'The Bitter Buddha': Director Steven Feinartz on his documentary about cult stand-up comedian Eddie Pepitone

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Were you to ask 100 passers-by to list their favorite stand-ups it is unlikely any of them would mention the name Eddie Pepitone. But were you to ask any random group of comedians the same question it might be a different matter. The New Yorker has long been a fixture on the L.A. comedy scene and his rage-fueled rants are beloved by the likes of Sarah Silverman, Marc Maron, and Patton Oswalt, all of whom appear in the new documentary about Pepitone, The Bitter Buddha.

Below, Bitter Buddha director Steven Feinartz talks about Pepitone and his film, which is currently playing in select cinemas and is available on VOD and iTunes.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: To be honest, prior to this documentary, I had never heard of Eddie Pepitone. It seems strange that someone who is so revered by comedians can be so unknown to the public at large.
STEVEN FEINARTZ:
Absolutely. With the Internet now, you would think everything would get out there. But for some reason this guy has been sort of hidden in L.A. in the comedy community. He’s this treasure that nobody really tapped into.

How did you come across him?
I came to Eddie kind of late in the game, three years ago or so. I listened to him on WTF with Marc Maron, the podcast. He does these rants at the end of WTF which we animated in the film. Each rant was different. It was something that was going on today in Eddie’s life, whether it be his struggle with veganism or the entertainment industry that he had been hating so much for the last 30 years.

It was something that I was drawn to, just this manic energy. It was a voice that I had never heard. I approached him through Twitter because he had fired his manager and there was no way of really getting hold of him outside of Twitter and the Internet. I reached out to him and we sat down after a show and talked about the idea. It took a little time but we eventually got into it and just started filming.

Making a film about such a relatively unknown subject is a double-edged sword: On the one hand the viewer does get that real sense of discovery, but on the other you must have had people saying, “Why don’t you direct a film about someone people have actually heard about?”
“…something more commercially viable?” Yeah, for sure. For me, that was the challenge. And it was my first feature and I wanted it to be on something that I really truly believed in. And Eddie is, to me, the embodiment of something totally new and totally original. I just wanted to expose Eddie to the world in the best way that I could. And this documentary I think does that.

He gets angry about a lot of things onstage, but he seems like a fairly amiable chap in real life. Did he ever lose his temper with you?
[Laughs] Eddie has his moments for, sure. But we got along surprisingly well. I think that he knew I was a fan from the get-go. There was no other kind of angle. No, we never really fought. We’ve been traveling together with the film for the last six months, to festivals and whatnot, and we’ve gotten to be pretty good friends.

I was surprised to learn in the documentary how often he goes out on auditions for things like Transformers 3. Having read a little bit about him, I had assumed he would be in some sort of ivory tower of I-want-to-do-my-comedy-and-nothing-else.
Well, that’s the contradiction of Eddie’s life. He hates the Hollywood system so much, but at the same time he wants to be famous, he wants to be well-known, and he wants to be an actor. He’ll do big budget movies if they cast him, there’s no question. That’s the quandary for a lot of performers.

I could totally imagine him voicing in an angry raccoon or something in a Pixar film.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, he does a lot of voices for cartoons like Bob’s Burgers.

Actually, I was looking at Eddie’s credits on imdb.com and since you started working on the documentary he does seem to have enjoyed quite an uptick in his professional fortunes.
Definitely. He traveled to do the Edinburgh fringe festival. He’s doing London for three weeks in May. He’s traveling the world!

Were you worried that he might get too successful? That if he scored, say, an NBC sitcom before the release of the film then your it might have seemed less current?
I don’t think Eddie will ever change. I think people who make it later in life are already set in their ways. That personality is not going to change too much.

Has Whitney Cummings seen the documentary?
[Laughs] No, I don’t believe so.

Because he does get quite enraged about the existence of her show Whitney at one point in the film.
I think he lets loose not on her, but on the industry for putting these big billboards. Eddie likes to say that these billboards are basically a promise that they can’t keep. Usually they’re mediocre shows. I’m not saying Whitney is a mediocre. show But a lot of them tend to be.

In The Bitter Buddha, B.J. Novak talks about this terrible building Eddie lives in. But when we see his accommodation I thought it looked pretty nice and roomy. Maybe it’s just because I’m a New Yorker, but I would absolutely live in that apartment.
[Laughs] Eddie got mad at me for using that line. I was like, “Sorry man.” I do feel bad about that one. Because it isn’t that bad of a place. He actually just moved too. So he’s doing fine.

Novak’s got that Office money. I assume he lives in a palace with a moat.
Exactly.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on a feature comedy. We’re developing that as we speak and starting to look into possible casting.

Will there be a role for Eddie Pepitone?
I think I’ll have no choice.

You can check out the trailer for the Bitter Buddha below and find out where the film is playing at the movie’s official website.

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