Preview: Funnyman Maniscalco on staying hungry and avoiding politics – Montreal Gazette

Posted: November 16, 2019 at 3:43 pm


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American comedian Sebastian Maniscalco returns to Montreal Friday and visits Ottawa for the first time on Saturday as part of his You Bother Me tour. In this edited interview, the Chicago-born funnyman was surprisingly serious as he talked about the evolution of his act, the slow growth of fame and how he stays hungry.

Q: Heres an obvious question, given the title of your tour. What bothers you?

A: Hmm, what does bother me? Ive made a career basically describing things that I see on a daily basis. Basically human behaviour types of things. When I get on a plane and someone opens a bag of chips and starts eating, it drives me up the wall. Just the little nuances of life that maybe someone might not pay attention to. Also my act is centred around my upbringing, my family, and the dynamics of the relationship between my father and I, my wife and I, my wifes family and myself. All those scenarios, they dont necessarily bother me but theres an annoyance. So its basically storytelling deep rooted in family and angst.

Q: But politics isnt part of it?

A: No. Ive always been a huge fan of comedians who just talk about day-in, day-out stuff. I think people nowadays are so beat over the head with politics. You post a photo of spaghetti and meatballs and by the end of the comments, theyre talking about immigration policy. How did we get there from a photo of meatballs? I like to keep politics out of it. Ive always said that whatever a politician is doing at any particular time is not as funny as what my dad is doing. So Ill stick with my father.

Q: You move around a lot on stage. How did that physicality evolve?

A: That happened over time. I was a huge fan of John Ritter growing up, who was on Threes Company, and definitely had a great ability to make people laugh through physical movement. I really soaked up a lot of what he did. It took time. Sometimes it just takes a lot of practice to peel the onion of insecurity off while youre up on stage and feel as comfortable as you would around your mother or father. It took me a while to get there but once I started feeling comfortable, and feeling that I had the ability to make people laugh with body movement, I implemented it into the storytelling.

Q: What made you want to do comedy in the first place?

A: Ive always been a huge fan of stand-up comedy, and when they went around the class in second grade, asking kids what they wanted to be, I said stand-up comedian. Which was a little bit off the planet for a kid that young. Every other kid wanted to be a teacher or firefighter or policeman, but I really fell in love with standup at a young age through Johnny Carson, and subsequently watching George Carlin and Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld and Don Rickles. I was fascinated with how they remember it and how theyre telling it like it was the first time theyre telling it. Thats the trick, to keep the same type of passion the first time you tell the story, all the way through the hundredth time you tell the same story.

Q: So how do you do it?

A: Its just revisiting the experience that I lived. You just automatically remember the story and start telling it to a new group of people. Its not that hard to remember the beats of a story because I lived it. Its not like I go in my office and write for four hours and come up with a story. Its all based in reality.

Q: Youve done some movies lately. How do you like that type of work?

A: Its a great departure from what Im doing on stage. Typically these movies Ive been doing are dramatic roles and I like to explore the drama part of entertainment through acting, just because Im kind of a serious guy, to be honest with you, and to do some of these movies has been refreshing for me and a challenge.

Q: Is that a direction youd like to explore a bit more?

A: Not full time. I just landed a little role in a movie called Spinning Gold, which is actually shooting up in Canada. Its a movie about Tim Bogart and Casablanca Records in the 1970s where I play Georgio, who was a German-Italian guy whos credited with being the father of disco, and discovering Donna Summer. I have to learn a German accent for that. These little pops in movies really give me a nice diverse resume. Now I can make people laugh but hopefully in the long run I can make em cry.

Q: Youve had some lucky breaks in your career but also a loyal fan base. Whats your secret?

A: My success in standup comedy was all grassroots, going to comedy clubs, making people laugh, hanging out outside the comedy club, shaking hands, taking pictures, selling my DVD, people coming back the next time I came into town, bringing maybe their neighbour or aunt or uncles. It became one of those things where people saw it and wanted to share it with friends and family. Before you knew it, theres people renting a big limo bus and 50 people would get out. It spread through word of mouth, and started to grow exponentially but it took about 10 years. It was a gradual, slow burn, and then came to a boil about four years ago.

Q: To borrow another phrase from you, how does a performer at your level stay hungry?

A: For me, its almost harder to stay where Im at than it was to get there, just because when youre coming up, no one really knows who you are and the expectations are kinda low. Whos this guy? Then all of a sudden youre funny, and now people are wanting to hear new material and that new material has to be as good as, if not better than, the old material. You have to maintain a certain standard of excellence in order for people to want to come back and see you. So I stay hungry just by that challenge alone, to make these people go home with a smile on their face. Theres no shortage of hunger here.

Q: Your comedy is fairly clean. Is that important to you?

A: Yeah. I like to appeal to a lot of different people. I dont like to fragment my audience. Sometimes theres a 12-year-old in the audience and sometimes right next to him is his 90-year-old grandmother. And everybody in between. Its something Im very conscious of. I do use some language but its not language thats gratuitous. Its there for a reason. Its not distracting. The content of the act is very PG-13, and very digestible. If you want to take your family out for a night of entertainment, you dont want to cringe because the entertainers talking about something thats uncomfortable.

Sebastian Maniscalco performs Friday at 8 p.m. at the Bell Centre and in Ottawas Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday at 8 p.m.

lsaxberg@postmedia.com

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Preview: Funnyman Maniscalco on staying hungry and avoiding politics - Montreal Gazette

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November 16th, 2019 at 3:43 pm