Eddie Pepitone’s stand-up set, which you can currently see at the Soho Theatre in London pretty much every night I think until the end of the month, is a wonderful, decaying thing, one of the few stand-up shows I’ve seen that really has something like the element of death, properly understood, behind it. “Isn’t there something about a new hat like this, that makes up for a life lived poorly? The kids are in jail, but just look at how it fits.” By which I mean: when he delivers this line, Pepitone looks every bit the man who has tried to stare down the leering skull that lurks behind reality’s facade. And failed. This is what comedy, after all, is really about. Frenzied chatter dancing around unnameable fear and confusion.
But although the set is consistently very funny, Pepitone’s masterpiece, and easily the highlight of the show, is his “honey, how’d you get the shirt so fresh?” bit. There are a couple of videos below giving examples of this bit, which give a good general sense of it/the basic premise, although neither come quite close to the majesty of the thing as I’ve seen it performed in both Edinburgh and London now.
The reason why this bit works so well is because, in it, personal mental health problems (a recurring theme for Pepitone) exist in the drama on the same level as social problems, global catastrophes. The bit manages to perform an immanent critique of consumer society: consumer society, as is well known, tells you that if you feel shitty, it is your own fault, or due to factors that are entirely internal to your own existence. It is because of your brain chemistry, or because you were abused or bullied as a child, or because she left you, or whatever. There is no possibility of objectivising these problems that you face, as caused by social factors, or as existing as manifestations of social, rather than merely individual, pathologies.
But of course this is patently false: as Pepitone’s bit manages to indirectly articulate to us, it is no coincidence that your relationship is falling apart, or that you have serious mental health problems, when society is lurching from crisis to crisis and the icecaps are melting, and it doesn’t seem like anyone in any sort of position of power either can, or is willing, to do anything about it at all. These two realms, individual and social, do not spin frictionless from each other: they are interwoven.
And the reason that consumer society obscures social pathologies as individual pathologies is, of course, so that you will shut up, and buy more products, or at least not start trying to pursue a critique of the sort that might make it more difficult for this sort of society to replicate itself. But the ingenious thing, as Pepitone’s bit shows us, is that the products themselves are not just the reason for this obscuring of social pathologies taking place, they are also the means by which the obscuring effect is brought about, these ‘fun products’ (“it’s always a ‘fun’ product”) that cause us to – and this is the climax of the bit as it is now performed – having witnessed our sister blow their brains out in front of the children, and as society crumbles all around us, inexplicably “bury our heads in laundry.”
Pepitone’s bit manages to expose the intense irrationality of all this. By the end of the thing, Pepitone is screaming: “the real question, honey, is not how you got the shirts so fresh, but why?” The punchline is the reason given: the product, “Daz detergent.” But this is not, of course, really a reason, since our relationship to the product as such is, now, we see, merely animal.
Which I imagine is the same reason why the rest of the audience found the bit as funny as I did.