Comic Maniscalco visits
Funnyman has seen his success grow over the past two years
Everything seems to be going in the right direction for fast-talking funnyman Sebastian Maniscalco, who will play two shows in Phoenix on Saturday.
Entertainers, if they’re lucky, get to enjoy a moment in which everything seems to be going their way.
In the midst of such a moment: Sebastian Maniscalco. Just look at what’s been happening. In the past two years, the fast-talking funnyman has made four movies. He headlined his fourth Showtime special. He’s playing bigger venues; he just booked a solo Radio City Hall gig next year. And he got the blessing of Jerry Seinfeld, who featured him on “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
Perhaps biggest of all — if not his favorite topic — Forbes puts him at No. 10 on the list of the list of the world’s highest paid comedians, reporting that he earned $15 million between June 2016 and June 2017. Not too shabby for a guy from Chicago whose folks would break out the Sara Lee when company came over.
The 40something Maniscalco, who also hosts a program on Sirius
XM with Pete Correale, called to plug his two shows at the Celebrity Theatre — one is already sold out — and talk about his career. Question: You’ve worked for a long time, but it seems like things have gone into overdrive recently.
Answer: I think in the last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of the work I’ve done over the last 17 or 18 years come to kind of a tipping point. I’m doing movies and the theaters are selling out. I have a book coming out next year. In a business where you don’t think anything is happening for a while, things have been happening. Q: Do you attribute it to any one thing, or just a culmination of things?
A: I think it was going to the comedy clubs for the last 10 years and saying hi after the show. People would take photos with me and I’d thank them for coming out. I keep my material current, so when
people come back, they’re not hearing the same thing, and they tell their friends and family. It just snowballed. I didn’t have any TV or film exposure — it’s all been stand-up.
Q: When this kind of success happens, are you afraid it’s all going to go away?
A: (Chuckling) It’s funny you say that. A lot of people always say, “The sky’s the limit.” I’m always wondering when I’m going to fall off the mountain. I come from a negative family. We’re always concerned. We don’t look at the positive, we look at the negative. That kind of drives us.
Q: You talk a lot about your Italian-American family in Chicago. You are very specific but it becomes universal.
A: I just started talking about my family five to six years ago. I never used to talk about my heritage or my family. My comedy was based on observational-type humor. You know, going to Chipotle, going to Subway, going to Ross Dress for Less. When I started talking about my upbringing and family, it started resonating with a lot of people who have the same kind of immigrant experience: Greek, Mexican, Spanish, what have you. It hits a lot of people. It’s multigenerational. Q: You go on the road a lot, but you have a new baby at home. Is that hard?
A: She’s 5 months now, and I took time off to be with her. We’ve arranged this tour so she can come and maybe every other weekend she doesn’t come. It’s hard to leave your family. The kid is so young and a lot of transformation happens at this age. But to be honest, I think I’m home more than a lot of dads. You work a 9-5 or a 9-7, maybe you see the kid an hour before you go to bed. I’ve just had the entire week off, and we just got back from a walk around the block. We spend a lot of quality time together. Q: Here, you sold out one show at the Celebrity Theatre and they added a second.
A: It’s always nice when you put a show on sale and then you have to put another one on sale. It tells me I have a good presence in the city. I love Phoenix, I love that theater. I love being in the round — it definitely lends itself to being very physical.
Q: Were you always so physical as a comedian?
A: There is a physical way I kind of speak. It’s either hand gestures or expressions, but basically what I’ve done is heighten it for the stage. I noticed that I never used to be as physical when I first started out. Now people are listening to the material and watching me. I think it really works. In a day and age when people are so distracted by cellphones, you gotta do something other than talking. Q: You toured with Andrew Dice Clay in the early years of your career. That seems like an odd mix.
A: He taught me a lot about doing stand-up comedy. His audiences were very pro-Dice and his material a little bit more blue, and then I’d come out there and talk about Ross Dress for Less. It was a challenge, but that challenge made me a stronger comedian. Touring with him for two years taught me a lot about the world of standup. He shared with me what he went through and gave me advice, and I listened intently.
Q: So is he the same guy off stage as he is on?
A: There is a bit of heightened reality when he is on stage. He’s not walking around saying those type of things to people. He’s a practical joker. When I was with him, he’d kind of do things for effect to make me laugh. He’s just a good guy to learn from. As a young guy he told me, “Don’t pay attention to other’s people success. Just worry about your own. Don’t look at some guy getting a TV show or a movie and say ‘Why am I not getting that?’ Your time will come; maybe five months, maybe 15 years from now.” I took that advice and it really paid off. Q: Speaking of TV: Do you want your own series?
A: I set out to be a stand-up comedian. Anything that is not that is gravy to me. Last year I got to make a pilot for NBC called “Sebastian Says” based around my act. Tony Danza got to play my father. It never got picked up to go to series, but I got a great education on how to make a TV show. Q: How did the Forbes thing come about? Does your manager call them and say “Look what my guy made?” or do they approach you?
A: They come calling. They get the numbers from ticket sales. I didn’t know I was going to make the list until they said it. It was very strange, to be honest. I’m kind of a private guy. I’m not a flashy type of guy, so it was a little weird to have that information out there.
Q: Did people start hitting you up for money when the list came out?
A: (Chuckling) You know what? I haven’t had that experience at all. But I’m the kind of guy who is always generous around my family, so it’s like not even an issue.
TODD ROSENBERG PHOTOGRAPHY Sebastian Maniscalco will perform at the Celebrity Theatre on Saturday.
In 2005 and 2006, Sebastian Maniscalco (right) was part of Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show. It also featured (from left) Bret Ernst, John Caparulo, Vaughn and Ahmed Ahmed.