Pepitone features in multiple events for the Green Gravel Comedy Festival — photo by Rebecca Rotenberg
Comedian Eddie Pepitone, headlining this month’s Green Gravel Comedy Festival, is a longtime favorite of the L.A. comedy scene who, in his 50s, is finally getting his due. His stand up reached a broad audience with the 2012 documentary The Bitter Buddha and 2014 saw the release of his first stand-up special, “In Ruins.” Pepitone continues to be a mainstay of alternative comedy with regular appearances on TV shows like Comedy Bang Bang and Adult Swim’s Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.
Little Village recently talked with Pepitone about his hatred of corporations, his love for sports and why comedians need to constantly investigate themselves.
Little Village: Even though you’re an older comedian, you connect with young audiences and are strongly admired by a younger generation of comedians, especially within the alternative comedy scene. What do you attribute this to?
Eddie Pepitone: I think that it’s all about staying truthful to who I am. My life is about just being an artist. Being a comedian. I hope this doesn’t sound too pretentious, but what that entails is constantly investigating myself, what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking. I am always trying to stay on top of the zeitgeist that is going on in the country, and that is going on in people’s lives.
Sometimes I feel like I am one of the few comedians who cares where we are politically and economically. I was talking to Marc Maron about this the other day. I am always railing about how the ecosystem is about to collapse. And he says, “What the fuck do you care, you don’t even have kids.” But I care about it. I care about the terrible inequality of wealth we have. I’ve always been the guy who’s just been so pissed off about injustice and authority. And I think my rebellion connects with younger people.
You mentioned Marc Maron. You’re often associated with him because of your appearances on his WTF podcast. How did you come to work together?
I’ve known Marc for many years from back when we were both in New York. We were never great friends, but we were friendly. And then, Marc started his podcast and he had the idea for me to come on at the end of the live podcast—he doesn’t do them much anymore—he wanted me to do a rant of the day.
He gets a kick out of me being ranty. He used to be very political. But now Marc doesn’t want anything to do with politics. I am railing about this shit, and he’s like “What do you care? Why don’t you enjoy your life?”
Maybe, eventually, I’ll outgrow this. It is hard to stay rageful all the time. It is draining.
Illustration by Ben Mackey
You’re pretty active on Twitter. During the Superbowl you tweeted “A lot of commercials about how tight-knit families are what defines us. Meanwhile we are a shattered nation in every way in its death throes.” Did you enjoy the game?
I did. It wound up being a really good game. I always rail against corporate culture, but I have been a sports fan my whole life. I love the Giants in football, and I love the Rangers in hockey and the Yankees in baseball. Sports is a way for me to completely turn on off my mind and just kind of suck my thumb for three hours.
But the comment I made: I get so pissed off at the bullshit. Like the McDonald’s thing where you got to pay in love. Call your mom and tell her you love her. That was so upsetting to me knowing how they factory farm animals. Anything but love. They don’t let workers get any kind of decent wage. What’s horrible is how corporations project an image on television and then what they are really about is this complete opposite. It’s just so evil to me. All corporations use this stuff about how much they care about you and your family and just the opposite is true!
There are a lot of comedians who are political, but it is striking how far to the left you go with your material. In your act, you often come off as a street-wise Noam Chomsky who won’t stop yelling.
That’s funny because Noam Chomsky is one of the guys I look to for clarity about what’s going on. Another guy I read all the time is Chris Hedges who wrote this incredible book that is kind of my bible which is called The Empire of Illusion. I do try to say what those guys are saying, but in a funny way.
In your comedy, you’re often ranting at yourself as much as you are at the outside world. There is a bit you have where you highlight this by literally heckling yourself. You run to the back of the audience and start yelling things at the stage like “Hey Pepitone, why do you dream about dead birds attacking you at night?” and other various Pepitone-based insults. How did that bit come about?
It came out of the fact that I think most comedians really want to be hecklers because we’ve gotten heckled. We would really like to heckle other people. But the other thing it does is express my self-loathing in a funny way. I am always too self-conscious. I am always analyzing what I do. The only way I can make myself feel sane is to get that on to stage. I get too in my head unless I get this stuff out of my head. I have to verbalize it.
Your act often plays against this image of you as a blue-collar New York guy. Do you think growing up working class in Staten Island and Brooklyn informs your comedy?
Oh yeah, big time. My dad had a big part in it. My dad was a teacher. He was involved in the union for a bunch of years. He was big union guy. He turned me on to politics of the working man trying to get their fair shake. Then growing up in Brooklyn and Staten Island, my dad a teacher, my mom a teacher … it was a lower middle class existence. It couldn’t help but shape me and my comedy.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 171.
North Liberty celebrates Iowans' least favorite time of year with a festival's-worth of physical, social and family-friendly events, including its first ice rink. Pre-registration begins Monday, Nov. 20.