Sebastian Maniscalco Prepares for Five-Show Run at Radio City Music Hall

 Brian Higbee
Sebastian Maniscalco

The comedian says New York shows are a homecoming for his longtime East Coast fans.

Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco grew up in the suburbs or northwestern Chicago, but his family and food-centric comedy show really took root in New York City, pounding out performances at the city's iconic Gotham Comedy Club as he slowly built a following across the city's five boroughs.

On Thursday, he begins a historic five-show run at Radio City Music Hall that includes two shows a night on Friday and Saturday. The performances come as Maniscalco enjoys another breakthrough moment, solidifying his status as an A-list comedian and actor set to appear in the Viggo Mortensen-backed Green Book set for release later this year. Looking ahead to 2019, Maniscalco has a role in the star-studded The Irishman, a Scorcese-backed Netlfix film that stars Robert Deniro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel.

Maniscaclo's observational comedy skewers the ridiculous moments of modern life. Whether it's shopping for designer jeans at TJ Maxx or excruciatingly ordering burritos from Chipotle, Maniscalco's sense of humor is a mix of cutting wit and hilariously exaggerated physicality. His book Stay Hungry was released in February, bringing his narrative style to the page with stories about how food has shaped his outlook and the way he views family.

Billboard recently caught up with Maniscalco to discuss his fast-developing career and his plans for his historic five-show run in New York.

Five shows at Radio City Music Hall -- what are you doing to get ready?

Last year I went to check out Radio City -- I've never been there and I wasn't aware of how vast and big it is. It really has a kind of unique set up with a lot of the seats on the floor and the balconies almost seem to be really, really far in the back of the house. My first thought was 'I wonder how comedy is going to play in this room.' Being an iconic theater right in the center of New York, I'm playing five shows in my biggest market. When I first started at the Gotham Comedy Club, people really started coming out and it was snowballing, bringing friends, families and full neighborhoods. Like busses started pulling up, carrying 15 to 20 people from a neighborhood on Staten Island because they felt like I grew up with them. So, yeah, it's been really, really great and it's all going to culminate at Radio City where I'm also shooting a Netflix special on Saturday night. It's pretty exciting. 

Is shooting a TV special a cathartic moment for you? After you tape it, do you have to say goodbye to the material for the last two years?

I mean, I don't really say goodbye to material. For a lot of comedians, once they put it on a special, they put the material to bed -- I'm not like that. I'm always writing new stuff. I always seem to add to it and make it better. Even though it's older, I might have a new twist on it.

You can always do the Uber joke, right? 

I haven't done the Uber joke in a while, although I do have a new Uber joke now. I’m not necessarily going to do it on this special, but when I go to the Comedy Store tonight, I'll do my new version because I experienced something new in Uber. I'm noticing now, when you get into an Uber, all four windows are down. I have no idea why. It's 43 degrees out and it's like, I've never done that in my own car. 

Maybe they're rolling the windows down because they think 'this guy is going to be wearing a ton of cologne.'

Or maybe the driver has cologne on and they're trying to air it out. Or their car stinks. I dunno. 

So what are you doing to make sure you're physically fit enough for this five show marathon?

Well, on Jan. 4 I weighed myself. I was 208 pounds and I knew the special was coming around the corner in April. All of 2017, I did not watch what I was eating, you know, working as a comedian. Late night we would do the shows and I would notice how it'd be midnight or 1 a.m. and I'd be having a full T-bone steak with roasted potatoes. It's not really a good meal to be sleeping on and it kind of caught up to me. So I made a conscious decision on getting in shape, not only for being onstage looking healthy and whatnot, but I have a daughter now, she's 1 year old and once you have that responsibility, you kind of start to think about the future for your daughter. Not that I was going to die on stage at 208 pounds, but you know, you just start to be a little bit more cautious of how you handle yourself. So I ended up losing 15 pounds. I'm still got a good 5 or 6 to go, but I feel really, really good.

You have a role in the upcoming film The Irishman with Martin Scorsese and an all-star cast. What can you tell us about the movie?

It's a movie based on the murder of Jimmy Hoffa and adapted from the book I Heard You Paint Houses. I play "Crazy" Joe Gallo who you could say was an interesting character. 

What makes him crazy?

Early on in his life he was admitted to a psych ward for schizophrenia. He kept a tiger in his house, killed a bunch of people, stuff like that.

So you’re playing a tough guy? 

I find it easier than a comedic role, just because in general, I’m a serious guy. It's not like I'm walking around cracking jokes all the time. I'm not always on and I really am kind of a serious, quiet guy. So the dramatic role is something I can sink my teeth into because I get enough stand-up comedy. For me to play a dramatic role was great, but also nerve-wracking -- I’m doing a Scorcese movie and I’m in a scene with De Niro and Joe Pesci, for Christ sakes. A lot of actors work their whole life to get into these types of roles, so for me, I really took it seriously and worked on it hard. I have yet to see any of the footage, but it was definitely one of those things where I just had to like pinch myself in the middle of it.

You just did a monster show at the Air Canada Center in Toronto. How does you humor translate north of the border?

My material works everywhere because it is deeply rooted into my family. Regardless whether it’s Canada, Florida or California or wherever I am, I think everybody has those shared experiences where they could relate to a father or mother relationship, or the dynamic between a husband and a wife. That resonates wherever you go. And I am Italian and I grew up in an Italian family. If you're Greek or Spanish, you're Mexican, whatever you might be, you have those same shared experiences. 

Your daughter is now 1 year old. Any advice you have for the new dads out there?

Funny, before this interview I was with my daughter and my wife and a swim instructor who came to the house. My daughter is learning the basics of how to swim. I mean, she's not doing laps, obviously, but she is able to put her head underwater and kind of go back and forth from mommy to daddy. I’m sitting there in the pool and I'm thinking, “Man, I wasn't near water until I was like 5 or 6 years old." And even then I barely knew how to swim. You know what I mean? And living out in Los Angeles, everyone’s got a guy for something. You got a pool guy, a lifeguard guy and then there’s the preschools. When I was a kid, I went to the preschool closest to my house. We didn't go shopping for preschools. Now you gotta go interview people. So I'm just noticing there's a lot of difference in how my daughter is going to grow up as opposed to me. But I also want to keep the basics, like the morals and values that I grew up with in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. 

Tell me about it. My wife is trying to get our 1-and-a-half-year-old in to a preschool that has rooftop yoga and a pottery kiln -- it’s all just kind of overwhelming.

Right? I didn't know yoga existed until I was 31, so those types of things blow my mind.

So you’re doing these five shows at Radio City and that’s about the same size that would fit into Yankee Stadium (give or take). You ever think about moving to bigger venues? You’d get the same amount of money but only have to do a fraction of the work.

It's funny, I played the arena in the round in Toronto and it was 19,000 people. I was a little reluctant to go into a larger arena because it's comedy and I believe it’s better digested in a smaller environment. A comedy club of 300 people is actually the real proper way to see comedy because you see everything the performer is doing. To expand that to 19,000 people means you lose a lot of what makes it really special and alive. But a Yankee stadium, huh? I mean, stadiums are crazy. I do like the arena, especially in the round because I don't think there was a bad seat in the house. But yeah, I mean, who knows what the next step is for us in New York. I don't know where we're going to go from five at Radio City, but a time will come. Maybe next time we talk, I’ll be at Giants Stadium.