Whether he likes it or not—and he probably doesn’t—Eddie Pepitone has long been tagged a “comic’s comic,” meaning he’s spent 30-plus years in relative stand-up obscurity, with his backstage peers forming a lot of his fan base. Recently, though, Pepitone’s specific brand of dark comedy (an emphatic contempt for modern-day everything) has gotten more airtime. Some of this has to do with the rising popularity of contemporaries who have long admired and laughed at his brash angst—he’s a regular guest on WTF With Marc Maron, for example, and a favorite of Patton Oswalt’s. But Pepitone’s also finding his own devoted audience.
Good stand-up—especially at indie venues like the Beat Kitchen or the Hideout, where Pepitone played recently—often isn’t as much about the punch line as it is about the character: the eccentricities of the person holding the microphone. And Pepitone deserves to be recognized as more than just another loudmouth with a joke, shouting to get your attention. Last year’s documentary The Bitter Buddha portrays the comic as a hopeless worrier and naysayer, a hater of all things not happening to him, as he prepares for a headlining gig at the Gotham in New York, where he grew up and cut his comic teeth. The film includes a solid amount of great live material: Pepitone reading from a disheveled folder of his collected tweets (“These are my tweets!”), Pepitone heckling himself from the viewpoint of the audience. Its focus, however, is on an inherently angry but self-aware character, one whose deep-rooted self-deprecation is both an endless struggle and a twisted reason to celebrate. And that’s funny.
The Bitter Buddha screens at 9:30 PM on Fri 3/15 at the Music Box (3733 N. Southport, musicboxtheatre.com); Pepitone and director Steven Feinartz will be in attendance for a discussion moderated by the A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin.