about your life?”

It’s weird and flattering and I just had a good instinct about Steven Feinartz. When he approached me I was like, ‘I kind of like this guy’ and he pitched it to me. He said he loved my comedy. I really love the film. I had nothing to do with the film except perform and he followed me around. I think he really gets me as far as who I am and the way I perform.

Where did the title come from?

It came from the fact that I have tried to meditate and do a sort of Buddhist thing, but I’m still so kind of pissed off. My friend Sean Conroy, who I’ve been doing comedy with for a long time, dubbed me “The Bitter Buddha.”

A movie that I am going to go download now.

Good!

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.