Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Although Sebastian Maniscalco has been making the rounds as a standup comedian for nearly two decades, his star is one still on the rise. Last year’s Showtime special Why Would You Do That? was a runaway success, priming the Chicago-born comic for upcoming film roles in prominent pics like The House starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. He also shot a pilot for a probable NBC sitcom inspired by his life, with Tony Danza playing his dad.
The best places to catch Maniscalco’s wry, witty, working-class comedy are on his Sirius XM Pete and Sebastian Show podcast with Pete Correale — “which is basically like eavesdropping a phone conversation between two comedians,” he says—and this weekend at the Mirage as part of the Aces of Comedy Series. (Tickets for Feb. 17 and 18 shows start at $49.99 at 702-792-7777 or mirage.com.) I caught up with him to chat about Las Vegas, comedians he’s idolized and more.
You have a great bit about Las Vegas tourists generally dressing and acting like slobs. How much has Vegas changed since you started playing here? I started coming to Las Vegas around 2003. My first time was with Andrew Dice Clay at the Stardust, in the Wayne Newton Theater, which for me was a beautiful showroom. It had this great Rat Packy vibe, black leather booths and all that. Fast forward to playing at the Mirage now and Vegas over the course of the last 15 years has definitely changed. Now you’ve got these nightclubs and people going to day parties … you used to just go the pool, now you have to pay for a lilypad or whatever the hell that is you’re floating on. The dynamic has changed, it’s all skewing younger and gambling is not as prevalent as it used to be. It’s a whole new kind of Las Vegas. But I really enjoy it because there’s a cross-section of the whole country … it’s a good gauge. I can see how some new material will be playing nationwide in just one place.
Has your Vegas experience changed? I’m guessing you’re not floating on any lilypads. It kinda varies, when I’m there, depending on the show and who’s with me. This time my wife is coming so maybe we’ll come in a day early, hopefully check out a show. Very mellow. We’ll go to dinner. You won’t find me dancing on the bar. Those days are done.
You are known for a unique mix of observational and physical comedy. Who are some of your biggest influences? I grew up watching Three’s Company. I’m a huge John Ritter fan. I really gravitated toward the physical comedy on that show, a lot of falling, a lot of looks of bewilderment at the camera. I picked it all up. And then for observational stuff, I’ve always loved watching Jerry [Seinfeld] perform. Definitely influenced by Eddie Murphy and the spectacle he brought to Delirious and Raw, with the leather outfits and the fingerless gloves that you never saw another comedian wear before.
I took a lot of stuff from different entertainers. I was a huge Michael Jackson fan — his movements, that kind of abrupt movement that takes the audience off guard. I try to implement that in my act when I’m telling a joke, so I’ll do a quick movement, a leg kick or something to throw the audience off. I try to mix it up. It’s storytelling, but I’m not sitting here writing a setup and a punch line.
Speaking of Seinfeld, you were a recent guest on his great web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. You guys seemed like old pals. We’d only met maybe two times before that. He came into a New York City club and I was headlining and he stayed to watch, and we became fast friends. To do that show now is like doing Johnny Carson where you get called over to the couch; It kind of made me as a comedian, my moment to be validated where what you’re doing is actually funny. The first three or four minutes of that was surreal for me, being in a car riding around LA with him. I grew up watching his show and his comedy, and just hanging out was very surreal.
You have a few movie and TV projects coming up. Are you at all apprehensive about moving more into that world from your standup life? Anytime you have something new on the horizon there’s always a bit of trepidation, you know, how is this gonna look or gonna work. It’s still comedy, but I also want to sink my teeth into some dramatic roles. I’m not going to turn into Rain Man at any point, but just doing something different from what I’ve been doing the last 18 years as a standup. I’d like to do more animation as well. I got my feet wet with The Nut Job 2, coming out this year, and I’d like to lend my voice to other projects in the animation arena. My voice is kinda unique and I’d like to play around with that a little bit more.
What character do you play in Nut Job? I play a groundhog named Johnny. I’m expecting an Oscar.