Sebastian Maniscalco Runs Four Miles a Day to Prep for His Physical Comedy Shows

Photo by Todd Rosenberg
Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco performing at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan for his Showtime stand-up special Why Would You Do That?
Sebastian Maniscalco performs at the Majestic Theatre on Thursday, April 13.
Sebastian Maniscalco recently got one of the highest compliments any comedian can receive. Another comedian said he's funny.

On his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, host and show creator Jerry Seinfeld described Maniscalco as someone who "just makes me laugh in so many different ways; he looks funny, he moves funny, he talks funny."

It's more than just high praise from the world's most famous stand-up comedian. It's also a concise and accurate way to describe all of the facets of Maniscalco's stage presence. His humor is what comedy nerds would describe as observational, but he bounces across the stage like a pinball and morphs and contorts his face to bring his stories to life.

"I'm working on a new MMA bit and I'm sure there's going to be some movements in that because it lends itself to physical comedy," Maniscalco says from his home in Los Angeles. "The tap-out is so subtle and the sign for 'I give up' is just a tap on the shoulder. I think it should be a little bit more exaggerated. It's more like flailing your arms. A tap on the shoulder for me is not made for 'Please let me breathe again.'"

The award-winning Chicago native, Sirius XM host and star of upcoming movies including The House and The Nut Job 2, is on his "Why Would You Do That?" tour, which stops this Thursday at the Majestic Theatre.

Maniscalco started pursuing a comedy career in the late '90s. He moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and began working odd jobs while honing his material in bars, clubs and bowling alleys. The physical side of his comedy didn't develop until much later, he says.

"When I first started doing comedy, I was very angry and not likable and didn't do any physical movements and over time, I just became more comfortable with myself on stage and figured out what made people laugh," Maniscalco says. "It doesn't get cartoony, but every once in a while, it's nice to throw the audience off with a quick body movement or to act out the material. It just kind of started organically on stage."

Maniscalco says "it wasn't a plan" to introduce physical material to enhance the written material in his act. It just came out of him during a bit in a show when he talked about how customers of discount clothing stores like Ross and TJ Maxx try on the items and just chuck them across the store's floor.

"I just realized the visual out of that motion definitely killed the audience and I thought, 'Hey, maybe I've got something here,'" he says.

The movement on stage can be exhausting, but Maniscalco says he runs four miles a day and focuses on the audience to keep his stamina from petering out before the curtain falls.

"The way I look at it is people are coming out for a night and it's my job to give them the best possible show I can because I know through my own experiences of getting babysitters, paying for parking and getting tickets, [it's] not cheap," he says. "They're doing all that to come out and see my show. I better damn well give them a show that's worth the trouble."

But Maniscalco's material and movements aren't carefully crafted with a jeweler's eye before he walks out on stage. He says he likes to keep his stories loose in his mind rather than written down word for word in order to preserve his act's spontaneity.

"When I get on the phone with my mother, I tell her my stories and it writes itself based on the observations I made during the day," Maniscalco says. "I'm not writing anything down. I take general topics, whether it's MMA or my father telling me how he thinks he's getting scammed at a gas station, and tell that story to an audience with flair."

Part of the process also involves being open to new experiences and moments, and he says he's got a big one coming up in three weeks when his wife gives birth to his first child.

"I don't know what type of material a kid is going to give me, but my intention is to pick material from me dealing with other parents and other relationships as opposed to, 'Hey, my kid said this thing today,'" he says. "I don't want to hear about that. I want to hear about the relationships with the parents or the school or talking to the administrators of the school."

Maniscalco says the only way he'll know if his process or material works is when he pitches it to an audience.

"The end goal is to make people laugh, whether it's joke writing or through physical movements at the end of the day," Maniscalco says. "That's all that really matters."

Sebatian Maniscalco, 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13, Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm St., $39.75 at