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Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco talks with LI kids

Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco with Kidsday reporters, from left,

Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco with Kidsday reporters, from left, Matthew Wengatz, Sean Wilson, Ana Kelly and Hailey Sorell of Port Jefferson Middle School at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan. Credit: Newsday / Pat Mullooly

We met comedian Sebastian Maniscalco before his Madison Square Garden performances in January. He was so nice to us and had so much to say, we had to share it with you!

Have you ever had any jokes or skit ideas that didn’t exactly take off?

Yeah! Some things never really get off the ground. Sometimes I really want a bit to work, and I keep doing it and doing it and doing it, to see if there’s anything there. And a lot of times there’s no fuel in the tank, and you’ve got to park the car. And in this case, the joke just wasn’t working. I couldn’t figure it out. I thought it was funny, but it just isn’t hitting all cylinders. So for that occasion, I just put it to the side and go on and hopefully come up with something else.

The stories you tell on your shows — mostly true or completely untrue?

They are basically truth, but there is a lot of creative license that I take, and I add some things. Like there is a bit I do about my father who is putting antifreeze on bologna [to catch pests nibbling on vegetables in his garden]. That is not a true story. It is a true story, but it didn’t happen to my father. It happened to a friend’s father, so I just took it and made it my dad. So there’s a lot of things where I’m just kind of maneuvering the pieces of the puzzle to fit what I’m trying to do on stage. But a lot of it’s just based in truth, and I’ll just tweak it here and there. I don’t really come up with things out of the blue and try to make them funny.

How nervous are you before a show? And how do you deal with it?

I’m more nervous doing this [our interview] than I am doing stand-up comedy. Kids can be pretty scary. Yes, I have a little anxiety. Not so much nervous. Just a little anxiety. But I think as you do it over and over and over again, it’s just like doing anything else. I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve interviewed anybody. You know, you become a little bit more comfortable.

Who exactly is your biggest critic when it comes to jokes?

My dad. He is my biggest fan and my biggest critic. He would ask me why, why would I do that? So then it’s a back-and-forth. So my dad’s always trying to give me ideas, and if I don’t tell a joke right, because he listens to my act so much he knows my jokes inside and out. He’ll go, why did you leave the subway bit out? Or why did you do this? I don’t know, just because I don’t want to say that tonight, Dad.

Were you funny as a kid, and when did you actually start comedy?

I wasn’t funny as a kid around other kids. I was funny with my family. I was very shy and kind of reserved. I wasn’t a big talker. . . . I was never the class clown. I didn’t really talk a lot. I was very in my own little world. But I was very funny around my family. And I knew I wanted to get into stand-up comedy when I was in second grade. I was really, really interested in the career path, but I just didn’t know how to get into it.

Are there any acts that you no longer want to do?

It’s not that I no longer want to do them, it’s I forget them. I don’t even remember how the joke goes.

We noticed Jerry Seinfeld in a lot of your comedy videos. Are you friends with him?

I’m friends with Jerry Seinfeld, and I met him about 3-1/2, 4 years ago in a comedy club here in New York City, and we became fast friends. So ever since then, [I've been] going out to dinner with him, and he’s been kind enough to invite me over to his house for dinner. Yeah he’s a guy I actually texted last night. I said, I’m going to be doing the Howard Stern Show, can you give me any advice? He said, just be yourself. Yeah, he's a nice guy to have because he’s been there. He’s done it. And he’s got a lot of knowledge about stand-up comedy.

Do people ever come up to you on the street and perform your acts for you?

Yes, all the time. They not only perform my act, but they try and give me material that they’ve come up with. Like if I saw Bono on the street, I wouldn’t go and sing along. I don’t know why people feel the need to. It’s flattering, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t know, a lot of the times I don’t understand it.

Who is harder to entertain? Your family or your audience?

The audience. My family are very funny people who are always laughing. But the audience, you don’t know what you’re going to get night in and night out. I can do really, really well one night, and the next night, what happens, same material, but it’s not really working. Sometimes I do all my workout material at the comedy store in Los Angeles, and those audiences vary night from night. But definitely a group of strangers is harder to make laugh than my father, mother and sister.

Nancy Bachety's sixth-grade class, Port Jefferson Middle School

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