Recorded at the Hollywood Improv on October 29, 2009, Comedy Juice All-Stars is a Best Of from that night, featuring, in order, Sadiki Fuller, Mike Kosta, Eddie Pepitone, Hannibal Buress, Kevin Shea, John Roy, Ben Gleib, Pete Holmes, Butch Bradley and Dov Davidoff. Each set is roughly three to six minutes long, with Davidoff delivering a 12-and-a-half-minute closer. For what essentially amounts to a compilation album, Comedy Juice All-Stars is certainly pleasing; while not all the comedians are able to make the most of their limited time, the album nonetheless provides an accurate depiction of a typical Comedy Juice show, while making sure to scrape out the filler and preserve the funny.
The two stand-outs on the album are, without question, Davidoff and everyone’s favorite comedy curmudgeon, Pepitone. The latter’s set is a brief three-and-a-half minutes, and it’s not even Pepitone at his funniest. It is, however, Pepitone at his best.
Pepitone opens by aggressively informing the crowd that he has made two appearances on Kevin James sitcom The King of Queens. Presenting this as some holier-than-thou achievement, it’s pretty clear from the outset that Pepitone’s in on the joke, aware of how relatively unimpressive this feat actually is. Comically frustrated that he has to perform for the audience, he barks, “I don’t need this,” before letting his guard down: “I don’t know… I have one follower on Twitter. And he wants to kill me.” Pepitone spends the next three minutes alternating between screaming at his one follower, Mel, who may or not be at the show, and reinforcing to the crowd that he does need them, as he has famously appeared twice on The King of Queens.
Again, this is not Pepitone at his funniest. But it is he at his most raw and most vulnerable, and therefore most excellent. By putting himself out there—by putting his balls on the line—in a way that no other comedian on the album does (save Davidoff), Pepitone makes us feel his pain. The artistic integrity in his set and style is unquestionably commendable. Pepitone works from a self-deprecating base, but he eschews any elementary joke along the lines of “Look at me. I suck. Laugh at my misery.” Pepitone instead self-deprecates through counterintuition, in effect inverting the tried-and-true method of pointing out one’s own foibles and shortcomings. By overstating his case—he’s twice been on The King of Queens—he informs us of his own bitterness and self-pity, letting us in on the joke through the most unconventional and innovative of paths.
Pepitone closes his set by trying to make the audience realize how much pleasure he takes out of crafting the perfect Facebook status update, while also ramming home the fact that he doesn’t give a fuck about the audience. “The comments that are gonna come in! I start calling my folks back east: ‘Daddy! Daddy! I just did a great Facebook update. And I bet it’s gonna get 15 to 20 comments, Daddy!’” This isn’t extracting pleasure out of the little things; it’s extracting pleasure out of the pathetic things. And by playing this card and exaggerating his emotion to impractical (yet, by some accounts, realistic) lengths, Pepitone masterfully constructs another self-deprecating joke that defies all convention.
Again, the other stand-out is Davidoff, who, like Pepitone, opens up and dissects himself in the most Marc Maron-like of ways. Unlike Pepitone’s set, however, Davidoff’s trades off between broadcasting his own vulnerabilities and broadcasting his general disgust of most things external to himself.
Five minutes in, Davidoff touches on his relationship with his father and the patriarch’s inability to say, “I love you.” “It would always come out in another way,” Davidoff explains. “One time, he goes, ‘I thought about having your mother killed,’ and then there was a pause. And he goes, ‘But I would never do that because of you and your brother.’ And the dude waited as if I was supposed to come back with, ‘Thank you.’” The very fact that Davidoff chooses to discuss this incident shows how much of an impact his father’s inability to emotionally communicate had on him. But like a good comedian, Davidoff is able to see the humor in the darkness, no matter how close it hits to home.
The best moments on Comedy Juice All-Stars certainly belong to Pepitone and Davidoff, but that is not to say the other comedians aren’t worthy. The entity unto his own that is Hannibal Buress dishes a stellar set, and Pete Holmes, despite working out some kinks, lands many laughs, too. As well, John Roy does a nice job of boldly entering racial territory, and Butch Bradley’s riff on horror movies is a solid bit. Comedy Juice All-Stars could have been more consistent, yes, but it serves as a great primer to 10 distinct comedians whose styles are more than varied enough to merit listening at least once through.