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Comedy: Sebastian Maniscalco's long path to success is no exaggeration

Published April 20, 2017 8:12 am

Sebastian Maniscalco • Known for his over-the-top style and wry observations, stand-up comic will perform in SLC for the first time.
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There's this narrative going around that Sebastian Maniscalco, who was recently named the Stand-up Comedian of the Year at the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, is something of an overnight sensation.

Given that he moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to work in comedy back in 1998, Maniscalco takes some issue with the "overnight" part of that assessment.

"You're three, four, five years into doing the stand-up comedy and you're struggling for money — I was working at the Four Seasons hotel, I was doing odd jobs, I was selling satellite dishes in the ghetto — and while you're doing that, you're like, 'Man, when is this all gonna pay off?' " he recalled in a phone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. "Struggling for 15 years, just trying to figure out when it's going to pop and going to be better, and now I reflect back and it makes it all the more sweet. … It's not like I was homeless on the streets, but it was paycheck to paycheck there for a while; I was getting into a little bit of debt where I had to have my parents bail me out because I wasn't making enough money. Now, it's nice to look back on that and say it all was worth it."

It took a long time, but Maniscalco finally made it. And the same can be said of his debut performance in Salt Lake City, which will come this Sunday at the Capitol Theatre as part of his Why Would You Do That? national tour.

His routine is one of silly extremes — taking the facial expressions he learned in the course of Johnny Carson idolatry and exaggerating them by orders of magnitude; picking up aspects of physical comedy from John Ritter on "Three's Company" and making them over-the-top ridiculous; and packaging those movements as accompaniment for his wry observations delivered with hyper-articulated Italian machismo.

It took Maniscalco a good while to realize that applying a "less-is-more" mantra to his onstage persona was yielding him less success than more.

"Actually, when I first started out, I was very angry up there, I just wasn't likable. I didn't have the ability to laugh at my own jokes," he said. "I knew that a lot of the stuff I was saying was a little absurd, but over time, I think the physicality, as well as the material, kind of developed into this act where it is now. It's not like offstage I'm flailing my arms and kicking my legs up to tell a story, but it seems to work when I'm performing."

All of that is window dressing, though, to the material.

Maniscalco said what eventually helped him break through was taking a personal turn with his subject matter.

"Where I think it really started to cook was, about four, five years ago, I started doing material that was really personal to me in the sense that it was about my family — it was about my father and my upbringing and how my father's an immigrant from Sicily and kinda brought that Old World, old-school values here to the United States and implemented that into his family," Maniscalco said. "And some of those things I grew up with, I see them as a little bit absurd and a lot of people can relate — you don't have to be Italian to get it, you can come from whatever country you come from and there's a familiarity there with, 'Oh, that's my father! That's how my parents behave.' So, I think when I started really talking about the family, we started seeing people come out in masses."

And success in bunches.

In recent years, Maniscalco has had three Showtime specials. He just joined Jerry Seinfeld in an episode of "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee." He co-hosts "The Pete and Sebastian Show" on Sirius XM's Raw Dog Channel 99 with fellow comedian Pete Correale. He'll be appearing in three movies this year ("The House," with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler; voicing the character Johnny the Groundhog in the animated film "The Nut Job 2"; and a Jeremy Renner-produced indie flick called "Cruise").

He's also expecting a daughter on May 1.

"Little baby girl — more material," he joked.

It's all the culmination of an ambition he's had for most of his life.

While Maniscalco denies being a class clown, he does remember, "I actually told my second-grade class that I wanted to be a stand-up comedian when they went around and asked everyone what they want to be when they grow up." He honed his sense of humor around his family. "The dinner table was my first kind of stage," he added. "I always used to come home and tell funny stories about what had happened to me at school. I think it was just an innate ability to pick the absurdities of life and tell a story."

Between 1998 and 2017, Maniscalco experienced his share of material-generating absurdities.

But he always returned to what he said when he first moved to L.A. to pursue comedy: "I will stay out here as long as I need to to make it happen."

Turns out, he wasn't exaggerating.

"There was never a point where I got so down that I was like, 'I gotta get a real job.' But there was moments where I remember calling home to my parents, going, 'Man, I feel like I'm doing what I need to do to get to where I want to go, and it's just not clicking for me.' … And there was moments of, 'Man, this is tough,' but there was never moments of, 'I gotta give it up,' " he said. "It's one of those things where you gotta stay patient and persistent and just believe in yourself and know it's gonna happen sooner or later."

Overnight sensation? No. But the latter of those words was always more important than the former, anyway.


Twitter: @esotericwalden —

Sebastian Maniscalco

Why Would You Do That? Tour

When • Sunday, 8 p.m.

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $42.50-$64 / VIP $267.25; ArtTix






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