For someone who lives by the motto “Stay Hungry,” Sebastian Maniscalco has a lot on his plate. The top-selling comedian is back on the road after a dizzying few years in which he became a first-time father, penned a best-selling book, sold out a record breaking five nights at Radio City Music Hall and filmed a movie with a cast so Italian it looks like a Goodfellas reboot.
Maniscalco is enjoying the taste of success with his book and current stand-up tour. Both are aptly titled “Stay Hungry” as a reminder to take nothing for granted and to appreciate the special moments in between. The comedian closes out the year with his first Jacksonville show December 30th at the Times-Union Center’s Moran Theater.
“It’s been really great. The last three years we’ve been kind of burning it at both ends here doing touring and movies and books, so I’ve been a busy man. I took the summer off and went to Italy with my family and had a great time not doing much,” says Mansicalco. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years. When I was single, I’d be out every weekend. I’d come home on a Monday, do laundry and be back out on Thursday, and, now that I have a family, I just want to be more present and spend time with my family.”
His daughter, Serafina, is 19 months old and already a seasoned traveler. She has visited 18 cities, which her famous dad says she handles like a little pro. “She sleeps like a bear and eats like a great white. She’s a doll, and we’ve been having a ball with her,” he says.
Maniscalco is known for his observational humor and fatherhood has helped reshape his perspective. “I’m looking at the world completely different seeing her discover the world for the first time. I mean, you take her outside, and she sees a squirrel she goes nuts. When I didn’t have a child, I saw a squirrel, and, big deal, it’s a squirrel. But now when she sees it, I have a whole new appreciation for all the newness of life,” he says.
“She’s definitely made me more patient and [reminds me] a lot more to kind of stop and smell the roses. It’s also been great for material.”
Or maybe not so great, where Serafina is concerned. “I’m having a problem. Our babysitter is funnier than I am with her, and it’s really killing me. My babysitter is making her die laughing, and I come in with my routine, and I’m getting nothing. I gotta brush up on my baby humor.”
She’s not the only family member keeping her dad in check. Much of his material focuses on his family’s unorthodox approval methods, but Maniscalco is still getting plenty of laughs. Fans often parrot his jokes back to him, a phenomenon he finds equally flattering and disconcerting.
“I get that a lot. A lot of people try to tell me my bits back to me which is uncomfortable and never really quite lands the way it should. It’s nice that people have their favorites, and they like to share that with me. That’s great, but sometimes it’s a little much. I do a bit about how when the doorbell used to ring way back when and how you reacted so that seems to be a real favorite for people. It’s nostalgic, it’s multi-generational,” he says, as his wife Lana feigns boredom-induced slumber in the background. “She’s heard these stories so many times. I have a family that rips me to shreds. My father, my mother, anytime I do anything it’s always like ‘we saw you on Kimmel last night. Your shirt looked like it was too small’.”
Maniscalco grew up the son of Sicilian parents in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. He was in second grade when he decided he wanted to be a stand-up comedian. After college, he moved out to L.A. where he worked at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills for seven years while honing his comedy skills at open mic nights.
“I fell in love with it at a young age. When I was in second grade, I told my second-grade teacher that I wanted to do stand up. When I graduated college and I decided I was going to save up and move to Los Angeles and pursue it, I didn’t put a time limit on it, but I felt like I had a shot. It was comedy or bust,” he says.
He cites Andrew Dice Clay among his comedy heroes and has not only performed as his opening act, he’s followed the same trajectory as a successful comic, best-selling author and now dramatic actor. Dice recently appeared as Lady Gaga’s father in A Star is Born.
For Maniscalco, he recently sold out five nights at Radio City Music Hall, which will be aired as a Netflix special, and released his memoir. Writing was not an easy process, and it forced him to approach his storytelling from a different angle.
“A lot of my act is done with timing and physicality and facial expressions to convey what I’m trying to say. When you have to do it on the page, it’s a lot different. You have to be more descriptive in your storytelling. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” he says. “I kind of reflected on where I’ve gone and where I’ve been. There were some stories I couldn’t tell on stage because they were too long, and they needed some time to breathe, and I thought a book would be a nice place to share it. There’s people out there that still read, so that’s good to know.”
He also has a trifecta of film projects under his belt. He appeared in the comedy TAG with Jon Hamm, Ed Helms and Jeremy Renner. The Green Book with Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini and Viggo Mortensen opened November 16th and is already generating Oscar buzz. The film also won the 2018 Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice Award.
“Something that I’ve always wanted to do was get into acting. I like the fact that it’s kind of the opposite of what I do in regards to stand-up comedy,” he says. “It’s working a different muscle. Although The Green Book is serious in its tone, it’s very funny and Viggo and Mahershala Ali are really, really good together. They’ve got great chemistry and add some comedic value to the film.”
In early 2019, Maniscalco will appear in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film The Irishman, joining a star-studded cast that includes Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. “This was like the dream job for me. These are guys I’ve watched my entire life. Next thing you know, first day on set I’m acting with DeNiro and Pesci, so it was nuts. After you have an experience like that, you might as well retire.”
From the sublime to the ridiculous, press junkets for The Irishman were held at the Four Seasons where some of Maniscalco’s former coworkers still work. “Now I’m on the opposite side of that whole coin which is really strange. When I was working there I envisioned myself coming here for a press junket and being able to order a cocktail rather than going to get them. Being able to do that now is definitely gratifying. It’s good to revisit where you came from.”
While he’s enjoying newly minted actor status, the whole red carpet thing is going to take some getting used to. “It’s not my cup of tea,” he says, “I don’t like going on the red carpet and posing for photos. I can’t be sitting there just smiling and looking like an idiot. If I’m going to be in front of a camera, I gotta have a microphone.”