Introduced to comedy as a kid by watching Johnny Carson with his father, stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalco knew that standing in front of a crowd of people and making them laugh was exactly what he wanted to do in life.
“I always wanted to be a comedian ever since I was in second grade,” said Maniscalco. “I told my second-grade teacher that’s what I wanted to do during career day. I always loved stand-up comedy and always loved getting in front of an audience and making them laugh. It was always in the back of my head. I just didn’t know how, when or where to do it.”
Growing up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, the entertainment business seemed far away to Maniscalco. After graduating from college, he moved to Los Angeles when he was 24 to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.
“That’s how it all began and it was a long road,” explained Maniscalco. “It was 20 years ago that I did it and now I’m starting to really reap the rewards of the work I put in.”
And reaping those rewards is exactly what Maniscalco is doing. As part of his nationwide Stay Hungry tour, Maniscalco sold out three shows at Madison Square Garden and recently announced a fourth show that is set for Jan. 20.
“My act is always evolving as I live life,” said Maniscalco. “I inject that life experience into my act. Having a baby and being a new parent is always a good topic for comedy. My act has always been observational along with poking fun of my family and how I grew up. That’s what I see people resonating towards, which is the family stuff. You have to be Italian to get it, but growing up with this old world father and the relationship that my father and I have is always good for stand-up, as well as my wife and I and the different backgrounds we come from.”
Last year, Maniscalco also added author to his resume, after publishing his book Stay Hungry, which talks about the last 20 years of his life.
“It was difficult,” he said. “I never thought I’d write a book. I always thought books were reserved for people with amazing life stories of perseverance and whatever. I just felt like no one really wanted to hear my story. It was difficult to say the least, but in the end it was very rewarding in the sense that a lot of people took it as an inspirational kind of story and to never give up on your dreams.”
Not only has he sold out Madison Square Garden, Maniscalco also sold out five shows at Radio City Music Hall for his Netflix special Stay Hungry, which premieres on Jan. 15.
“It was my first original Netflix special,” said Maniscalco. “Netflix is the mother of all stand-up comedy right now. There’s a premium channel when it comes to watching stand-up. I shot it in Radio City Music Hall, which was fantastic to me, and New York has always been a great market; even though I’m not from there, it’s always been a great market for me as far as people coming out to see a show.”
According to Maniscalco, he’s flying underneath the radar, despite his influx of fans and hopes that his Netflix special will reach people from around the world.
“I have a lot of fans, but it’s not mainstream. A lot of people that are in the mainstream might not even know who I am, which is fine by me,” said Maniscalco. “I made my bones just on stand-up comedy alone. I think Netflix will definitely expose my comedy to people who probably don’t know who I am. There’s room for growth, which is exciting.”
During his stand-up act on stage, Maniscalco draws influences from comedy legends such as Johnny Carson, John Ritter, Jerry Seinfeld, Don Rickles and George Carlin, throwing in his own comedic spin and influence.
“I grew up watching Johnny Carson. I like John Ritter from Three’s Company with his physicality and his facial expressions, which I really gravitated towards and definitely implemented into my act in my own way,” said Maniscalco. “Jerry Seinfeld is a big influence, Don Rickles, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin [and] Brian Regan. It’s an exploration on stage on how you take your influences and mold that into your own delivery and stand-up.”
In November of last year, Maniscalco received Billboard’s inaugural Comedian of the Year award, which was something Maniscalco never intended to achieve in the first place.
“It was an honor,” he said. “I never set out to get awards. To be awarded that and to get up in front of a group of people and accept it and do an acceptance speech, which I’ve never done before, it was just nice to have my family there and my management team and my agents to give thanks to what they do. There’s a lot of behind the scenes [stuff] that people might not see that definitely doesn’t go unnoticed by me so it was nice to be recognized.”
Maniscalco can also be found on the big screen as well, in films such as Green Book and the Netflix film The Irishman, which was directed by Martin Scorsese.
“Green Book is a story that I really fell in love with, and The Irishman was another,” said Maniscalco. “I read that they were making this movie [The Irishman] three or four years ago with Scorsese, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci. It sounded like it wasn’t even possible to make a movie with all those people, let alone be in it.”
After getting the chance to audition for the film, Maniscalco recalled that it wasn’t easy to get cast since he didn’t do too well on his first audition. After retrying, he was finally cast as ‘Crazy Joe’ Gallo.
“I didn’t even get the part that I went out for,” said Maniscalco. “Scorsese thought I was good for another part. I learned a hell of a lot about movie-making [on that set].”
For the rest of the year, Maniscalco will be hitting the road for his Stay Hungry tour as well as reading movie scripts for more potential film roles.
“I’m always reading scripts, but primarily I’m touring [for 2019], and I do a podcast that’s on SiriusXM radio called The Pete and Sebastian Show.”
Find out where Sebastian Maniscalco is touring next at sebastianlive.com.