In the new bit, his biggest laughs are all from act-outs, none more raucous than when he turns on a light by the camera. “It’s like the Luxor Hotel at Vegas,” he says as he taps his leg with the microphone, then pivots his arm up, swiveling to the sky like a young John Travolta. He’s been working on this move for weeks, and while it began in the moment with intuitive choices, his analysis of the physicality suggests someone who thinks rigorously about his craft.
“I’ve noticed noises that are not coming from my voice get laughs, whether it’s a slap on the leg, a microphone tap, so that move is a tap and a twist and a corkscrew up,” he said. “It’s an explosive move that people are not expecting in a description as mundane as a light going on.”
Adam Eget, the Comedy Store manager and booker, pointed out that “it’s so difficult to do that type of physical comedy that if you’re not one of the best, it can come off hacky. But Sebastian is the best at it right now.”
Among comics, Maniscalco is highly respected, although more as a performer than a joke writer. “I’ve heard comedians, the purists, frown upon physicality,” he said. “But for me, whether it comes out of my mouth or from acting it out, it doesn’t matter. If I’m getting the laughs I’m getting the laughs.”
In his comedy, Maniscalco alternates between strutting confidence and silly hamming, but offstage, he is sober and self-critical. He sounds disappointed in his performance at Madison Square Garden, saying he was tired, disconnected. He is similarly harsh about his recent appearance on “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” opposite Jerry Seinfeld. “I was too passive and I looked like hell,” he said.
Now that he has two children, Maniscalco said, he doesn’t socialize much with stand-ups, even calling himself a bit of a loner. As he talked about his set, our interview was interrupted by a surprise entrance from the comic Anthony Jeselnik, at the club to perform. “I’m avoiding a stalker,” Jeselnik said, walking right past us, a glint in his eye.