In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Eddie Pepitone has been playing angry, funny guys—and being an angry, funny guy—for decades, on stand-up stages, in movies, on TV, and on podcasts. He’s recognizable for small parts in everything from Late Night With Conan O’Brien (he was the “New York heckler”) to The Muppets to The Sarah Silverman Program, and he starred in the live-action web comic Puddin’. A feature-length documentary about Pepitone, The Bitter Buddha, was released in 2012, and the doc’s director, Steven Feinartz, also helmed Pepitone’s new hour-long stand-up special, In Ruins, which debuts tomorrow on Netflix.
Eddie Pepitone: I sanded and installed hardwood flooring in Staten Island, and I still have tinnitus from it. It was such a physical job; it was just hard in every way. My boss was a super-demanding, legally blind guy who would tell me I missed a spot. He couldn’t see, this fucking guy. It was just one of those crazy jobs I had when I was smoking a lot of grass in my early 20s. I did it for like two years. I got a hernia, and I remember I was working with the hernia for two months because I was afraid to take a day off. I thought my boss would kill me. What I put myself through—I can’t believe it. I still have ringing in my ears from the loud floor-sanding equipment. We used to go into these houses in the winter and have to install flooring with no heat—the houses would be kind of shells. We would smoke a ton of pot and crank up jazz. We thought we were really cool because all the other construction guys were listening to rock, and we were listening to jazz.
The A.V. Club: Were you doing stand-up yet?
EP: I was starting to do stand-up and acting. I was taking serious acting lessons. I used to go into my acting class covered in sawdust, like a Peanuts character. I’d be doing Death Of A Salesman, and every time I moved, dust would come off of me.
EP: My dad wanted me to be anything but an actor. He wanted me to be, like, a doctor. So to please him, I told him that I was going to be a dentist, which was hilarious, because it’s the farthest thing from my true personality. My mother didn’t care what I did. She was like, “Do what you want.” When I told my dad I was going into acting, he wouldn’t talk to me for a few months. He was an education guy. He was a dean in high school. I’ve won him over slowly over the years.
EP: Hercule Poirot. Does that count? The Agatha Christie guy. Our neighbors sound like they’re drunk and high, screaming laughter all the time. And my wife and I are next door, quietly watching Poirot, a civilized gentleman. I picture myself now like Poirot. Even though I scream on stage, I despise noise. L.A. is so noisy. I identify with Poirot’s disdain for anything uncultured. [Laughs.] Me and my wife went to the Hollywood Bowl to see Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; that’s the kind of thing I like to do now.
EP: I’m a Jeopardy! fanatic, and I think I would be good at that, because if I got the answer wrong, I would intimidate Trebek by screaming at him. You know when Trebek looks to the judges, when there’s an answer that may be right or wrong? I would say, “Look judges, if you don’t give it to me, I know where you live, and I’m coming for you.” My wife is amazingly good. Jeopardy! makes me realize the immense holes I have in knowledge. I may be one of the most geographically challenged people ever. My historical facts are spotty at best. Science—I’m spotty at best. If you get into grooves where you can access things you learned or that you’ve read… It’s almost like doing comedy. When I’m really doing comedy well, I feel like I can access things in my life. We all know a lot of facts, but it’s whether we can access them, depending on our emotional state. I’m just not well read enough. Maybe that doesn’t answer the question, though. I dunno. I would still want to try Jeopardy! Every other game show just seems so fucking stupid to me!
EP: I think my enemies would describe me as judgmental and bullying. I’m very critical of comedy—what’s being done in Hollywood in comedy. If I’ve made enemies out there, it’s because I like to rip whatever I think is puerile bullshit. I think maybe it comes across as bullying when that’s really the opposite of what I am. I think that any good comedian or artist has to be judgmental. For me, anger fuels my comedy. Comedy’s got to make fun of stupidity. You have to judge what you think is stupid.
AVC: Do you actually have enemies?
EP: Not overtly. In the comedy community people are just polite. Nobody will come out and say that they’re your enemy. That’s the Hollywood way! They quietly hate you.
EP: It would be called the “calcium coronary heart scan.” It would be all vegan, with fake sausage, fake ham, fake roast beef, tomato, onion, pickles, and lots of vegan mayonnaise on heavy, thick bread. It’s the vegan sandwich where you think you’re eating healthy, but you’re really not.
EP: Oh wow. I would have to say it was a condom! [Laughs.] I’ll never forget being so nervous. I was in my 30s. I’m kidding. But before a condom, I think it was just a very expensive sandwich. I think I was maybe 20. I was very nervous. I felt like a thief. I felt like I was in a Woody Allen movie, like, “I’ll just take these magazines and the condom,” trying to slip the condom in—no pun intended—between some magazines and a Diet Coke.
EP: I stopped doing karaoke about 10 years ago. I’ll tell you what my go-to song was, until one night I couldn’t hit the high note anymore. It was “Roxanne.” I would like karaoke for the first half-hour, and then I would just get so fucking tired of either the singing being horrible, or the fucking people who were showing off, which I thought was so lame. I once saw the guy… Do you know the guy who played Van Helsing? He’s got a big face, a big head. You know who I’m talking about?
AVC: Hugh Jackman?
EP: No, fuck. Too bad I can’t remember. It was some celebrity, and he sang Frank Sinatra. Everybody was wowed by it, and I was like, “Who gives a fuck?”
EP: Oh my God, maybe my first apartment after leaving my dad’s house. It was a rent-a-room thing. I had a meth head who lived directly above me. There’s nothing more horrifying than hearing a meth head talking to themselves. I swear to God, the only thing I could equate this guy to, but without the face makeup, is the Joker. Incredibly long diatribes about nothing, and then he’d giggle maniacally at the end. I had mice in my apartment. It was the only thing I could afford. It was in Staten Island near the ferry. I could see Manhattan from my window. It was so close yet so far. It was truly horrifying; I think I lasted a couple of months. The meth head broke into my place, and I think I left the next day.
EP: Just about every stand-up comedian I know. Let me think who to pick out. I think I could definitely kick the shit out of Anthony Jeselnik. No. Patton? I don’t want to get Patton mad. I’m gonna say Wolf Blitzer. I watch him on TV and I’ve grown to despise him, and at this point I could definitely take him.
AVC: Just with the power of your anger?
EP: Yeah. Stop scaring people. I put on CNN yesterday, and every story was just a bombing, a plane crash, a war. That’s what these guys love. They love when there’s tragedy in the world, because then people tune in. They scare people. It plays into the fear-based society we live in that says we need NSA and all the military that we have. In other words, it makes people think that we need to be violent because there’s so much violence out there. That’s what the media is all about. Is it okay to go deep?
AVC: It’s good. How do you balance that in your act, doing political stuff without it overwhelming things?
EP: I usually feel that out on stage. A lot of times I’ll be home writing and I get so angry. When I’m on stage, I realize I can’t be that serious or angry. People want to be entertained, first and foremost. I always have to balance it with silliness or absurdity.
EP: I have Derek Jeter’s autograph on a baseball. Brody Stevens gave it to me, because he knows I’m a big fan. Other than that… I have Dana Gould’s autograph! Other than that, I don’t have any. I never was a big celebrity-seeker guy. I wish I would’ve gotten Lou Reed’s autograph, because he was my favorite. I saw David Bowie’s 50th birthday party concert, and he called on Lou Reed to do a couple songs. That was so fucking cool.
Bonus question from Kumail Nanjiani: All things being equal and with no dietary consequences, what’s your favorite breakfast food?
EP: I’m vegan. By the way, tell Kumail that is not an inspired question. Lately it’s been applesauce with blueberries and nuts. I don’t know why I’m laughing. It sounds so boring.
AVC: Do you crave sausage and bacon?
EP: When I see it or smell it. But if I’m not seeing it or smelling it, I don’t think about it. It’s all mental.
AVC: Are you vegan for political or dietary reasons?
EP: Both. I saw some factory-farm videos. And my wife is a huge animal-rights activist. And besides that, it’s good health-wise. But with a vegan diet, it takes a while to tweak it to where you’re healthy. I was eating all these carbs, thinking, “I’m vegan, I can eat all these sweets!”
EP: Since we live in such dire times economically, and there’s so much injustice going on, what would be your method of political activism that would really make a difference? Not just being on a computer and signing a petition. Would you go to the streets? Would you go to a congressman’s office?