Eddie Pepitone Comedy Bar, Toronto ON, January 31

Eddie Pepitone Comedy Bar, Toronto ON, January 31
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Eddie Pepitone has the passionate anger of a civil rights protester combined with the endearing charm of a beat up teddy bear. Bursting on stage wearing a black trilby and a bright red t-shirt, he quickly got the tepid audience into fits of laughter with a diatribe about the Liam Neeson movie Taken. Fervently, he painted a vivid picture of his blissful satisfaction as he watched Neeson torture the kidnapper, and abstractly transformed the story into Neeson fighting against everyone that hurt Pepitone, including his horrible ex-girlfriend. Then, just as the tension heightened, Pepitone paused. "Thank you for coming, by the way," he said sincerely in a relaxed tone. The audience laughed heartily.

This is what Pepitone does best: he alternates between letting his rage spin into absurdity and revealing his sweet soul hiding below layers of frustration and disappointment. After a brief riff on how he feels free to be flawed in the context of Toronto's brutal weather, Pepitone returned to the subject of Taken to rant about the ridiculousness of the sequels. "By Taken 9, they'll take his dick. Liam Neeson will have no kid, no wife, no extended family, no house, no furniture, no clothes. And then he'll just stand there naked, holding a box of paperclips."

As Pepitone performs, it's easy to see why he got nicknamed "The Bitter Buddha." In addition to his incredible fury, he often endorsed the vegetarian nutrition associated with commercialized Buddhism: "You've gotta juice," Pepitone said calmly. "It doesn't have to be kale. You can juice old photographs. You can juice a DVD. Just make sure to JUICE." Similarly, Pepitone's inner hippie came through in his left-wing narratives. In his closer, he concocted a brilliant vision of The Price Is Right where an anxious young woman tries to guess the price of the Iraq War while crowd members yelled out sickeningly large statistics. The result was a skilful combination of haunting and hilarious. 

Unfortunately, not all of the comedians of the night were of Pepitone's calibre. James Hardwick was daring, but unpolished and a bit insensitive, while Nick Flanagan was awkward and under-rehearsed. Fortunately, the other two comedians were decent. Host Rob Mailloux's edgy material was hit and miss with the shy 7 p.m. crowd, but his candour about the audience's responses was very funny. Additionally, Simon King brought some incredibly dense material and explosive energy to the show's lukewarm beginning. After King's set, Mailloux cleverly referred to King's performance as "45 minutes of material in 10 minutes," to which King playfully stuck his middle finger out from behind the curtain.

In summation, this show was a pleasure to see. Pepitone's act had a well-structured comedic arc, and his heartfelt delivery effortlessly enriched his brilliant material. However, the show wasn't flawless. Pepitone reused a few of his jokes from his 2011 special, the openers were inconsistent, and Pepitone tripped up on one of his punch lines. Nonetheless, this show was great thanks to King's hypnotizing barrage of acerbic wit, and Pepitone's mastery of oscillating between being wrathful and exposing his innocent, optimistic core.