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July 02, 2018

Sebastian Maniscalco stand-up: Are you satisfied yet?

The comic ended an 11-day run this past weekend at the Borgata for his 'Stay Hungry' tour, and left many wanting more

Consider the odd case of Sebastian Maniscalco, the hottest entertainer of whom no one has ever heard.

Well, certainly not no one, but in the days prior to my attending his Saturday night performance at Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa, a surprising number of friends and acquaintances—including some ostensibly show-biz savvy folks—all asked the same question when I apprised them of my plans to see him: “Who?”

For the uninitiated, Maniscalco, who turns 45 next week, is a suburban-Chicago native and veteran of the standup comedy wars who appears to be on a course headed for supernovadom, if he’s not already there.

Not only was Saturday’s highly entertaining turn his ninth sellout of an 11-day, 10-SRO-show run of his "Stay Hungry" tour that ended Sunday (at Borgata’s “big room,” the 2,400-capacity Event Center), he is booked Sept. 13 at South Philly’s Wells Fargo Center. The latter gig puts him in the company of such titans as Eddie Murphy and Kevin Hart.

Yet, it seems as if the kinetic funnyman materialized out of nowhere. It’s not as if he exploded off of a TV series, in the manner of Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano, who used smash-hit sitcoms to blast their then-solid standup careers into the stratosphere. But if Saturday’s program didn’t explain how Maniscalco came by his success, it certainly left no doubt as to why he has accomplished that success.

Unlike so many comics who mine their laughs strictly from words, Maniscalco’s particular brand of stage magic comes as much from his point of view and presentation as it does from what he actually says. As such, it would be unfair to regurgitate lines from his act herein because they may not read particularly funny. But thanks to the context of Maniscalco’s jaundiced-eyed, street-wise Everyman persona and compelling stage presence, those words repeatedly connected time and again Saturday night.

Rather than deal in the setup/punchline format of an endless run of often-unrelated jokes, Maniscalco presented his ultra-relatable material in a series of extended, narrative-intensive routines in which he regularly recreated the voices of family members and other folks, all of whom were framed in such mundane situations as having to deal with obnoxious fellow gym members, the absurdity of modern-day kids’ birthday parties, death rituals of Italian-Americans and dealing with auto body shop hustlers. All were packaged almost as mini-sitcoms, what with their generous helpings of exposition and dialogue and (save for the birthday-party routine which Maniscalco admitted hasn’t yet found an ending), satisfying wrap-ups.

These and other segments invariably struck both their targets and the funny bones of audience members; it is Maniscalco’s unerring sense of what his listeners crave that is undoubtedly his most valuable asset.

The icing on the Maniscalco comedy cake is the comedian’s physicality. A coiled bundle of perpetual motion, Maniscalco stalked the Event Center stage twisting, bending and turning his body, endowing the bits with visual punctuation that simply can’t transfer to the screen of a computer or smartphone.

It was a most impressive and highly enjoyable set, and proof that Maniscalco’s ascendency is deserved.

Saturday’s program began on a high note thanks to opener Pat McGann.

McGann’s more-typical, punchline-focused set was filled with sharp and smart riffs about such standard topics as married life, child rearing and the Catholic religion, and marked him as someone who bears watching in the future.