The Bitter Buddha rhetorically asks several times over why this man has never been successful—an answer even the documentary never expects (nor tries) to get.
The Bitter Buddha
Unless you are a huge stand-up comedy aficionado you have likely never heard of a comedian named Eddie Pepitone. I certainly had not until this documentary. But he is beloved by many famous comedians that you have heard of before, which is why Pepitone is considered by many to be a comedian’s comedian. The Bitter Buddha rhetorically asks several times over why this man has never been successful—an answer even the documentary never expects (nor tries) to get.
The Bitter Buddha begins with a much needed background on Eddie Pepitone, someone in the documentary even half-jokingly states that only one out every thousand people has even heard of him before. Turns out that this 52-year-old man has been doing comedy for over 30 years, yet has little more than respect from other comedians to show for it. Among some of his supporters who swear by him are; Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, B.J. Novak, Todd Barry, and Andy Kindler, all of whom make appearances in this documentary.
When he is on stage you can practically see his blood pressure rising. He is full of energy and shouts most of his punch lines. Which is where the “bitter” part of his title, The Bitter Buddha, comes from. The Buddha part comes from an almost zen-like persona he has off the stage. Following Pepitone’s daily routine reveals a much softer and calmer side of him, yet one that is not completely void of quirks. Pepitone lives in an incredibly modest apartment (that is putting it nicely) and hand-feeds squirrels in the park.
There is a sense that Pepitone is more than frustrated that he has not achieved a career breakthrough yet when he begrudges young commercially successful comedians and enviously mocks their famous lifestyles. But like most comedians he uses his struggles in life as fuel in his routine. He is heard openly bashing Twitter despite having over 11,000 tweets, he makes fun of comedy TV shows even though he guest stars on several of them, and he makes fun of his father while seeking approval from him. Even though he seems to be self-aware of his hypocrisy (after all he goes by the name Bitter Buddha), it does not make it any less bewildering.
Eddie Pepitone is for comedians what Daniel Johnston is for musicians; well-respected among their peers as one of a kind, but the average person has no idea of their existence. They are artists in the true sense of the word; they do not have a ton of commercial success but they are passionate about their craft. In many ways The Bitter Buddha is similar to the documentary on Johnston (The Devil and Daniel Johnston), especially in that the people getting the most out of the documentaries are ones who have never heard of them before. Luckily, the odds are in their favor.
If the main objective of The Bitter Buddha is to spread the word about a little known comedian, then it succeeds as Eddie Pepitone makes for an undeniably fascinating subject. But there is a lot to be desired if speaking strictly from a documentary standpoint. The narrative just reiterates that fact this comedian should be more famous than he is and towards the end it relies too heavily on actual stand-up footage. Andy Kindler makes a great joke about how The Bitter Buddha cannot show the rise and fall of Pepitone’s career because he would first have had to rise. While he was referring to Pepitones lack of stardom, he coincidentally defines the downfall of the documentary in terms of its narrative.