Eddie Pepitone shares Setlist stories and the best laugh of them all
For the longest time, Eddie Pepitone existed in some kind of untouchable comedy universe in a sealed compartment of my feeble brain.
Then, I dialed a number on Thursday, Pepitone answered and we proceeded to talk for about 10 minutes. The man who I consider to be one of the funniest and most original comedic voices in the land was on his phone, driving a car, thoughtfully answering my questions and agreeing with me on a few topics.
He even peppered the conversation with his one-of-a-kind laugh a couple of times and damn, I’m thankful for that.
Pepitone is a Staten Island-born stand-up who has a slew of television and movie credits under his belt while maintaining a drive (a need?) to perform that keeps him going up in clubs all over the country. He was in “Old School.” His TV work spans the spectrum from “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” to “Community” to “Bob’s Burgers.”
As great as Pepitone is in his acting and voice work, “The Bitter Buddha” documentary solidified his legendary stand-up status for me. The jokes, the struggle, the parental influence, the respect — and ball-busting — from his peers is all there. Put it in your Netflix queue.
Pepitone and I talked about his aforementioned laugh, the challenge of performing without a set list on the Setlist Show and much more.
TC: Your laugh is one of the best I’ve heard. Do people ever comment on it?
EP: I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to me on the Dana Gould podcast, but I laugh a lot there. I’ve actually been criticized for my laugh as well, but most of the time, people like my laugh. I’m just a big laugher.
TC: I’m fascinated by Paul Provenza’s Setlist Show. Have you seen or heard of people bombing there?
EP: Yeah. I had one bomb on that show and I’ve seen other people bombing and what bombing means is that you get a suggestion and it’s an exercise in trust. I have a background in improv so you see a suggestion and you trust that it’s going to go somewhere that’s funny. When you try to get too literal with those topics, you can fall into a trap of trying to make too much sense and then you realize you’re not being funny. You’re just being kind of didactic. Then it builds and you start getting more and more tight. That’s the bomb situation.
You just really have to have a kind of abandon about it. I look at those topics that are given and just try to let myself go. If I don’t make that much sense, vis-a-vis the topic, I don’t really care as long as I’m trying to get to that topic somehow.
TC: Do you watch yourself when you’re in movies or on TV shows?
EP: I hate to do it. I really don’t like to. I’m super critical of everything about myself. It’s sad in a way, but I’m one of those people who hates watching myself do anything because I’m always afraid that it’s not going to be funny or I think, “Oh, that could have been funnier.”
There’s also this thing of, when it’s filmed, oh my god, it’s captured for all time. Then sometimes when I watch it — the Setlist thing you were talking about — I actually did watch it and I liked it. Sometimes, I’ll surprise myself. (interviewer laughs)
TC: I’ve asked other comics that question and almost all of them say, “No. I don’t like watching myself. I don’t even like hearing myself.”
EP: So it’s not just me?
TC: (laughs) No, sir. It isn’t.
EP: We comics are a self-loathing lot.
TC: Yes. I have found that to be true and, on a much lower level, I occasionally do a radio show in the little North Carolina town where I live and people will say, “You were great on the radio the other day,” and I don’t even know, because I don’t listen back.
EP: (laughs my favorite laugh ever) To me, stand-up is such a live event. It’s about being in the moment. When it’s recorded, I feel like it loses something. As a performer, I give my all in the moment, and then I don’t want to fucking know about it anymore, you know what I mean?
TC: Totally. I write for a living and when someone discovers what my job is, they don’t ask me to write something for them on the spot, but comics often get the “Tell me a joke” treatment from people they meet. Has this ever happened to you and if so, what was your response?
EP: It has. When I was a younger comic, I used to feel pressure to be funny. Now, people ask me that and, if I’m not in the mood to be funny, I’ll just say, “Buy my new special.” (interviewer, Pepitone laugh) Because, it’s insulting. It’s like, “Be funny. Prove that you’re a comedian.” I’m at the age now where I don’t have to prove anything. I know who I am. When I was younger, I was like, “Shit, I better be funny for this person.” Now, it’s, “You can go to my website.”
TC: Or, “Follow me on Twitter,” you know?
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes:
She’ll be comin’ around that mountain when she comes, because time is cyclical.
— Matt Fernandez (@FattMernandez) October 10, 2014
Photo via Rebecca Rotenberg