Arlington Hts. native makes it big with observational comedy

  • Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, a native of Arlington Heights, returns home for a week's worth of shows at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont.

    Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, a native of Arlington Heights, returns home for a week's worth of shows at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont. Courtesy of Zanies Comedy Club

Updated 6/4/2013 5:21 AM

Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco finds a funny side to everything. Ordering a sandwich at Subway. Hearing your doorbell ring. Even turmoil within his own family.

Sony TV likes his take on everything so much that it just signed a deal with the Arlington Heights native to help develop a TV show based on parts of his life, including his parents' divorce after more than 30 years of marriage.


"Most Italian couples that age don't divorce. They just die unhappy," Maniscalco said. "It wasn't funny at the time ... but (four years later) there's a lot of comedy there. I mean, my 67-year-old mother is online dating now."

Maniscalco, a 39-year-old Rolling Meadows High School alumnus, is one of the hottest comedians in the country. His current show, "What's Wrong With People?" is in the midst of a successful U.S. tour, which includes a week of mostly sold-out shows June 19-23 at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont.

Maniscalco's comments on everyday life -- a comedy style similar to Jerry Seinfeld's -- have landed him on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," in several comedy specials on TBS, Showtime and Comedy Central, and in shows with stars like Dennis Miller, Vince Vaughn and Marc Maron.

Clean-humored and always stylishly dressed, Maniscalco's favorite topics include bad manners and sloppy dress. With his old-school mindset, he easily -- and genuinely -- gets irritated by people who go out in sweats and flip-flops, and then use the excuse, "But it's comfortable!"

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His passion about the subject sometimes prompts fans to intentionally dress like slobs in hopes of being called out during his shows.

"When I was growing up, we dressed up for church. If I came downstairs in casual clothes, my mom would say, 'Where the (heck) are you going with those pants?' I was always taught how to dress for the occasion," said Maniscalco, a former style correspondent for "The Tonight Show." He did comedy segments where he'd interview people about what they were wearing in places like airports and grocery stores.

"Today, you go to a nice restaurant, and you have to look at a grown man eat steak with his flip-flops on, which I find totally offensive. I don't know if I'm the silent majority or the minority. I once did a flip-flop joke in San Diego and I got booed ... but it's all in good fun," he said.

Maniscalco even got riled up while checking into a fancy Las Vegas hotel recently.

"The people checking in next to me had an Igloo cooler, a few cases of Schiltz, and a George Foreman grill. I thought, 'Aren't you embarrassed? It's a beautiful hotel, with Italian marble everywhere, and you look like you're going to Busse Woods,'" he said.

Maniscalco's star is on the rise now, but he spent many years paying his dues to reach this point in his career.

After graduating from Northern Illinois University, he saved up $10,000 by tending bar at The Living Room in Schaumburg (he'd already waited tables at many other suburban restaurants, including Olive Garden in Woodfield Mall and the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles) and used the money to move to Los Angeles. There, he found himself, once again, waiting tables.


"I was a suburban kid with a father who was a hairstylist and a mother who was a secretary at an elementary school, so I had no idea how to get into the business. I didn't know anybody out there," he said. "I didn't know any better, basically."

But with each passing year, Maniscalco's comedy career steadily climbed. He remembers taking a comedy class where each student had to go onstage and talk about his or her day. During this drill, Maniscalco was most comfortable -- and most funny.

His "observational comedy," as it's named, started landing him gigs in tiny clubs, and then bigger ones. People started to know his name. One job would lead to another, each with slightly bigger crowds and paychecks.

"It didn't happen at a fast rate. I didn't see an immediate change in my life. It's been marathon-like rather than a sprint," he said.

Maniscalco's future looks bright. He's turning 40 next month, is getting married in August, and is traveling the globe doing stand-up.

His friends -- all married with kids -- recently got together in Miami for his bachelor party. It wasn't the "Hangover"-styled party you might expect a comedian to have.

"They looked like they got let out of prison for the weekend," he said of his friends, noting that everyone was taking medication for something and used high-powered SPF sunscreen at the pool. "We'd eat a meal, and it's 10:30, and it's like, 'God, we're exhausted.' I'm 39. I'm by no means a senior citizen. But sometimes, I catch myself thinking like one."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who now work in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a good feature, send them an email at and

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