Since the mid-80s stand-up comedian Eddie Pepitone has established himself as a true “comic’s comic.” He never sells out amphitheatres or even large scale clubs, but his particularly astute yet incredibly high strung and shouty act resonates with a very loyal fan base of younger people, podcast listeners, and fellow comics. He’s hard to look up if you don’t know where to look, but after a look at his fascinating method and intricate personality in director Steven Feinartz’s documentary The Bitter Buddha he’s almost certain to gain a small degree of notoriety.
At the age of 52, Pepotone has cleaned up his life from boozing and smoking and he’s found two separate, but intricately enmeshed forms of inner peace: he meditates and gravitates towards small things in life that make him happy (like feeding squirrels in the park), but he also gets the same calm and catharsis from going off on stage in front of adoring crowds to talk about the things he often finds the hardest to talk about in private. He’s a dark comedian who genuinely believes the world is a “cesspool of shit” and he’s deeply bitter that he never got a good break in Hollywood, but he finds a sense of purpose through giving people hope knowing people like him understand the trials of the everyman.
Pepitone is definitely an interesting person, and it’s easy to see how spending 90 minutes with him can go by in the blink of an eye. Through interviews with big name comics like Todd Glass, Marc Maron (who has a pretty big and interesting part to play), Patton Oswalt, Paul Provenza, and a slew of others, it becomes apparent just how influential and admired this barely known performer truly is. Feinartz wisely lets Pepitone’s act shine through to the point where about half the running time is a concert film.
The personal insights aren’t as in-depth since there’s only so many ways to describe the contradictions and highs and lows of Pepitone’s life, but just like a consummate professional, he’s always “on” and constantly sharing anecdotes and admitting to his laundry list of perceived personal shortcomings. There’s an argument to be made by Feainartz and the people around him that Pepitone might be playing everything up to be worse than it is because he kinds of sees this documentary as his last big shot at fame, but even with that element as part of the equation, it just makes the film more fascinating to watch.