Eddie Pepitone has been disgusted with everything longer than you have: Bed Bath & Beyond, the NSA, magicians, upscale grilled cheese, Parks and Recreation, and Wolf Blitzer are just some of his triggers. But what makes Pepitone my favorite comic is his persistent awareness of, and ability to hold, something that I call "the double horror." Not only does Pepitone expose the terrifying futility of those consumer identities we build to distract ourselves from the abyss, but he also reflects the anxious absurdity of simply being alive—and having a soul—in the first place. "Is SleepyTime Tea going to make up for the fact that I was molested?" he asks. "Global capitalism is brutal and heartless. In other news I got a great app for my phone that allows me not to feel!!!" he tweets.
"At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face," wrote Albert Camus of the strangeness of being alive. Pepitone's comedy is the visceral experience of a man being continually struck. When I've shown Pepitone's Netflix special to friends, some have asked me, "How do you handle all of the screaming?" The truth is, I don't really notice the screaming. Perhaps because his screams echo my own in a world where those around me don't seem so shocked by the fact that we exist. Camus also wrote, "I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion." In Pepitone's work, I find that revolt, freedom, and passion. I feel that I have company on that street corner
I caught up with Eddie Pepitone by cellphone on his way to play a role in Jill Greenberg's Feminist Pigs, wherein seven women take revenge on their abusers. Pepitone was to be shooting a scene at a pool in Beverly Hills, and for the part, he would have to be electrocuted underwater. We talked about anxiety, sobriety, and why life is hell.
So Sad Today: So you're going to get electrocuted?
Eddie Pepitone: This is the kind of shit… it's typical for me… today I'll be getting electrocuted and tomorrow I'm supposed to be upside down on a lucite cross. This is how my life goes. That's my m.o. is I agree to do things, and then it's like, "Oh God."
Yes, any time a plan gets canceled it's the best day of my life.
My big thing lately is I'm just gonna show up for whatever. I'm gonna be an adult. I agreed to do this. The old me would have wiggled out somehow. Now I'm on the trip of walking through pain.
When did the new you start?
I'm being dragged, kicking and screaming. So I don't want to make it like—I guess the new me that is doing that is pretty new. Like a year old?
The walking through pain aspect is interesting. When I first discovered your comedy it was when you performed at an addiction recovery benefit show. I know that we're both sober. For me, using drugs and alcohol was an attempt not to be human. So when pain—my own humanity—occurs, it feels like something is very wrong.
Drugs and alcohol are just a game plan to avoid pain, right? When you've done that for years, you have to rewire yourself, because you're so used to killing the pain and not facing stuff. And now all of a sudden, you're like me where everything is fraught with anxiety. I'm going to a pool, and I'm just worried.
What would you say are your major fears right now?
I think like tremendous violence happening to me or collapsing from a panic attack in the streets and being abandoned alone. What the panic attack symbolizes for me is I'm going to die in the streets alone gasping for air, how fucking horrific is that image, and it also represents—like my big issues are—I guess abandonment. Like just being bereft and abandoned and nobody gives a fuck. And LA is a weird place to be if those are your issues.
LA is an abandonment issue. You start out abandoned, because everything is so far apart. But dying alone in public is definitely scarier than dying alone at home. Like I just want to die in my sleep, and I think it's unfair that some people get so much better deaths than others.
I think it's also about ego death. When I'm listening to a speaker like Eckhart Tolle, I feel like I get it, but then as soon as I go back to my life, I feel that terror of losing things, of losing life.
I loved in The Bitter Buddha when you were listening to Eckhart Tolle in the car and then yelling, "Fuck you, asshole!" at another car. He makes ego death sound so soothing, but the real experiences I've had of ego death were like, I felt like a chair was dissolving under me, and everything was decontextualized. I was like, wait, I don't want to be conscious, put the blinders back on! Anyway, I wanted to ask you, why is everything a living hell?
Yeah, why is everything a living hell? Well, I think it comes down to that, well for me, I just didn't get any guidance or nurturing when I was younger. So I grew up such a twisted person who was always trying to avoid pain… I just think it's hilarious that I drive around LA, the rich and powerful LA, sunshine, everybody's talking about it, and meanwhile I'm listening in the car to how the body holds trauma, and just feeling it. So your question, why is everything a living hell? I think it's a perspective we have cultivated for so long. I'm just becoming conscious of my—hold on—
[I hear Pepitone talking to a woman who asks what he is doing. She thinks he is there to clean the pool. He responds that he is one of the actors in a film and is an hour early.]
Now I'm afraid—maybe I shouldn't be giving information, like the filmmaker has done something on the sly and I've just given information, like, yes we're filming in the pool. Oh, God. And I'm like, "I'm one of the actors. I'm a big actor who has trauma trapped in his body." So why is everything a living hell? Wait, I'm going to tweet that, "I'm a big actor who has trauma trapped in his body." I think it's funny to call myself a "big actor."
That's also something you would literally see: Don Johnson, 30 years later, in US Weekly, "How Don Johnson Got Through the Trauma Trapped in His Body."
It all comes down to Don Johnson.
It does, I think. But I think it happens young, the hell. I think the hell gets implanted in us young, and I think as we then deal with the world, especially getting into—like I got into smoking tons of weed at 14 and that was my big escape. Little did I know that I was just postponing the inevitable reckoning. You know, there's always a reckoning in life.
The reckoning is so annoying. Like I've been clean and sober now for more than 12 years, but I'm still such an addict that I will get addicted to… fucking anything that gets me out of myself. I'm always looking for that thing that I can just have infinite amounts of without a reckoning. But the day of reckoning always comes.
Lately, I've been really into my dogs. Like, just putting so much of my emotions and obsession—I'm constantly looking to soften every day. I'm so into my dogs, but there's always part of me now that's like, "They're going to die one day. And that's going to be the reckoning that's going to be hard." It's like this too shall pass, the bad things and the good things… but I remember Mark Maron said, "I'm trying to get the pleasure out of a pint of ice cream now that I got out of an 8-ball."
Yeah, the party we cobble together gets shittier and shittier. I have, like, Twitter and porn. I have, like nothing.
I'm trying not to watch porn now. I just feel like it's feeding this shitty part of me... but then I get drawn to it too, and I'm like, oh my God… but it's that panicked feel. Anything that has that addictive feeling to it, it always leads you to crazy things. It's that empty calorie shit that's feeding that demon we have. I need to fuck this, I need to eat it, I need to fuck it and eat it.
Totally! The hungry ghost.
But are we being overly dramatic about our stuff? We're both sober. I'm sitting here right now ,and I'm looking at the trees, and the air is really nice, so there is a part of me now that is more connected than ever before to good stuff too. But it's so fraught with the feeling that just on the other side, waiting for me, are the demons. Have you read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck? The big pain point is trying to avoid pain. We all think we should be riding around in a Maserati getting our dicks sucked, millions in the bank, everything is fucking great, and when adversity hits we're like, no, no, I don't want that, and that's what makes life unbearable. But it's the pain that leads to the good stuff. Like when you're in an intimate relationship, and you avoid at all costs a hard conversation about how you feel, but that kind of intimacy is what's going to make your life more intimate. We need to have the attitude that life isn't supposed to be a carousel ride while eating a fucking cake...which I love.
Of course. I want permanent cake. Like I want to be in the cake. I just want to be in the cake, all the time. But somehow not get sick of the cake. Like be high off the cake and just be able to eat the infinite cake. But in regards to the other shoe dropping and childhood stuff, I feel like it's a defense mechanism. To fully trust is just too scary. Because then I'm not in control when the shoe drops. Even though that control is an illusion.
I think it's so fucking hard to let that go. And just to get into what's going on today, neo-Nazis and Trump, social media hysteria, you kind of look at the world and you go, Holy shit, it is a shithole. It is a fucking nightmare.
Yes, you look around, and there is plenty to verify that it's all shit.
That's the scary thing.
There's horror. And then there's love. And then there's horror. But even nature is scary, too—just its randomness. I was watching this documentary the other day, and there was a crocodile who got in the mix with a bunch of hippos. And in defending themselves, the hippos had a stampede to chase the croc away. And they succeeded. But in the chaos, one of the hippos got accidentally stabbed by another hippo's tusk and was going to die. And I'm watching the hippo who got stabbed accidentally, and I'm like, fuck dude, that wasn't an act of evil. But it sucks for that hippo. And that scares me too. The randomness.
Eckhart Tolle is constantly harping like a little bitch about the present moment. And I get his point but—oh man, I felt that, the way that hippo got stabbed accidentally and was just going off to die, and the way animals like that go off to die is like my dying on the street alone. The way animals slink away when they're dying.
That hippo was having your nightmare death.
I should have a picture of that hippopotamus dying, blown up, and just put on the biggest wall in my place.
It just says "The Worst That Can Happen."
Right, the worst that can happen. And when people come over I just go uh, that hippo, that's just before she dies.
But what were you thinking about the present moment and that hippo?
My thought is that, the reason why life is hell is that we don't stay in the present—like you're watching that fucking documentary, and you're actually watching it on a comfortable couch, eating your cake, and that's your present moment.
But what about the present moment for that hippo? But I get it. I could spend 70 years worrying about my death and only five dying.
Like, right now my present moment is fine. But what we do, we don't stay in the present moment. I'm worrying about my death, or my lack of faith. And that's what makes life hell… it's our minds that are the fucking enemy. Like right now I'm sitting here, and it's really pretty and everything, but I'm in this really ritzy part of the—I don't know where the fuck I am—and I'm thinking, Someone with a gun could just come out and be like, Who the fuck are you? It's peaceful here.