It’s no exaggeration to say that Sebastian Maniscalco is one of the hottest entertainers on the planet. Billboard magazine named him its Comedian of the Year for 2018; he had a role in the Academy Award–winning film Green Book and will appear in an Martin Scorsese upcoming film, The Irishman, alongside Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci; all four of his Madison Square Garden performances in New York City were sold out; his book of essays, Stay Hungry, is a best-seller; and, for good measure, he made the Forbes magazine list of the world’s highest-paid comedians.
Not a bad run for a man whose only goal when he moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in 1998 was to make a living doing stand-up. “You think you hit a high point,” Maniscalco said when he spoke recently with the Santa Barbara Independent, “and then there’s another one around the corner.” The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you first realize you were funny? It started at home. I was never the class clown or anything like that. I was a shy kid who liked to observe from the back of the room, but at home around the dinner table, I would tell my family stories about my day, and that’s how I learned I had a knack for humor. I was never the center of attention outside the house.
Which comedians influenced you? Growing up, I was a huge fan of Johnny Carson. I’d watch Johnny’s monologue and get super excited any time he had a comedian on. That’s how I discovered Jerry Seinfeld and Brian Regan and George Carlin. I watched Saturday Night Live when Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, and Joe Piscopo were in the cast. John Ritter’s physical comedy on Three’s Company was an influence. I immersed myself in comedy at a young age. I knew I wanted to be a stand-up comic, but I had no idea how to get into the business. Hollywood was a long way from where I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.
Was it surreal when you made the Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid comedians? It was awkward. Growing up, my father told me don’t ever tell anyone your salary. Keep it a secret. I never set out to make a lot of money or be famous. I had no plans like that. I just wanted to make a living doing stand-up. I have to pinch myself sometimes.
Your father figures prominently in your act. He’s a huge focal point, being an immigrant from Sicily, the Old World values he brought that he learned from his father. The more I put him in the act, the better he likes it.
Have you been to Santa Barbara before? Yeah, now that we live in Los Angeles, my wife and I will drive up, go to the beach, go wine tasting, bop around town. I did a few comedy night performances in the back of restaurants on State Street in 2003 and 2004. I remember doing my act standing on a milk crate.
4•1•1 | Sebastian Maniscalco brings his Stay Hungry tour to town Friday, August 17, 7:30 p.m., at the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.). Call 962-7411 or see sbbowl.com.