The Lost Roles Interview with Eddie Pepitone

Lost Roles is a weekly column exploring “what might have been” in movie and TV comedy as we take a different actor, writer, or comedian each week and examine the parts they turned down, wanted but didn’t get, and the projects that fell apart altogether.

This week, I interviewed Eddie Pepitone, a much-loved stand-up comedian who’s been performing for decades but has only recently seen his star starting to rise in the entertainment industry — an industry that he’s awfully fond of lambasting in his act. A regular on Conan (where he plays a heckler), The Sarah Silverman Program (where he played a cook named “Eddie Pepitone”), and Marc Maron’s wildly-popular podcast WTF (where he often closes out the live episodes with delightful, rage-filled rants), Pepitone has found his niche, playing loud, angry blue collar guys in a way that nobody else can. He’s also the subject of the upcoming documentary The Bitter Buddha, the co-host of the podcast The Long Shot (alongside Sean Conroy, Amber Kenny, and Jamie Flam), and a beloved presence on Twitter. Eddie Pepitone was nice enough to make time to chat with us about some of the parts he’s missed out on over the years, including roles on MADtv, Transformers 3, Parks and Recreation, and Curb Your Enthusiasm:

Family Practice (failed NBC pilot, 2011)

There was a pilot I did, and I was so excited about it. It was an NBC pilot with Jean Smart and Christopher Lloyd, and that was really kinda big. Christopher Lloyd of Back to the Future is just a fucking legend. You know, Taxi. It was a couple years ago, and what it was was a show about a family practice of doctors. Like the father’s a doctor and the lead was a young, good-looking guy who’s a doctor. I was a guest star on it, but everybody loved me and they were talking about maybe making me a regular, which might have been bullshit or whatever. I played a truck driver who kept passing out, and nobody knew what was wrong with me. It was a cool part because it was perfect for me, this narcoleptic truck driver…

I was hanging out with Christopher Lloyd. He was a funny guy. He was very professional and very quiet offstage. It’s funny when I’m around big stars, I never know what the fuck to say to them. [Laughs] I had just seen him in a horrible production of Christmas Carol at the Kodak Theatre. It was actually legendarily bad. There were all kinds of technical snafus, and the director actually sent out an email to people who had come to the show and bought tickets, saying he’d refund your money. [Laughs] So, I didn’t bring that up to him. He was in a bow tie and a suit. That was his character. He kind of had this cool, sophisticated demeanor offset but also a demeanor that said ‘Please don’t waste my time with bullshit.’ That was kinda cool.

And here’s the thing, the fucking director of it was like… “Gather the cast. This is definitely gonna go, this thing.” Of course, it didn’t get picked up.

When something like that happens, do you ever hear a reason for it or do people have theories?

Yeah, all the theories are hilarious, and everybody always blames the network. “Oh, those fucking cocksuckers,” you know what I mean? Who are you gonna blame, ya know? It would be hilarious if they just blamed one actor. [Laughs]

Transformers 3: Dark Side of the Moon (2011)

That was such a fucked-up experience because first of all, I have such an attitude about Hollywood and movies – that they’re fucking garbage. The action flicks in particular are absolutely fucking garbage. I had seen Transformers on a plane, and it was so bad, I thought. Just all this macho steroid action. You don’t give a fuck about any of the characters… I was so nervous doing that audition because even though I say I hate all this Hollywood shit, when I get in front of people, I just completely freeze up. This was hilarious because… [the part] was a man-servant and they were like “Try to come up with a funny accent.” So, I was working on this funny accent, which was kind of Swedish or something. And then, at the last minute, they said they wanted it to be German. It was one of the worst fucking auditions that I had ever done because I’m so bad with dialects that the dialect came out half German, part French, part Brooklyn. I think they were laughing at me for all the wrong reasons in the audition. [Laughs]

And of course, they gave it to Ken Jeong. You know Ken Jeong, who’s on fucking everything? And he’s the nicest guy in the world too. I was just like, ‘Oh great, give Ken Jeong another part.’ To me, that’s what Hollywood is all about. They give the same ten people everything. They totally do.

MADtv (circa 1997)

That was when fucking Artie Lange was on one of his benders, and they were looking for an Artie Lange type in New York and L.A… This guy who never really was interested in managing me got the call and thought of me. He was like, “Eddie, I’ve been watching your career in the shadows for a long time”… All of sudden, he became a big fan of mine because he thought potentially I could book it. It was one of those things where they ask you to do five characters [Laughs] and I think I had a day to prepare them. Essentially, I’ve realized that I kind of do one character, like a screaming blue collar guy. But it was hilarious because I had to come up with five characters in a day. I was like “The Existential Cab Driver,” then probably I was like a French maitre d’. Things that were probably not appropriate to me. “The OCD Child.” I think I could easily do a show like MADtv, and I would be really good at it, but auditions are so particular because the element of freezing up and not letting your natural self come through is such a hazard of auditions. You’re trying to give them what you think they want instead of just playing to your strengths. And also, you have to prepare. You should really prepare more.

Playing Danny Glover’s sidekick on a crime procedural

When I first got to L.A., I got some recognition, and this guy who was a bigwig at CBS… sent me in to audition for these pilots that were happening that season. He had me in mind to be Danny Glover’s curmudgeonly sidekick. It was a cop show, so I should have been really world-weary. Instead, I was like a nervous fawn in the audition instead of a world-weary blue collar cop. It was one of my first big auditions in L.A., so I was completely nervous. And it was one of those things where you have to look at dead bodies and make jokes about it. Another hilarious thing is they expect you to be this brilliant actor in a room with one person and a camera. Like, Danny Glover wasn’t around. They don’t give you much at all when they meet you for the first time. There’s all these hurdles you have to pass. I was just a nervous fawn. Instead of going [serious crime procedural voice] “Boy, this body looks like something we could roast marshmallows over,” I was like, [high-pitched, nervous voice] “This body, it really looks like marshmallows.” It was a total fucking swing and a miss for the sidekick of Danny Glover.

But now, I feel so much more confident in all these things, and I actually get pissed that I don’t go out for more serious stuff… I would like to go out for dramatic stuff, but they’re like “Oh, he’s a comedian” and they don’t think of me that way a lot of times. I actually have a role coming out in a movie [Free Ride] with Anna Paquin where I play a tugboat captain, and I have to get rid of marijuana because we get stopped by the cops. It should be coming out next year. It was a serious role, and I love the director who saw me as good in it. I got to perform with Paquin for a couple days.

Do you have any background in dramatic acting before this, maybe in theater?

Yeah, yeah, I studied in New York for years. We’d do a lot of serious stuff. I was the lead in A View from the Bridge in New York, which is an Arthur Miller play about a blue collar dock worker who falls in love with his niece. A really taboo thing. He ends up killing his nephew out of jealousy. So, I’ve done a bunch of serious stuff.

The Neighbors (ABC, guest starring role)

I’ve auditioned for a lot of guest shots on sitcoms… You know that show The Neighbors? This happens to me a lot, where they wanted me to be a janitor in his 60s. Now, I’m 54, but I think I look like I’m 30. That’s just all in my head, of course. They were thinking of going a little younger, but it was hilarious. All the guys in the audition room were so much older. Older guys, one guy with a white beard who they eventually gave it [to]. It was sort of a wisened old janitor who this kid comes to and you have to give him advice. The script said, “Think Alan Arkin. Think Alan Arkin really hard.” [Laughs] I felt like I did a pretty good job, but I felt like I wasn’t old enough. It was one of these roles where it was [old man voice] “Ah kid, you don’t have to cure the common cold to impress your girlfriend, you just have to let her know that you tried to cure it.” I even put a voice on like that for it. Of course, they went with the much older guy who looked like Santa Claus…

I always get depressed when I go into these auditions because… you think they’re just thinking of you, and they call you in and you’re really excited. You’re like, “Oh great, I’m gonna be on a network show.” And then, you get there and your heart just fucking drops because it’s 15 guys. Seven look like you, eight are much older than you. Then, you sit around with them, and they’re all talking about the commercials they have done recently. You’re like, ‘Oh, fuck me.’ You’ve got to hear all these stories about how they’ve got a Mucinex audition after this one. It’s like, ‘Oh God, kill me now.’

Parks and Recreation (NBC, guest starring role)

I don’t know how many years the show’s been on, but they called me in for one thing last year. It was just such a small role of a guy at the airport. Sort of like an airport concierge or ticket guy. I remember being pissed off that the role was so fucking small… They don’t want you to be funny. The casting director on Parks and Rec [says] “Our stuff is very straightforward, and we like you not to be big and this and that.” And I’m just thinking in my head, ‘Then, why did you call me in then? Why did you call in a comedian? Why don’t you call in a passerby on the street?’ The Parks and Rec audition was really disappointing because the role was such a nothing role. Then, you see all these actors, it’s so disheartening because you see all these actors for one little piece of shit role.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, guest starring role)

The Larry David thing was really disappointing because I’m a fan of Larry David. I was auditioning for an episode of Curb, and it was a funny bit where a guy… was going to Larry, “Hey, can you watch my computer? I have to go to the bathroom.” The guy then disappears and doesn’t come back, and Larry says, “Fuck it, I’m leaving.” I think the computer gets stolen, and then we have to do another scene where I say, “How can you fucking leave, Larry? You know there were black people around.” Like something like that, something really racist. One of those things on Curb. I remember I was so excited to be in the room with Larry David. There was this wall of people watching the auditions. It was just me and Larry, so that was exciting to audition for him.

But like a wall of people, it feels like the Nuremberg Trials, but they’re all laughing. Usually, they’re laughing too hard. I thought I did a good job, but you’re told, “Don’t be funny. Don’t be funny. Just play it really straight.” I always really get pissed off at that note because what I do is I’m a funny guy, you know. I want to be funny. My instinct is to be funny, and I understand, but it’s why I’ve always wanted my own show. When you go in for other people’s shows, you can’t really kick ass. You just have to be the good second banana.

The Lost Roles Interview with Eddie Pepitone