Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone
Sebastian Maniscalco is polite but sounds tired, in that going-through-the-motions-of-yet-another-media-call way. His handler has insisted the interview run 12 minutes max. With some pleading, however, she bumps that up: to 13 minutes.
Oh, well then.
It’s easy to cut the exceptionally busy comic, who plays the Air Canada Centre on March 1, some slack. It’s 7:30 a.m. in Los Angeles, where he’s on the phone and lives with his wife, artist Lana Gomez. But if Maniscalco seems a tad disengaged, it’s probably not because he’s been up all night partying with peers or, given his rise up the comedy echelon, an entourage of hangers-on. There’s a 9-month-old daughter, which could explain the fatigue.
‘Wild West Comedy’: Standup documentary
Article Continued Below
Quite possibly, Maniscalco sounds a bit drained because he’s a comic workhorse. If he’s not writing — or rewriting — material, he’s onstage somewhere honing it. Down time? Pshaw. There’s always work to be done, a mantra he learned from his parents, who often figure into his act.
“I’ve been working since I was 8 years old,” he says in one of his signature stage bits, his accent suggesting he’s not far from his roots as the son of Italian immigrants. “Watching TV, my father walks into the living room and says, ‘Hey! Go start a business!’ ”
That’s not an exaggeration, Maniscalco, raised in a Chicago suburb, says on the phone. “I grew up, you went to school. If you weren’t in school, you were working.” He once spent Christmas break at a job glazing honey-baked hams. “With a torch!” he emphasizes. “That (work ethic) is what my father instilled that in me.”
Here, his voice rises with enthusiasm, clearly proud of his upbringing. “I had a lawn-cutting service when I was 12 or 13 with a neighbour. Eight dollars a lawn,” he says, adding that while he used his father’s mower, he was responsible for fuel and maintenance.
“He could have just gave me the mower. But he gave me that foundation that if you want to run a business or make things work, there’s costs involved.”
His father’s still drilling that ethos into him. “Even to this day, he’s telling me, ‘You gotta write more material. These people ain’t gonna come back if you’re still doing the same (material).’ ”
“I was constantly yearning for stage time,” he says about his start, which came in his 30s, considerably later in life than most standups. “I knew that the more I got onstage the better I would get. That definitely came from my mother and father saying that you gotta earn your keep . . . pay your own way and nobody is going to give you anything in life.”
Indeed, there’s an authentic working-class flavour to Maniscalco’s material. But it’s sharply written and finely rehearsed, replete with lots of theatrics: his fit and lithe body constantly bounding and bending to illustrate punchlines.
At 44, Maniscalco’s not old enough to be a curmudgeon. But his contempt for much of society’s newfangled trappings — selfies, Uber, Airbnb — feels so sincere he pulls it off with aplomb. “Ooo-burr??” he asks his audience, rhetorically, his face contorting to emphasize his revulsion. “That’s like hitchhiking. With your phone.”
He’s also cultivated catchphrases that help define his comic voice: “Aren’t they embarrassed?”, “Why would you do that?” and “What’s wrong with people?” have, no doubt, helped propel him past “What’s his name?” status.
“These are lines I’ve been saying all my life,” he insists before recounting, with real disgust, a recent flight where a fellow passenger was brushing her teeth. That’s the kind of fodder that will likely find its way into his act. “(My comedy) comes from the heart and a real place, rather than made up on a laptop. My stuff’s not made up. It really happened to me.”
The fruits of Maniscalco’s labour are already evident in the stage configuration for his Stay Hungry show at the ACC, which is almost sold out. In a slightly unusual choice, he’ll be performing in the round — from a stage dead centre in the arena, with the crowd facing him from all sides. It allows for a larger audience, but it requires more, well, work for the comic.
“I’m very, very aware that while I’m speaking, my back is to half of the audience,” he concedes. “So I’m always moving around.”
“But I think it works well for me . . . because I like the challenge.”
Sebastian Maniscalco performs Thursday, March 1 at the Air Canada Centre. Go to ticketmaster.ca for tickets and info. Denis Grignon is a writer and standup comic.