“Who am I shooting tonight?” a photographer asked a Turner Hall security guard at the top of the stairwell about 20 minutes before showtime Friday. Even among ardent followers of stand-up, the woman’s question was a fair one. To answer her question, it was Sebastian Maniscalco. With just two specials to his name, he has an IMDB page with only a few more credits than that of Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid. However, fresh off last year’s Showtime special, Aren’t You Embarrassed?, the distinctly Italian-American comedian is in the midst of a rapid rise to notoriety in the world of stand-up.
The leap in popularity is so rapid, in fact, that the Turner Hall show quickly sold out and the venue was forced to add a second show to accommodate the interest. With a sea of folding chairs and even a few rows of people standing, the brand new Turner Hall floor was being tested at Friday’s early show as Maniscalco took the sell-out crowd on an energetic rehashing of his two specials and showed he was worth the price of admission.
A testament to exactly how recent Maniscalco’s explosion truly is, his management was brazenly weaving through the aisles holding a box of DVDs to sell as Chicago-based opener Sean White aptly set the table with a brief-but-hilarious set centered on his recent divorce. After five tight minutes from White, Maniscalco came out to a standing ovation. After the requisite ballroom- and weather-related softballs were lobbed out, the reason for the sell-out became apparent as Maniscalco’s acknowledgement of his Chicago roots sent the excitable-yet-respectful audience into hysterics. When the cheers of the staggering Illinois contingent died down, the guest of honor launched into tremendously physical bits about the trappings of domestic life such as paying someone to remodel his home and the difficulty of meeting other couples. “I’m not a social person,” Maniscalco sneered in his neurotic timbre. “I don’t like to talk and I don’t like to listen to anybody.”
Citing his Italian roots (inciting a response just as uproarious as his Chicago nod), Maniscalco infused some mafia lingo (the phrase “anti-freeze bologna sandwiches” was uttered) into otherwise-domestic yarns regarding a possum problem in his house, racoons eating from his wife’s garden, and paying a migrant worker $20 to let a seemingly-rabid squirrel out of a possum trap. Even material that didn’t quite hold water on its own was made funny by way of his wild gestures and commitment to squeeze every drop of laughter from a punchline. It was one part comedy, two parts physicality: Dane Half-Cooked, if you will.
Sidestepping from his homespun material, Maniscalco also told entertaining stories of his Tuscan honeymoon, including a poolside encounter with the perfect couple and watching legendary tenor Andrea Bocelli exit his concert on a black stallion. There was rampant overlap of material from Aren’t You Embarrassed? and Maniscalco’s other inquisitive special, 2012’s What’s Wrong With People?, but nobody seemed to care. He projected everyman issues through a political correctness-pushing, unabashedly Italian-American lens, and worked up a sweat while doing so. Between his unorthodox view on plastic grocery bags, shouted commentary on Chipotle’s ordering process, and not knowing how to react to a doctor with five Band-Aids on his face, nothing Maniscalco said was revolutionary or particularly significant, but that didn’t make it any less funny. As he brought his 90-minutes worth of comedy (shoved into a 75-minute set) in for a landing, he ended his first hometown-adjacent performance by calling his father up on stage…and making fun of his outfit.
Sebastian Maniscalco still isn’t anywhere close to being a household name. But with the ability to fill Turner Hall twice, and the material to justify it, it’s unlikely credentialed photographers won’t know his name at his next Milwaukee gig…which will probably need to happen at the Riverside Theater.