In 2018, Sebastian Maniscalco reached heights that few comedians could ever dream about. With a string of record-breaking, sold-out arena and theatre shows; a best-selling memoir, “Stay Hungry”; and a role in “Green Book,” which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it’s no surprise that Billboard honored him with their inaugural “Comedian of the Year” award.
The man Jerry Seinfeld calls “my favorite comedian” was one of Pollstar’s top 30 highest-grossing performers in the world, and was nominated for that publication’s Comedy Tour of the Year award. He sold out five shows at Radio City Music Hall, and the latest in Maniscalco’s five television comedy specials (for Netflix, Showtime, and Comedy Central) scaled new ratings heights, prompting NBC Nightly News to describe him as “comedy’s new superstar.”
Known for his distinctive, physical style—he’s “not just telling a joke, he’s showing it, too,” as the New York Times wrote—perhaps Maniscalco’s most impressive feat is his leap into the highest levels of dramatic cinema. “The goal is not to be the next Denzel Washington, but to have some fun and be creative in another realm,” he says. “It was just unbelievable, doing these movies back to back. We shot “Green Book” in November, and “The Irishman” in December—coming straight off a set with Viggo Mortenson, then going toe-to-toe with DeNiro and Pesci.
“I grew up loving all these guys, so throwing me in that mix was a little daunting,” he continues. “But it’s a chance to exercise a different muscle, and I thought it would be interesting to give myself a little more dimension.”
Maniscalco expresses more surprise regarding Stay Hungry, his best-selling book. “I thought writing books was reserved for ex-presidents and people who survived disasters,” he says. “But I did think there were stories—old jobs I had, meeting my wife—where the best way to share them would be to wrap it up in a book. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, it took a while, but I’m very proud of it.”
Since moving to Los Angeles in 1998, Maniscalco has served as a textbook example of perseverance and hustle, initially earning his place as a favorite at LA’s legendary Comedy Store. After Vince Vaughn enlisted him for his popular “Wild West Comedy Show,” Maniscalco began his ascent to what Pollstar dubbed “the vanguard of a live comedy revolution,” becoming a favorite on late-night television and a touring juggernaut, eventually being named Just For Laughs’ Stand Up Comedian of the Year in 2016.
But the biggest focus for Sebastian Maniscalco in 2019 will be the launch of the “You Bother Me” tour in September. “I constantly walk around going, ‘This guy bothers me.,’” he says. “Things you would probably just blow off, I get incensed by. But out of that kernel comes really great stuff. My wife never worked in a restaurant, but I worked in restaurants my whole life. So a lot of the show is just taking the audience through things like the entire experience of going to a sit-down dinner with my wife and her family and all the things that annoy me.”
Maniscalco notes that all of his accomplishments and visibility definitely create new hurdles for his comedy. “You reach some type of success and people start to recognize the act,” he says. “Coming up, you go into Dallas and just do your act and try to have people see it. Along the way, people expect new material, but they still have favorite bits you want to pepper in. In some ways, it’s almost tougher to stay at the top than it is to get there.”
All he can do, he says, is keep living his life and finding new experiences and observations to draw from—including, this summer, the arrival of his first son, who will join two-year-old daughter Serafina. “Going from hotel to hotel, life gets more monotonous,” he says, “so doing stuff with family is even more important. Toddler groups, music class, gymnastics—the more I get out there, the more material I have to extract from.”