Eddie Pepitone: From Falling Down Drunk to Sober Stand Up

By Rebecca Rush 07/09/18

Comedy is totally addictive! It hits the part of the brain that drugs do. The love me love me I’m home I’m home part (that is when it goes well). You feel exhilarated because you are the center of attention.

Eddie Pepitone
Feels so great to do it sober and kick ass. pc: Mandee Johnson

I was a few months out of my second rehab facility when a friend and fellow stand up comic handed me a DVD, a documentary about comedian Eddie Pepitone called The Bitter Buddha. I was riveted by the documentary - not only was this man talking about real things that matter on stage (while I was mostly doing sex humor) but he was sober! And had been for a very long time.

I declared him my favorite comic and waited anxiously for his first Netflix special to come out, In Ruins. I actually planned to go to the taping in Brooklyn, but then I relapsed. And I came back. And I relapsed. And I came back.

My first article for The Fix was about giving up marijuana. I left out the role Eddie played in that, but here we are. 

Last February I planned to go to LA, where Eddie lived, for some shows. I also planned to get a medical marijuana card. I emailed Eddie that I was his self-appointed very biggest fan, and he agreed to meet. We made plans. This was it! I was going to meet my comedy idol! And he was sober! But surely, I thought, he probably smoked weed. Living in California and all, and how could anyone even do comedy without imbibing in something at least--at the very least--after the show. (As if I could ever wait that long.)

I planned to meet Eddie at a vegan restaurant and then go to a play. But first, that day I took a girl I met at a meeting to Harry Potter world. And then when I dropped her off, I had to get super super stoned to make up for the few hours I couldn’t. And then I was on the phone with the sponsor I had at the time yelling about how I was going to be late. And then I just had to stop at a dispensary.

I was late to dinner. So late, in fact, that the first thing Eddie ever said to me was, “I ordered you dinner. And I ate it all.”

So we go to the venue and my car just stinks like weed, which Eddie noticed. He brought it up, and when I heard him say the word I got super excited. I knew it! He does smoke weed! This is all the validation I have ever needed!

However, I was wrong. He was bringing up weed to tell me it was the last thing he quit; that after that was when his career really started; that marijuana dampens the dreaming mechanism. The hole in my gut raged, as I knew he was right. After that I kept in touch with him more. He has helped me so much, and I know he can also help you.

I have relapsed since then, most often the same old story other chronically relapsing comics tell me: hanging out too late, too good a set, too bad a set. There are a ton of us out here, and I’m sure there are more in other industries, building it all up in the periods of sobriety, then - at best - coasting on those wins during periods of relapse, and starting all over again when we get scared enough. 

Yet there are a number of comedians I know with sustained, continuous, joyous sobriety. Those are the ones I wanted to talk to, the ones whose secrets I desperately wanted to know, the ones who seem to hold all the horcruxes that I can’t find. 

So I asked Eddie.

The Fix: What is the hardest thing about being sober in the comedy industry?

Eddie Pepitone: Feeling like you’re missing out on an exceptional post-show high. Comedy is all about the adrenaline rush, and booze and weed intensify it and make you feel like a god. Also, comedy is such an intense brain-centric art. I miss turning it off with pot. The brain relaxes with pot.

What is the best thing about being sober in comedy?

Feels so great to do it sober and kick ass. I actually remember everything and I did it without drugs! Also [I’m] much sharper when I’m not high. I create more sober and am surprisingly much [more] fearless. I see stoner comedians flounder sloppily a lot.

How did you deal in the early days of sobriety?

Early days I did (as I tend to do now) split right away after I perform and stay out of trouble. I can hang now if I want and not feel as needy but I usually get bored after a while.

What do you think it is about comedy that attracts so many addicts? Or addicts that are attracted to comedy?

Comedy is totally addictive! It hits the part of the brain that drugs do. The love me love me I’m home I’m home part (that is when it goes well). You feel exhilarated because you are the center of attention (what addict isn’t about me me me???). The pace of jokes, the racing mind, the intoxication of the good looking crowd. THE VALIDATION.

What advice would you give to comedians who struggle with chronic relapse?

Chronic relapse and being a comic is super hard, so preventative measures need to be taken. TAKE CARE OF THE MIND/BODY. Meditation practice (tough because comics thrive on chaos and have little discipline) but you have to try to slow down and get a good foundation during the day. Try to stabilize endless desires for sex and excitement by letting go of intense fantasy life. Yoga, 12-step meetings, a couple of sober or even-keeled friends (but I find all this hard as my habits are so ingrained). Gym and exercise helped me. 

Any other advice you think is helpful?

Build up sobriety slowly. Feel the good feelings of not being fucked up and achieving stuff. It’s so nice not to be hungover. When depressed, talk to a deep friend who gets you.

That deep friend, for me, is the one and only Eddie Pepitone. Sometimes when I’m lonely and don’t want to bother him, I listen to his podcast, Pep Talks, in which he is exactly how he always is: brilliant and authentic and brazenly self-aware. 

Thank you Eddie, for being a light that shines the way out of the dark. And to all my fellow chronic relapsers out there: all we have to do is stay sober ONE MORE TIME than we got drunk.

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Rebecca Rush is a stand up comic, writer, and constantly evolving human. Former horse girl. Witch. Bylines include Fodor’s Travel, MiamiBeach411.com, The New Haven Advocate, Big City, Lit, and the Miami New Times. She was on the Viceland show Slutever 03/17/2019. Her podcast is called Comic’s Book Club, and features a comic or author talking about a different book every week (also available on iTunes and Spotify). She has performed at clubs, colleges, and dive bars across the country. Upcoming dates can be found on her website, http://rebeccarushcomedy.com. You’re also welcome to follow her on Twitter and Insta. She lives in West Hollywood with her little dog. Friend of Bill W.