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Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco gets dramatic in 'Green Book,' 'Irishman'

By Ben Hooper
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Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco gets dramatic in 'Green Book,' 'Irishman'
Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, fresh off his role in the award-winning film "Green Book," is returning to stand-up with a new special out Tuesday on Netflix. Photo courtesy of Netflix

Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Comedian and actor Sebastian Maniscalco recently flexed his dramatic muscles with a memorable turn in Green Book, which won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture -- Musical or Comedy. But he said not to expect politically controversial subjects in his latest special, Stay Hungry, out Tuesday on Netflix.

"I don't think people really want to hear it," he told UPI in a recent interview.

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He said audiences "get it all day long through their Twitter feed, their Yahoo! news or their TV screen. There's always somebody bitchin' about something that's going on, and to be honest with you, I don't find it funny."

Maniscalco said he intentionally stays away from politics, adding, "I just try to keep it lighthearted, talk about personal problems with my family and have a strong point of view on people's behavior. I don't touch any social issues, nothing like that."

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Keeping it in the family

Maniscalco's 20-year comedy career often has focused on his real-life experiences with his Italian-American family, particularly his dad.

"My father's a huge focal point of my act, and I don't really talk about my mother and my sister," he said. "They're always asking, 'When are we gonna be in the act?' So it's almost a right of passage if you make it into the act."

But he said his mother often is the final word on what family business he can share with the world.

Maniscalco said he's careful not to be mean-spirited when telling jokes such as the ones that poke fun at the difference between his Italian family and the Jewish family of his wife, painter Lana Gomez.

"One joke that kinda resonated with people was my Passover joke," he said, noting that eating is a mainstay of Italian culture, but during Passover, "people read for three hours before they even touch food."

"It's just poking fun at lighthearted things."

Maniscalco is preparing for a quartet of sold-out, stand-up shows at New York's Madison Square Garden on Saturday and Sunday. "The Garden" is a venue he calls "a once-in-a-lifetime deal."

Getting serious

The veteran comedian said his role in Green Book evolved from a desire to play dramatic roles that contrast with his over-the-top stage persona, which he said does not always reflect who he is in his everyday life.

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"I feel like I'm kind of a serious guy in nature, I'm not like a goof ball," Maniscalco said.

Maniscalco's role as Johnny Venere in Green Book led to a role as real-life mobster "Crazy Joe" Gallo in Martin Scorsese's upcoming film, The Irishman, which stars Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.

"I'd be lying to you if I said that the first day I showed up on set and found out that I'm going to be doing a scene with DeNiro and Pesci that I wasn't sweating," he said with a laugh. "But after you do it a couple of times, that kinda goes away and you're more in the moment and just acting with another individual."

Maniscalco said his big roles came after years of working with famed Hollywood acting coach Lesly Kahn, but he otherwise has no formal training in the medium. He simply wanted to "flex a different muscle" with dramatic roles, and it took some work to unlearn some of his larger-than-life comedic impulses.

"When it comes to acting ... the camera's on you from chest to head. I can't be as animated or kinda goofy as I am when I do stand-up comedy," he says. "You definitely have to be aware of your face and what it's doing when you're acting."

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Maniscalco said stand-up helped him bolster his film career.

"Just coming up with stuff on the spot has definitely helped me when it comes to acting," he said. "You can add a line that wasn't in the script; sometimes those moments are gold. Stand-up comedy definitely lends itself to being in the moment."

Branching out

Maniscalco said that between his stand-up, acting, writing a book and co-hosting a podcast with fellow comic Pete Correale on Sirius XM, he isn't necessarily in a hurry to attempt other artistic media.

"I tried doing a sitcom a couple of years ago for NBC," he said. "I did a pilot with Tony Danza playing my father, and that didn't get picked up. So if that opportunity doesn't happen again, I'm fine with it. I don't have to have a TV show by any means. All that I've really wanted to try, I've done."

"I'd be happy just doing what I'm doing the rest of my career. Doing the stand-up, doing a little movies, maybe later on I'll write a book about fatherhood, but I don't need to do everything. I'm happy where I'm at."

Sebastian Manicalco: Stay Hungry is streaming now on Netflix. A list of upcoming stand-up tour dates can be viewed on his website.

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