Just about everybody, at one time or another, gets honking mad about society's disintegrating standards of civility and decorum. Take your pick: movie talkers, tailgating or texting drivers, loud neighbors.
Sebastian Maniscalco feels your pain and shares your outrage. His new DVD spells it out: “What's Wrong With People?”
“I talk about that mainly in my act,” says the comedian, who opens at the Pittsburgh Improv on Thursday. “What's wrong with people? What's wrong with their behavior? Nobody seems to have any manners anymore. They're all out for themselves.”
As style correspondent for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” the well-dressed Mr. M. fulminates on the slob-ification of America, where people wear camouflage pants to church and flip flops on an airplane.
He's old school. He often performs in suits, in the tradition of Johnny Carson and Don Rickles. The only drawback to dressing up, he says, is that it limits his movements on stage.
“I do a lot of physical stuff onstage, a lot of act-outs,” he says.
He began his comedy career not long after graduating from Northern Illinois University with a major in communications. During one of his performances, the predominantly black audience began chanting “Sandman!” It was a reference to Howard Sims, who acted as a sort of bouncer at talent shows at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Whenever an act began stinking up the joint, Sims would usher them off with a shepherd's crook.
“I died,” Maniscalco says. “Let's put it that way. I always knew that I had the ability to make people laugh. I was never the class clown. I was kind of shy, but when I got on stage, I felt comfortable there. Comedy is a lot of trial and error. It takes a while to find your voice. It's a long road, but if you stick with hit you start to reap the benefits of all the hard work you put in.”
He moved to Los Angeles when he was 24. For the next eight years, he worked as a waiter at the Four Seasons while he improved his comedy craft at open-mic nights. In 2005, actor Vince Vaughn recruited him to tour as one of a quartet of comic's in his Wild West Comedy Tour. The tour and movie didn't make anybody rich, but Maniscalco says he finally was able to quit his job waiting tables.
He also was featured in the 2010 documentary “Just Like Us,” where he joined comics Ahmed Ahmed, Whitney Cummings and others on a tour of the Middle East. Their usual onstage material — sex, dating, relationships — was heavily censored in strict Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia.
“It's unbelievable how well they speak English and how well they get the Western lifestyle,” he says. “There's a young generation that's Westernized. They get the American way of living. They don't know what … TJ Maxx is, but you can talk about text messaging and flying.”
After the Pittsburgh shows, Maniscalco will head to Montreal to perform at the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival.