Sebastian Maniscalco performs onstage during the Sebastian Maniscalco 'Stay Hungry' Tour 2018 at Madison Square Garden on January 19, 2019 in New York City.
Kevin Mazur—Getty Images for Sebastian Manis
By Rachel E. Greenspan
August 13, 2019

The 2019 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) will return to its roots with a comedian running the show for the first time since Kevin Hart in 2012.

Sebastian Maniscalco, a stand-up comedian known for his physical comedy, Italian-American jokes and clean humor, may soon become a household name after hosting the ceremony on Aug. 26. The choice of Maniscalco represents a new direction for the show, which has had only two hosts in the last four years, both pop stars (Miley Cyrus in 2015 and Katy Perry in 2017).

With an upcoming role in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film The Irishman, Maniscalco’s star is quickly on the rise. Here’s everything to know about Sebastian Maniscalco, this year’s pick to host the MTV Video Music Awards.

Who is Sebastian Maniscalco?

Born in the suburbs of Chicago, Maniscalco, 46, is a stand-up comedian who got his start in the Los Angeles comedy scene. Though he’s been known in comic circles for a couple of decades and performed on Comedy Central as early as 2005, his fame has risen in the last few years, thanks to more exposure online, many sold-out live shows and two Netflix specials.

While he may be less familiar to younger viewers (YouTubers the Dolan Twins beat the likes of Hart and Tiffany Haddish for Choice Comedian at this weekend’s Teen Choice Awards), many of Maniscalco’s stand-up routines have millions of views on YouTube. The comic counts Jerry Seinfeld among his fans and performs at iconic venues like the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. His January run at New York City’s Madison Square Garden was the highest-grossing event of all time by a comedian in North America, according to Billboard, also selling “the most tickets in a weekend for any comedy engagement in the history of the Garden.”

He also placed tenth on Forbes’ list of 2018’s highest-paid comedians, raking in an estimated $15 million.

What kind of comedy does Maniscalco do?

One of Maniscalco’s breakout moments came when he opened for Andrew Dice Clay in the early 2000s. Maniscalco dedicates a whole chapter of his memoir, Stay Hungry, to Dice Clay. “I don’t even know if he knows or not, but that was a big part of my career opening up for him,” Maniscalco told Las Vegas Magazine. “It was a big learning experience, and that was a big part of me getting introduced to the larger end of show business as far as stand-up comedians go.”

But the connections to Dice Clay’s comedy routine are few and far between. While the 1990s star comedian is known for brash humor, Maniscalco’s act is remarkably clean. He picks topics like ordering a burrito at Chipotle and what it’s like to shop at Whole Foods in lieu of R-rated subjects, making his acts generally family-friendly.

One routine about eating a Passover meal for the first time holds the potential to get controversial — a non-Jew judging a Jewish ceremonial meal — but Maniscalco doesn’t go there. Instead, he focuses on something hyper-specific and relatable for anyone who has ever attended a Passover seder. “Listen, I’m Italian,” he recalled saying when learning a seder‘s reading material could last hours. “As soon as I sit at a table, I gotta have bread within 15 seconds of sitting down.”

 

Maniscalco uses his Italian-American heritage extensively in his stand-up act, both in terms of content and presentation. In his instantly recognizable Italian-American accent, he jokes about his typical Italian family life.

He is also known for using his entire body in performances, often dancing around the stage, flailing his arms and changing his voice to put on different characters. It’s with this dynamic that he elevates the airing of his otherwise innocuous day-to-day grievances — like an elderly woman taking too long to order at a fast casual restaurant.

Maniscalco has said that his act is inspired by John Ritter, who was also known for his physical comedy in Three’s Company. “He could really express feelings through his facial expression or his physical movements,” Maniscalco told Las Vegas Magazine last year.

The New York Times described these physical “act-outs” in a 2015 feature on the growing trend: “Mr. Maniscalco’s act-outs are broad and over the top, but they are also refined, turning goofiness into its own kind of panache.” His act is equally defined by the contradiction of his appearance and attitude — tight shirts, big muscles, gelled hair and all — coupled with the “goofiness” of his monologues. “His loose-limbed mimes overshadow the material but they also make his act more interesting, since the incongruity between Mr. Maniscalco’s cranky cool dude pose and his doofus physicality may be his best joke,” the Times wrote.

Does Maniscalco address politics?

Maniscalco, who is currently touring for his “You Bother Me” show, has said in past interviews that people come to his shows to get away from today’s political climate, and that it’s not something he’s interested in addressing. “People get it 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said in an interview with The Press-Enterprise. MTV’s choice of Maniscalco in the 2019 political landscape shows that the network likely wanted a host who wouldn’t mention President Trump, gun control, abortion rights, immigration laws and other pressing subjects that many other popular comedians would be likely to focus on in their monologues.

Has Maniscalco been in movies or TV shows?

Though Maniscalco’s roots are on the stage, he has his fair share of film credits. After a cameo in 2018’s Tag, the comedy starring Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jon Hamm and Jake Johnson, the funnyman had a more serious turn in Best Picture winner Greek Book, as Johnny Venere, brother-in-law to Viggo Mortenson’s Tony Lip. Maniscalco did not comment on the backlash to the film, when some said it espoused racist tropes and backwards morals.

Green Book director Peter Farrelly spoke highly of Maniscalco as a performer in an interview with Variety, comparing him to some of the greatest comedians who became movie-stars. “Guys like Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, Lee Evans, you give those guys a lot of rope because they’re talented dudes and you want them to be able to do what they do best, which is find the fun,” Farrelly said. “And he was as good as anyone, he was fantastic.”

Maniscalco’s next role is an even more high-profile project: Martin Scorsese’s drama The Irishman, one of News time’s most anticipated movies of the fall, starring Robert De Niro, Anna Paquin and Al Pacino. He will also play Giorgio Moroder in Spinning Gold, an upcoming biopic about the co-founder of Casablanca Records directed by Timothy Scott Bogart and co-starring Samuel L. Jackson. Deadline reported last year that Maniscalco was also developing a comedy with Lionsgate, largely inspired by his own Italian family and bits from his stand-up routine.

Maniscalco has not played a scripted role on the small screen, but he has two comedy specials on Netflix: 2016’s Why Would You Do That? and this year’s Stay Hungry, which dropped on the streaming service in January. Maniscalco ventured into the publishing world with a memoir in 2018, also titled Stay Hungry.

Who usually hosts the VMAs?

Ariana Grande, second left, performs 'God is a woman' at the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, in New York.
Chris Pizzello—Invision/AP

A comedian hasn’t hosted the ceremony since Kevin Hart in 2012, but it’s not out of the ordinary for the network. Previous comedians-as-hosts included Chelsea Handler in 2010, Russell Brand in 2008 and 2009 and Jack Black in 2006. In its early years in the 1980s, the ceremony was hosted by Dana Carvey, Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy, among others.

Historically, hosts of the VMAs have been actors, singers and comedians, much like the Grammys, Academy Awards and Emmy Awards, but the music-focused ceremony has gone without a host on more than a few occasions. In the last 10 years, five broadcasts have gone without hosts.

What’s the deal with the recent hostless award show trend?

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper perform onstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. The Academy relied on performances and presenters to have a smooth show, despite there being no host.
Kevin Winter—Getty Images

Last year’s VMAs joined the Academy Awards in having no host for the year’s broadcast. The Academy’s choice to go without a host followed a very public controversy focused on Kevin Hart, a previous VMA host, who had been intended to host the ceremony before homophobic tweets from his past resurfaced online.

The most recent Grammys, Golden Globes and Emmy Awards, however, did have hosts, with Alicia Keys running the music awards show, Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg taking the reigns at the Globes and Michael Che and Colin Jost hosting the Emmys.

After the Oscars hostless show went off without a hitch, News time TV critic Judy Berman said it might be the best plan after all. “By the end of the evening, I was fully convinced that the Academy should give up on hosts for good,” she wrote in her review of the broadcast. The Oscars’ ratings also improved by more than 10 percent, Entertainment Weekly reported.

The 2019 Emmy Awards will follow the Oscars’ lead, as Fox announced on Aug. 7 that the show will have no host.

Write to Rachel E. Greenspan at [email protected].

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