Former local waiter dishes out comedy
By Deborah L. Kunesh | Contributing Writer
It reads like your typical Hollywood success story. Aspiring performer waiting tables tirelessly for years, who finally breaks through to taste success.
For Chicago native Sebastian Maniscalco, a waiter-turned-stand-up comedian, appearing in his first movie ("Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show" released Feb. 8) has truly been a wild experience, bringing him full circle.
A former banquet server for Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Maniscalco will be returning there in a different capacity. He'll be working the stage at Zanie's Comedy Club, where, as a waiter, he longed to visit the club, but was too afraid at the time. Now, he'll be the one making audiences laugh from the stage, sharing his brand of comedy that is very much influenced by his Midwestern blue-collar upbringing.
Living in L.A. for the past 10 years, Maniscalco talked with us by phone about his newfound success.
Q. Is there anything you miss about living in Chicago?
A. I miss my friends and family and I miss the food. When I go home I tend to gain 5-10 pounds each visit because I'm doing Johnnie's beef, Portillos', pizza; stuff that they don't really have out here. They don't have beef out here. I don't know what it is, but it ain't beef.
Q. Tell me a little about your new movie.
A. It's a stand-up concert film where you get laugh-out loud onstage comedy and then you get offstage stories about the comedians and their rise to this point in the movie (as well as some surprise guest appearances). So you've got a traveling variety show mixed with sketch and stand-up.
Q. How did you become involved?
A. Vince Vaughn is friends with Ahmed Ahmed, (a fellow comedian). Vince would come down (to the comedy club) to support Ahmed as a friend. As time went on, Vince kind of took to his favorite comedians; myself, John Caparulo and Bret Ernst.
Q. You appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." What was that experience like for you?
A. "The Tonight Show" for me was kind of like a dream come true, because as a stand-up comic, you always want to do the "Tonight Show," so that was really nice. I got to have my sister there and my mother met Jay Leno.
Q. How has your family been dealing with your success?
A. My parents are soaking this up. My parents are actually in the movie. For my parents and my sister to be involved in this whole ride, it's kind of special as they were always in my corner. Now to have them come out for the premiere and have them go and see a movie with their friends that they're in, it's kind of nice.
Q. What can the audience expect when they come to see you at Zanie's?
A. I pride myself in being a clean comedian, not a lot of language. I'm like an old soul. I've always been a fan of bring your grandmother and bring your teenage son or daughter and they'll all enjoy the show. I kind of make it for everybody, so they can expect a nice clean show. A lot of observational, everyday kind of humor, with a strong viewpoint. Everything from text messaging to dating to Starbucks.
Q. As for the success and the full circle experience?
A. It's wild. I'm getting a lot of Maniscalcos that are coming out of the woodwork and a lot of people I went to school with pop me an e-mail saying "hey, I used to share a locker next to you." It's been kind of wild to see all of the responses.
Sebastian Highlights & Fact Sheet
*Has appeared twice on the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn (his first break into television), as well as on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (you can see a clip of his Tonight Show appearance at his website) www.sebastianlive.com
*Recently appeared on the WGN Morning News
*Had his own ½ hour comedy special on Comedy Central Presents, which aired on January 18th
*Has been the opening act for the likes of Jazz legend B.B. King, Anita Baker, Gladys Knight and Dennis Miller.
*Graduated from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where as a student he won a contest to be the opening act for a major headliner performing at the school.
*Studied at Second City downtown after graduation.
*Was a Johnny Carson fan as a kid and watched him every night before bed. He also counts comedy greats John Ritter and Don Rickles as inspirational comedians and considers himself a big fan of those comics.
*Writes all of his own material.
*Recently shot an hour-long DVD, which is in process of getting distribution in stores, but can currently be purchased on his website, www.sebastianlive.com
*Had stand-up comedian aspirations as a young boy, where he would entertain his family at the dinner table, sharing about his day. He found that he loved and felt most comfortable, when he was in front of an audience.
*He grew up in Arlington Heights, IL.
"We did the tour in 2005 and we ran into Hurricane Katrina and went to an evacuee camp and handed out tickets and they came to the show, so it kind of tugs at your heart strings because you know these people were going through a lot during that time," said Maniscalco. "The comedians were kind of slapped in the face because here we are on the bus complaining that we don’t have any coffee or what not, and here these people are totally displaced and they have no home."