For nearly 40 years, it’s been Eddie Pepitone’s goal to use comedy as a way to be a champion for the working class. And with his latest special, he’s continuing to be a champion for the masses.
Mixing his long-standing New York grit with his ability to be both blindingly enraged and clear in his message, Pepitone’s new special and album, For The Masses, out yesterday (June 23), brings the wrath of the “Bitter Buddha” into the current day of American culture — even if it was recorded nearly a year and a half ago. But even as it does come at an incredibly turbulent time in history, it’s nothing totally new to Pepitone, who has worked to carry the torch of the working class since he started taking the stage.
In no way does he want to make light of a global pandemic or a possible depression, but he can’t help but chuckle when he notices how the struggles so many are facing now, and and have faced throughout his career, have been a catalyst in making his material more relevant and timely, and he’s excited to have this latest record out to drive his point home further.
“The initial feedback I’ve gotten on it has been really good, and a lot of people have been sharing the release, so maybe I’ll try to get some of my really famous friends to plug me, too,” Pepitone tells Vanyaland, with a chuckle. “I’m very excited about it, because the initial feedback has been so good, and I just think the way the special was done looks good, too.”
While he feels that the times we live in have really brought people to be more open when it comes to listening to political and social commentary in a comedy setting, at least when it isn’t done in such a heavy-handed manner, Pepitone also feels that a driving force in crowds continuing to come out to his shows has been his ability to be more honest about himself and how feels about the world around him as he’s gotten older. He’s figured out many things along the way, but one thing that he’s really come to realize is that as he’s gotten older, and he’s continued on the stand-up grind, he’s become less concerned with how people feel about him.
“To me, the most rewarding thing for a stand-up is to be able to say the things that feel meaningful, and I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to go into that territory more because I’m less afraid to be really honest, because I don’t really give a damn about who judges me,” says Pepitone. “I mean, obviously every comedian wants approval, but as with guys like Dave Chappelle and Doug Stanhope, a reason why they’re so good is that they’re just so uniquely themselves. I think I’ve gotten more and more to that point.”
Although he has noticed that younger crowds have seemed to flock to his comedy over the years, the 61-year old hasn’t been completely immune to the wrath of the “Ok, boomer” insults hurled at his generation. But it doesn’t bother him, because for the most part, younger generations have found solace in his comedy as he is voicing frustrations that they too are dealing with, and at the end of the day, Pepitone sees the few insults it as a challenge to evolve in his comedy, and stay relevant as a voice for the new generation.
“I find that young people tend to like me a lot, and I think it has to do with the fact that I don’t come off as an arrogant boomer, or like I have all the answers,” says Pepitone. “That’s one thing about my comedy, where I’ll talk about social issues and politics, but I’ll also always talk about how flawed, crazy and ridiculously insecure I am, so I don’t think I come off as arrogant at all, and I think I care about the issues that face young people, like growing up in an economy that is just so brutal. America has become a service industry economy, which is why the pandemic wrecked it. I think people relate to me, and see that I’m on their side.”
In the new special, Pepitone’s political and social material doesn’t really fully take off until right around the halfway point, and that wasn’t just a coincidence. The comedy vet is of the belief that heavier topics need to be gradually introduced if you want the crowd to stick with you, and even when introducing those heavier topics, they need to be introduced in a palatable fashion, as the sheer level of news regarding the current administration has left people fatigued from hearing about politics.
But it’s not all about politics for Pepitone, as you’ll see in the new material, or any of his past material, for that matter. There is still a bit meta, everyday subjects he riffs on, but that isn’t the type of material he enjoys the most. The political and social angle has lived within him for much longer than his comedy career, so it’s more than just a comedic platform to him.
“My dad was a big union guy, and he gave me a real class consciousness when I was young, and I just latched onto that,” he says. “So, I’ve always had that political angle toward the average joe, and I’ve always been very aware of the game, or rather the scam, that’s going on to screw the average joe.”
At the end of the day, Pepitone just wants people to realize that, while he hasn’t garnered mainstream success like that of some of his contemporaries, he is still a comedic force to be reckoned with. Not just for his penchant to speak truth to power, but for his ability and desire to be funny in a deep, psychological way, and the fact that he too is fighting the good fight, right alongside us.
“Besides all the social stuff, the big theme of my work is figuring out how can we keep our sanity in such a difficult world, and helping everyone to realize how we’re all so goddamn crazy, and celebrate that while also trying to get better and not be hurtful or harmful to other people.”