Eddie Pepitone has struggled to find happiness his entire life.
Luckily for comedy fans, he has struggled to superb, screaming effect — in front of audiences. We spoke to this quintessential Brooklyn comedian, who now lives in sunny Los Angeles, about his childhood in New York, his upcoming show at the Bell House, and the new documentary about his career — “The Bitter Buddha.”
Jaime Lutz: You lived in Brooklyn until you were 9, right?
Eddie Pepitone: Yeah I lived in Brooklyn until I was 9. My dad is from Marine Park. You know Brooklyn a little bit?
JL: Yeah, I live there.
EP: You know Italians in Marine Park? Garrison Beach, and Bensonhurst … so I lived in Brooklyn until I was 9 and then my dad moved us to the country — Staten Island.
JL: Do you remember anything from that time?
EP: I remember that it felt a little claustrophobic in Brooklyn. It was pretty intense, you know. What else — I had a bunch of friends — we played stickball and football on the street. I remember my parents weren’t that happy, so it was not a great time emotionally.
JL: Did it make you anxious?
EP: I wonder if that’s where my anxiety came from, because I suffer from all that crap!
JL: As an adult, what is your relationship with Brooklyn? I notice that when you come to New York, you perform at Brooklyn venues — is that for sentimental reasons?
EP: No. You know that the Bell House and, what’s the other place, Union Hall, you know that they have become like really hip comedy spots. Manhattan is too expensive and too boutique-y, and I think the Bell House and Union Hall have become the hip places to play even though I don’t live there and I don’t know — (laughs) I’m not sure if I’m being correct! — but that’s what I’ve heard.
JL: The documentary that you’re promoting, “The Bitter Buddha,” explores your efforts to reach a measure of calm in your life in the middle of all the anxiety and anger that fuels your comedy. When did this become such a quest for you?
EP: It’s really been organic. First I got sober — I don’t smoke pot anymore. I used to be a big pothead and then I quit everything. And when you quit alcohol and drugs, you’re then face to face with yourself because you don’t bury it anymore — although you could bury it with food and other things (laughs) which I have to work on too — but I mean, once I got sober I started looking for ways to bring peace into my life. There are so many different things that one goes through to find to find some peace: meditation, and prayer, exercise, and all that stuff is part of it.
It’s hard for me, though. I’m an attention junkie — I love attention. And meditation is kind of letting go of the ego. It’s very hard to do because as a performer, the thing that drives you is seeking attention and reactions from people. It’s been a struggle. I haven’t been meditating lately — I’ve been too intensely involved in the movie and all the stuff going on — reading reviews, you know? It’s probably when I should meditate the most.
JL: How are you feeling right now going through this schedule? Excited or exhausted?
EP: Both. The energy thing is a big deal, especially at my age. I’m trying to really take care of myself — I basically eat a vegan diet. I think a really good thing is that I don’t smoke or drink — I don’t party. If I partied, I wouldn’t be able to do this. But it is exhausting! I have to find ways to really rest and take care of myself like that. And my problem is that after the shows I get so wound up I have trouble sleeping sometimes — overstimulation, all this stuff.
JL: When you come back to New York, are you surprised by how much it’s changed?
EP: The last couple of times, it seems to me that New York has gotten more and more like a little strip mall in some parts — or not a strip mall, but all these high-end boutiques. And it seems that it just really has gotten more exclusive — like, it doesn’t seem like middle income or lower income people can live there anymore.
JL: Has that changed the kind of comedians who perform here?
EP: I don’t really know that, because I don’t live there, but I think comedians will always — it seems that comics kind of don’t change because what they’re about is that insane, sick need to make people laugh and that subversive personality doesn’t change. I don’t think that changes — the city around them changes.
JL: As you’ve gotten older, have you noticed the kind of comedy that you do change?
EP: I think I’ve gotten more fearless with what I talk about and I’m not afraid to explore certain things about myself, just about how I feel and who I am. When you’re younger, you really want to look good, period, whether you’re on stage or off stage. I think I’ve just gotten comfortable with not looking good! Letting all the ugliness and the not-ugliness shine through. Like here — here’s who I am.
“Eddie Pepitone and Friends“ at Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643–6510, www.thebel