Published Oct 04, 2016Sebastian Maniscalco thinks there are several people that ought to be ashamed of themselves: overly permissive parents, reviewers on Yelp, and nappers are all targets of his ire. But watching Aren't You Embarrassed?, I couldn't help but think it's a certain type of alt-comedian that ought to feel rightfully humiliated.
I'm talking about the lazy, leaning on the microphone, meandering storyteller who favours obscure references over jokes and doesn't care if you like it. Maniscalco is not that. He is a pro at work and you're along for the ride.
He is not a prop comic or prone to pratfalls, but Sebastian Maniscalco is truly a physical comedian. He twists and bends and kicks and holds stances and dominates his stage. But he has not created physical business to compensate for weak jokes. He bolsters already funny bits with expressive characterization. "You seen these people who work at the airport?" he asks, with hyper incredulity. "These people are upset you've even shown up to fly." And then he takes us through the long lines and security checkpoints with the nimbleness of a dancer.
Half Italian, half Sicilian, Maniscalco dips into "My crazy family!" territory on occasion, but his characterizations are so specific that they are believably hilarious anecdotes rather than tired riffs on stereotype. He jokes about the immigrant family work ethic, saying he was put to work at eight years old ("I'm watching cartoons, my Dad comes in, 'Hey! Go start a business'"). He also talks about life with his wife, but it's she who's the peach and he's a mess. Maniscalco subverts tropes in such a way that nothing is broad or tired, despite a delivery and polish that feels almost old-fashioned.
In addition to his physical and vocal work, Maniscalco has a face that belongs in a 1930s movie. He is to-the-back-of-the-room expressive, grinning and sneering and rolling his eyes that makes me think audiences that didn't speak a word of English would still find him funny indeed.
Standup has evolved beyond the microphone stand two feet in front of the brick wall. An increasingly competitive field, standup forces comics to find unique hooks to be seen among the throng. How refreshing, then, that Sebastian Maniscalco is charting his course based on good writing, refreshing characterizations, and the physical dominance of a true performer. He may not be edgy or too cool for school, but Maniscalco embodies the sweat equity of hard work, which is nothing to be embarrassed about.
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