Who is Eddie Pepitone? If you're not aware of the man they call the Bitter Buddha, you've clearly got a life, well-adjusted friends or an upwardly mobile job — likely all three. If you've got none of those, he's the comedian-slash-prophet whose shrill screams of truth and tribulation might just briefly soothe your angst-ridden nightmare of an existence.
He's the lye-spiked balm created from the ashes of Bill Hicks and Harvey Pekar, suspended in the colloidal tears of every brilliant but commercially failed social comedian. He's healing your wounds while opening up new ones you never knew were there — mostly by yelling.
But, as the saying goes, comparisons are odious. That's fine — so is Eddie Pepitone. Ok, he's really just odious to look at. Ok, and probably to sleep with. And be around socially. But that's about it. The rest of him is perfectly charming. And on Friday night, he suppurated that charm all over a packed house of well-wishers and semi-celebrity roasters at the premiere of his own documentary, Steven Feinartz's The Bitter Buddha.
The event, spectacularly presented by Jeremy Burke's Loud Village, drew a hilariously stratified crowd: classy west-of-Fairfax'ers in laundered smart attire mingled around mopey schmoes in pit-stained grunge t-shirts. It's safe to say that the bulk of his audience are aspiring comics of all stripes. Dubbed a “vegan” roast, due to Pepitone's entertaining struggles in earnestly attempting a vegetarian diet, the roastmasters included fellow comedians David Koechner, Dana Gould, Henry Phillips and Brody Stevens.
“This man makes audiences laugh so hard, we, ironically, all get a workout,” said host Overton during the roast portion of the evening. Among those who took their best shots at Peppitone were Overton, Anchorman star David Koechner and Simpsons scribe Dana Gould. At one point, Gould recounted a horrible encounter inadvertently annoying Bob Hope, only to spin into a big hearty “fuck you” chide to Pepitone. “But, Eddie knows how annoying he is…babies roll their eyes in boredom when he walks into a room.”
All of the chuckles and good-natured ribs at Pepitone were overshadowed by the emotional depth of Feinartz's film. While the flick takes turns in showing the inner workings and peccadilloes of Pepitone's life in L.A., including his crazy-old-man sensibilities, like his cat-obsession and squirrel-feeding rituals, it also shows portions of his 30-year struggle in the entertainment industry. The through-line in all of his laughs and screams is his relentless pursuit of his indifferent father's respect.
While watching the documentary, you could hear audible gasps of surprise at scenes of Pepitone's father's prickliness during a visit back to Staten Island. Clearly none of those folks ever experienced the emotional prison of a trip home for the holidays — where the eggshell dance of avoiding confrontation reaches absurd acrobatics of politeness. Dads, man.
But most of his fans clearly understand that complexity, and we spoke to some of his biggest supporters outside in the smokers' huddle. One in particular, Jeannie, who is in her “late 30s,” said of the event, “This is really the culmination of the 'alternative comedy' scene…at least for me…because I have stalked Eddie Pepitone. Why? He's a master of cynicism, there is no one better. He is a beacon of hope for all of us cynics.”
Compare him to what and whom you will — Pepitone's goddamn funny and he's a screaming on the outside, laughing at himself and crying on the inside, transcendent clown. Regardless of classiness or class, it's just phenomenal to see that he has enough well-wishers and young comedian acolytes that he's sure never to die in obscurity. In fact, he might even actually make it — whatever that means anymore. Hence, the documentary.
There is, of course, that Zen Koan of Eddie Pepitone: If he ever does make it and become legitimately cool, will he will cease to be Eddie Peppitone? We hope not.