If you ask the riotous comic Sebastian Maniscalco what really feeds his soul, he might tell you it’s a quirky balancing act of family and work.
Fortunately, there’s enough going on in both arenas to keep him busy for some time — he’s the father of a newborn daughter and has a record-breaking string of sold-out, gut-busting comedy appearances.
About that … Maniscalco brings his tour, “Stay Hungry” — it’s both his personal motto and the title of his new book — to the valley Feb. 17.
By the looks of it, the performance appetite of the outspoken funnyman, recently hailed by Newsday as one of the best comics and ranked by Forbes among the highest-paid comedians in 2017, may not be satiated any time soon. This guy loves the stage and will go off about any number of topics in modern life — with a bevy of punctuated, baffled expressions to boot.
We sat down with him to learn how it all began and what keeps him going.
PSL: You grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. How did you end up onstage in L.A.?
Sebastian Maniscalco: It was the late 1990s when I decided to come out to Los Angeles. I didn’t know how to get into the entertainment business. I sent headshots to agents and casting directors, but I didn’t put a phone number on there.
SM: I put on the back of the headshot: “Coming soon to Los Angeles.” In my stupid head, I’m thinking, they are going to see the photo, see the content, and wait. And then, when I arrived, I sent a bunch of new headshots to the same people that said, “Now playing.” And this time, I did include the phone number. But I got not one call from it. [Laughs]
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY SEBASTIAN MANISCALCO
Sebastian Maniscalco: "I tend to laugh at more serious things. I don’t laugh at comedy."
PSL: Did you always want to do comedy?
SM: I fell in love with stand-up at a very young age. Other kids were watching The Flintstones, and I was watching Johnny Carson. When I was 16, I hung out at a comedy club in Chicago — the bouncer let me and my girlfriend in. But I was very shy. In class, I used to just observe people in the room. I would get annoyed when the class clown got up. I’d come home and tell my family about what occurred during school. All of my family had a sense of humor. My first stage was the dinner table. But there were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of times when you’re looking in the mirror going, “Am I doing the right thing?”
PSL: What do you think kept you going?
SM: I just knew it. You know you have the ability. You can try to will this stuff to happen, and it won’t happen. It just has to work itself out. It comes in the most unexpected ways. It’s being patient for it. The only thing you have control over is the work — getting onstage. The other stuff — the success — you can’t make that happen. You have to stay on your own path.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY SEBASTIAN MANISCALCO
"My first stage was the dinner table. But there were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of times when you’re looking in the mirror going, 'Am I doing the right thing?'
There was a time when I was spiraling in debt, and I had to break down and tell my parents. My dad bailed me out and made certain I was going to pay him back every cent. That was the turning point in my career. At first, I was too proud to say to my parents that I was falling into financial ruin. It hasn’t always been easy, but looking back, I would not have changed one thing.
PSL: So hard work is a big part of it.
SM: You almost have to work doubly hard to stay on top and sustain it. It’s hard to enjoy it when you think you are going to fall off the mountain. I think that comes with growing up in a negative environment — the kind of mindset that’s like, “This ain’t gonna last, so get it while you can!” That’s kind of my family. But that kind of negativity fuels my drive. It’s like the living in fear that it’s going to end that makes you work harder, rather than my wife, who is like, “This year you’re going to do a theater, and next year … you got to put it out there. It will come back to you if you say it.” I am the complete opposite.
PSL: What makes you laugh most these days?
SM: I tend to laugh at more serious things. I don’t laugh at comedy. It’s not sick and demented, but I’ll be watching a drama, and I’ll find things funny. Or something will happen on TV — a news story or something — I mine the funny out of it.
PSL: What’s some of the best life advice you’ve received?
SM: From my parents, basically that people are not going to give you anything in life. You have to work for it. My father, coming from Sicily, when he was 15 and later starting a business that went on to be successful, was to me, a lesson in life. If my dad can come from a farm in Sicily and build a business on his own, I sure as hell can go across the country, to California, to follow my dream.
Sebastian Maniscalco’s “Stay Hungry” tour, 8 p.m. Feb. 17 at Agua Caliente, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage. For tickets ($65–$95; $150 VIP), visit hotwatercasino.com.