For a time, Sebastian Maniscalco went by just his first name.
Not his best look, really. Sebastian doesn’t make you think stand-up comedy. Magician, maybe. Hairstylist? Model? Despite your ability to compliment him on his looks or his stage presence, he’s a Maniscalco by name and by heritage, and in his third Showtime stand-up special, he not only leans into his Italian-American upbringing but also owns it fully and completely. Why Would You Do That? Opens with footage from his family’s home movies back in Cefalu, Sicily, in the 1950s as the comedian provides voiceover narration. “What a simpler time,” he notes. His grandfather wore a short-sleeved dress shirt and tie to pick tomatoes. His father was, indeed, a hairstylist.
But Maniscalco, now 43, has graduated to the big-time, from the comedy club circuit to theaters, selling out seven shows this spring at New York City’s Beacon Theatre, where he filmed this special – and where he enters from the back of the house, full lights up, high-fiving the audience as he comes down the aisle like a champion prize fighter. You could call him the new Italian Stallion of comedy. I just did. He has become the pride of Italian-Americans and appeals to them directly in his stand-up. Cut to Tony Danza, sitting in an aisle seat, beaming.
He opens by joking about how audience members even decide how to arrive at the show. Who’s driving? Should we get a limo? How about Uber? To the latter, Maniscalco has fun with the very business concept of Uber and its many offshoots, to which he ultimately asks: “Why would you do that?”
That’s, of course, his title for this hour, and his third such hour filmed for Showtime is the charm for Maniscalco. Audiences have warmed to him. You think Danza was something? Let’s cut to Jerry Seinfeld, laughing in his seat during a Maniscalco bit (not in an aisle seat, btw), to recognize not only that fact, but also acknowledge that Seinfeld has held a monthly residency at the Beacon for the past year, and continuing into 2017. Maniscalco is a guest in the big comedian’s house, and a most welcome one at that.
Since his earlier specials, Maniscalco has pivoted his onstage persona from annoyed to merely perplexed by his observations. That pivot allows audiences to identify more with him as he muses on other modern business practices such as AirBnb. He’s suspicious. Skeptical. He may have OCD, and even if he doesn’t, his comedy appeals to people who are obsessively compulsive.
“My wife thinks I’m nuts,” he says. “I get all this from my dad.”
The family aspect, pulling back the curtain to reveal all of your secrets, helps separate Maniscalco’s family and Italians from other cultures, which may push feelings down.“My family, we talk a lot. Everything’s out in the open on my side of the family. In my family, if you got a problem, somebody gonna tell you, you got a problem. If you stink? Somebody’ll go, ‘What the fuck? You stink!’” That brutal honesty, everything in black and white, even extends to the comedian’s wardrobe in this hour.
His titular question extends into bits examining his in-laws cemetary plots, couples’ dinner parties, Whole Foods, kids on Halloween these days, how kids behave around parents in public in restaurants, and Turkish baths.
Maniscalco, speaking primarily to his fellow Italian-Americans, acknowledges he’s aware many of them might be asking how much he spent on his outfit, the staging and whether that makes up for the cost of tickets to see him. To which he already has a set response: “I don’t have any control on the fucking ticket price. I put ‘em on sale. They gobble ‘em up. Then people sell them. That’s why they’re so damned much. You think I would do that? I don’t do that.”
Why would he do that?