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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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