Talk to comedian Sebastian Maniscalco in real life, and his voice doesn't match the version when he's on stage, or even when he's in the passenger seat in Jerry Seinfeld's Netflix series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It's not that Maniscalco has laryngitis, or that he just woke up. With a 16-month-old, the Chicago native doesn't sleep in much anymore. It's just that he's being himself, and he is, if not shy, then naturally slow to warm up. In person, Maniscalco sounds more … real.
If you've read his best seller Stay Hungry, you know that the master of physical, nostalgia comedy isn't the amped up, out-of-place goodfella of his performances. On screen and on stage, he's a mix of Jim Carrey, Andrew Dice Clay, and Philly's David Brenner. In person, he's kind of regular. Apolitical. Effusive about his family. Honest about his football allegiance. Glad there will be grandmas at his show on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.
The title of your book, Stay Hungry, refers to food and work. You did 10 shows in A.C. this June. Busy summer?
Mostly, I took the summer off to rest a little bit. We hadn't really taken a family vacation in a while. We went to Sicily for a friend of ours' wedding. We also met my sister, her family, and my mother in Tuscany. It was my mother's first time to Italy. She's 73 years old and had a wonderful time.
The way I work, I don't cut out the time to really stop and smell the roses, to live life a little bit. But I really did this summer. A lot of my comedy comes from living everyday life.
Everyday life, but nothing controversial. No politics, right?
We are all inundated with politics, whether we turn on a laptop, a phone, or a TV. I like to talk about things that are near and dear to my heart, family first. My audience can relate to those experiences when they come to a show. For me, politics is not something that I'm overly passionate about.
In your act, even when you're talking about something that happened yesterday, it feels so nostalgic.
People are yearning for how it used to be, instead of how it is. I think we've lost our way a little bit, in the sense that the family dynamic is not as strong as it used to be. I miss the days when not everybody had their face in an iPhone.
My family and I went out to eat the other night, and we looked around the restaurant, and about 80 percent of the people there were buried in their phones. I like my act to bring the light of how I grew up, how the majority of the audience grew up. You could bring grandma out to my show, and you don't have to feel uncomfortable because the content is off-color.
You move around a ton on stage. How do you stay in shape?
Running, weight-lifting, resistance training. My wife has gotten me into Pilates lately. The body tends to be not as pliable as it used to be. Pilates has helped me in maintaining strength — not that I'm doing flips up there.
In your book, you open up about how hard it's been for you to make it.
In my journey over the last 20 years, I've just always been very honest with myself with regards to the trials and tribulations that I had to go through to get to where I am. I would be doing a disservice to myself and to my readers if I didn't mention what I've been through.
People need to hear that [comedy] is not all easy or fantastic. Whether or not you're in the entertainment business, there's not always overnight success.
You're from Chicago, but Stay Hungry mentions you feel at home performing on the East Coast. Why?
In the Northeast in particular, opposed to anywhere else in the county, people tend to have the same kind of upbringing that I did, in an immigrant Italian family. In Philly, in Boston, in New York, in Chicago, they're bringing the whole neighborhood to my show. They're saying, 'He seems like he grew up in our house.' But I go to Dallas, Texas, and do the same show.
Thursday will be your biggest show ever in town.
It's my first arena show in Philadelphia. I did Helium for some years. Then jumped up to a larger venue because of demand.
I know an arena is not the best venue for stand-up comedy, but I'm bringing in a lot of production value: screens, lights, a great audio system. I do the show in the round. There's a sort of intimacy to the show. The screen is a circle screen. If you're in the last row of the stadium, you still feel like you're up front.
In the ads for the show, you're wearing an Eagles jersey. What's up with that?
That's just a promo shot for the tour. I have nothing against the Eagles. I watched them on the way to the Super Bowl. I love Philadelphia, but I'm a Bears fan.
Last question: What's an Italian beef sandwich?
I liken it to a Philly steak, but it's sliced beef on an Italian roll with peppers and juice. It's almost like a French dip, but it's an Italian beef. Growing up in Chicago, I thought everybody ate it. I guess not.