Sebastian Maniscalco is a world-renowned stand up comedian who has sold out Madison Square Garden and has been interviewed by the likes of Joe Rogan and Jerry Seinfeld. So, you can imagine our excitement when he agreed to get on the phone with us to chat about comedy and promote The Milking Cat Comedy Contest. After an incredibly productive e-mail correspondence with Sebastian’s publicist (thank you, Joseph), we were able to schedule a conference call for Friday, September 4th. 

          In addition to this interview, Sebastian has decided to support The Milking Cat Comedy Competition by pledging 2 free tickets to his next show in the winners city plus backstage passes to meet Sebastian. The contest ends on September 24th, so be sure to enter here for the chance to win the tickets, as well as other amazing prizes from 4 Ivy League Humor Magazine and satirical site The Hard Times. The rewards for first, second, and third place include up to $350, workshop sessions, merch, print copies of humor magazines, and more!

          Without further ado, here are two audio excerpts from our interview. Below that is a full transcription of the interview, conducted by The Milking Cat Editors Benji Elkins, Dan Soslowsky, and Noah Stern:

Clip One:
Clip Two:

*Benji, Dan, and Noah chill in the conference call and chit-chat with Sebastian’s publicist Joseph*

 

*DING*

 

Joseph: Oh and that must be Sebastian.

 

Sebastian Maniscalco: Hey, what’s up?

 

Benji: Hey!

 

Dan: Hi!

 

Stern: Hey!

 

Dan: How’s it going?

Benji: How are you?

 

Sebastian: I’m good. What’s going on here? 

 

Joseph: So guys, why don’t you give Sebastian just a quick little

background on yourselves before you get into the interview?

 

Benji: Yeah sounds good. I’m Benji. We’re all co-founders of the

website. I’m the Editor-in-Chief. 

 

*At this point, Dan’s phone gets disconnected from the call somehow*

 

Benji: I’m a senior at Lower Merion High School. That’s where Kobe Bryant went to high school, that’s their big claim to fame. And then besides that, there’s not much going on with the high school though. 

 

*Dan is currently scrambling to dial back into the call*

 

Benji: That’s pretty much all there is to talk about me. I’m 17, and uh, Dan, you wanna go next?

 

*long pause due to the fact that Dan is still not back on the call*

 

Noah: Dan?

 

Sebastian: Did Dan pass away?

 

Benji: Uh, he must’ve. 

 

Noah: Seems like it.

 

Benji: Wow.

 

Noah: Alright I’ll go. 

 

*Dan is able to join the call once again*

 

Noah: I’m Noah Stern. I’m also a senior in high school. I go to Abington, which is in the Philadelphia area. I’m 17, and I’m a senior editor on the website. 

 

Dan, probably interrupting Sebastian but he didn’t know any better because he just rejoined the call so please don’t be mean to him: I’m Dan.

 

Noah: There we go.

 

Dan: Yeah sorry about that. I do not know what happened. Uhm, I’m Dan. I’m also a senior. I’m also 17. I’m a senior editor for the site and I do all the drawing and comics and stuff like that. 

 

Sebastian: Tell me about why you guys started the site, and what do you guys hope to accomplish.

 

Benji: Yeah, so the backstory on the site is basically at my school, I wanted to write some funny articles and stuff to put in our school paper, but they didn’t want to do that, so I went to our school activities board and asked if I could make a humor magazine or something like that, and they were against that as well. So, I contacted Dan who I know from childhood and Noah who I know from camp, and I was like, “you guys wanna start our own humor magazine?” and they were like, “yeah of course!” 

          So that’s pretty much the idea of how it started, and in terms of the future, right now it’s kind of up in the air because all 3 of us are applying to college, and we’re trying to figure out how to balance the site, what we’re going to do when we go into college, things like that. But I think what we’re hoping for is just to continue to provide an outlet where teens across the country, or even around the world, can write and have their stuff published on a regular basis, and\we also like the idea of providing opportunities for other staff members --also teenagers--to meet and talk with people who have continued with comedy in college and beyond.

 

Sebastian: Yeah, the reason I gravitated towards what you guys are doing is because when I was in high school and I was 17, 16, your age, I didn’t really have any-- there was nothing really there for-- like, you can’t go to high school and go {in a high-pitched voice} “Yeah listen, you got a stand-up comedy class?”

 

*Benji, Dan, and Noah laugh*

 

Sebastian: I had a fake ID when I was your age, and I ended up going to comedy clubs to just sit in the back and watch comedians, and I know that’s not necessarily normal or feasible for a lot of people to do, but that was kinda my outlet to kinda start focusing on this comedy, so that’s why I kinda like what you guys are doing because it’s giving [to] people that have a passion, but sometimes that passion gets lost in the sense that they don’t have a place where they can go and show their work. So I think what you guys are doing is great and you’re so young and being very entrepreneurial at this age is inspiring and I want to help to get this thing [a few more] more eyeballs on it. 

 

Noah: Yeah, and that’s why we reached out to you, because we knew you were so ambitious with comedy. You support people and we were fans to begin with so it's really cool to be able to email with you and actually get a nice response and get some help. It's really cool to see.

 

Sebastian: Cool! Go ahead, take it away.

 

Benji: Alright! First we just want to thank you again for the opportunity and it was really fun emailing Joseph! We want to preface this by saying that we're pretty surprised in general that we got this far in terms of meeting you and even interviewing you. So we have no idea what we’re doing. We’ve never interviewed anybody before, so we're excited to see where that goes.

 

Sebastian, laughing: Well, listen. You know what? Sometimes you got to go out and put yourself out there because you'll never know what you get back. That's one thing that I've learned from my career is that sometimes you think “They're never going to do this, they're never going to do that,” and I've always kind of lived by “You got to put the energy out there to get the energy back.” So, kudos to you guys for taking the initiative. And listen, I'm not looking for you guys to be Joe Rogan here on the interview but there's a first time for everything. And actually, Judd Apatow interviewed Jerry Seinfeld when Jerry Seinfeld was a pretty established comedian and you never know, you guys could end up doing whatever you're going to do someday and be really good at it. So, I've always looked at these opportunities for me as also a learning experience about what the youth of America is up to and what you guys are doing so don't be shy or apprehensive. So, whatever you want to know I'll help you out!

 

Benji: For sure. That brings us to our first question then which is, we've been emailing Joseph who we really like and appreciate, but he's kind of like your guy right? So you're at the status where you have “people.” You contact someone and you say “Oh, you contact my people.” Of course, we don't have people, so we would like to know then, what's it like to have people?

 

Sebastian: It's funny. You know, I was my own “people” for a long time. My own marketing. I did [all of my] DVDs when someone ordered a DVD from the website. I was the one who signed it. I still sign the DVDs. I signed [it and] I put a little note in there, I gifted it, I went to the post office, mailed them out. I was my own shop for such a long time. But, as your career grows and you start to encounter more opportunities, you start to hire people. Joseph and Ebie are my publicists and they've done really well by me. When you get to a certain level you need a social media person, need a publicist. I've had a manager pretty much since the entire time I've been a comic since 1998. It's just that you become so busy, you need other people to help you through your career. You don't have the time that you need to do stand-up. You end up spending a lot of time doing things that other people can help you do. To have people is nice, but it's a necessity because it allows me to work as a comedian. And everybody kind of helps me out whether it be PR or sometimes it will be branding or whatever the area is. But, I want to stress to you guys that that wasn't always the case. Since 1998 to 2008 or 2009 I was pretty much a one-man show.

 

Dan: Yeah, I really admire how you got so committed to comedy at such a young age and I find it really inspiring. I was curious if there was anything that you wish you had to known when you were a teenager?

 

Sebastian: Yeah, I wish someone would have told me this was going to take a long time. I knew I was in this for the long haul. It wasn’t something where I was gonna give five years and then at the end gonna go home. I was gonna be a comedian whether I was making $10 a night or $10,000 a night. It wasn’t about the money. But, I didn’t know it was going to take as long as it did to really start making a living at it. I was a little discouraged about three or four or five years in. I was like “What the Hell man?! I should be doing comedy clubs! I’m funny, I got material!” Not to say that people don’t have early success, people do. You have comedians out there who are 27 years old and they hit it a little early and generally speaking it tends to be because they have a TV show, maybe they have a movie career. But to be a really seasoned comedian you have to put in 10, 12, 15 years to really start getting to know who you are on stage and to deal with the nuances of performing. It takes a while so I wish I would have had a gauge or visualization on how long it was gonna take.

 

Noah: Would you rather have gotten a big break on a TV show early and gained success that way, or was it more meaningful for you having put in all the work?

 

Sebastian: Yeah, I believe that there is no substitute for the work on stage. I mean I would go up four or five times a night if I could depending on if a comedy club was having a show. There was a lot of “bringer show” that I used to do where you have to bring five people to a show in order to get a spot. I'm glad it happened the way it did because it really gave me the opportunity to really understand the art of comedy and put myself in a lot of different situations, whether it be performing in a boxing ring, in a bowling alley, or in the corner of a restaurant on a small crate. All those little things give you the foundation to be really good at what you do and I don't wish it happened any other way. My first passion was stand up comedy, that's why I came out to Los Angeles from Chicago to do: was to be a stand-up comedian. It wasn't to be a sit-com star or movies or anything like that but to do stand up.  I'm glad because it really prepared me for going into comedy clubs or subsequently going into theaters or arenas because each one of those things are different animals. If I didn’t have the experience I don't think I would have felt confident playing Madison Square Garden. 

 

Benji: Yeah. I think the next thing that we would like to know is has your style of stand-up comedy evolved or changed, as you grew older?

 

Sebastian: Yeah. I was not really as physical as I am today. When I first started out I was extremely angry and really not likeable on stage. With stand-up comedy you tend to put up a shield when you first go on stage and it takes a while for you to kind of peel the layers and the whole goal is to leave the shell on stage, and sometimes it takes a while to get there, but yes I'm definitely more physical, more expressive than I was when I first started doing comedy. Actually, on my first DVD on the extras I put a clip of me doing stand-up for one of the first times.

 

Noah: Were you nearly as expressive or were you so nervous you weren't doing any of the physical stuff? 

 

Sebastian: The physical stuff kind of happened over the course of time when I started feeling comfortable on stage and acting like a goofball and really not caring what the audience thought. A lot of times you really just have to get rid of that self-consciousness. It's one of these things where no matter what you're doing up there, you're not thinking about how people are looking at you. You're just up there having a great time and whatever it takes to make them laugh, you're doing. Over time I felt that people gravitated towards me not only telling a story but acting it out. Especially nowadays it's so hard to hold people's attention. To sit up there in front of a microphone and tell jokes for an hour, I felt like I had to give these people a show. Because the attention span with Tik Tok and what you got, it's so quick. Especially your generation doesn’t have the amount of attention span that maybe a 45 or 50 year old person would have. So I was like “shit, you have to light yourself on fire up there in order for these people to pay attention.”

 

Dan: Yeah, and I think that’s so interesting how the physical aspect of your comedy makes your style so unique. I’m curious as to how this manifests in your creative process. Do you sit down and try to actively think of material or do you just let it come to you when it comes?

 

Sebastian: Yeah I'm not the type to sit in a room just to come up with funny thoughts and funny jokes. My material strictly comes from living life whether it be dinner with my wife's family, or going on a vacation, or about my relationship with my wife and how our families are different. It's more storytelling. And people go ‘Oh, do you practice in the mirror?” or “What do you do?” There's no practicing in the mirror. There's none of that. It's basically going to The Comedy Store here in Los Angeles, working out the material, recording myself, reviewing the recording, going back and adding and subtracting from bits. The physicality comes out of the performance. It's not like: “And then I'm going to kick my leg up like this!” 

 

*Dan, Benji, and Noah laugh*

 

Sebastian: More just like when you're telling a story to your buddies or to your family and you're not conscious of what your arms are doing or how your body moves. You're not conscious of it. It's just coming out of the storytelling. That's how the physical aspect of it comes. I’ll take a mental note and think, “Oh, when I put my hands up in the air like I just did I got a laugh. Maybe I should enunciate that more the next time I have a show.” So that’s the way the material comes. It’s not at all planned.  

 

Noah: So do you need a lot of real-world experience to gather material? Is it harder now that we're in quarantine or is there a whole new type of material now that you're thinking of?

 

Sebastian: Well, that's kind of what bothered me a little bit. Like a lot of people are like “Oh my God, you're probably getting so much material!” Like no. I need to go out and live my life for me to get the material. Yeah, I have new material. But, I'm at home and I'm never really home this much. I've been at home for 6 months. So I'm getting more material on family life. I mean, listen, when this thing is over you're going to see a lot of comedians come out with “the mask” and other stuff. The material that I'm gathering is more Relationship-based: my wife and I.  I’m seeing behaviors in my wife that I've never seen it all before the pandemic because we've been together 24/7. With my kids and being a father, that’s where the material is coming for me. It’s not necessarily “Hey! Remember when we were all washing our avocados in March?!” 

 

*Benji, Dan, and Noah laugh*

 

Sebastian: There’ll be some of that but it will be more relationship-based than pandemic-based. 

Benji: This is a bit of a Segue but you have a lot of comedians who go up and talk about similar things and whatnot. I wonder, in terms of the fame that a famous comedian has, do you ever think that some comedians get to a level where they're “bombproof?” Where they are so famous they could say anything and the audience would laugh regardless because they're saying it? Do you think that as fame increases it's harder to gather which material really works and what is making people laugh just because of famous person is saying it?

 

Sebastian: Yeah, I think you get “the famous pass” for maybe three minutes and then after that, that shit wears off really quick. If it ain’t funny people ain’t laughing. It’s one of these things where it’s hard to fake laugh for an hour if the shit ain't funny.

 

Benji: Right.

 

Sebastian: I see comedians with really really big names go up and shit the bed onstage, which you have to do as a comedian. It doesn't matter who you are, you have to go up and test the material. If some of the material’s not funny, you don't get a laugh. People are really excited when a comedian will enter the Comedy Store--when it's open--like Chappelle would stop by when he's not on the list or Martin Lawrence would pop in, or name-that-comedian would come in and people would get excited to see them. And then there’s everybody else working on material, seeing what works or what doesn’t, and the thing with comedy is if it ain’t funny they’re not gonna laugh. Whoever you are.

 

Noah: So is it also ever painfully obvious for you, if you ever watch somebody else's special, that they haven't gone in and done the work and tightened up their set enough?

Sebastian: Well, I mean, you watch some specials and...You know I think it's a matter of taste whether or not you like that particular flavor of comedy…

 

Benji, half-joking: We want you to name names.

 

*Everybody laughs*

 

Sebastian: See you guys know how to interview, what the hell are you talking about? No, everyone's got their own style and everybody's got their own process and what have you. Yes, there are some comedians that are more polished than others. I don't know, I just concentrate on what I'm doing. In the beginning, it’s difficult to stay on course and not look at any other comedian and go, “what the fuck, why am I not getting these opportunities?” It's very difficult but a lot of comedians told me, “just pay attention to what you’re doing, don't pay attention to what everybody else does.” The only thing you have control of in this business is being funny in your own act, and you soon learn that your time will come. It might not be 3 years in, it might not be 10 years in, or 12 years or what have you, but your time will come and if you're ready and you’ve done the work, you will definitely reap those benefits. So that's kind of the motto I've taken in my career. 

 

Noah: Very diplomatic.

 

Sebastian: What, I’m gonna tell a bunch of 17-year-olds who stinks?

 

*all laugh*

 

Benji: We thought maybe if we were charismatic enough we could get a list.

 

*Sebastian laughs*

 

Sebastian: No, I’m Italian. Italians don’t say much when it comes to other people.

Benji: Oh, I did want to talk about how you've mentioned your wife's culture and religion. The three of us are all Jewish, and in terms of Jewish holidays, you’ve mentioned Passover [in your act], I'd like to ask if there's any other Jewish holidays that you enjoy or really perplex you? I’d also like to quickly say that, personally, I'm a big fan of gefilte fish. I know you kind of ragged on it, I want to let you know that there's a lot of people out there that are big gefilte fish fans if it's done right. I think you just had bad gefilte. So, sometime you could come over to my grandmother's house and we'll show you what's what, but other than that, are there any holidays or traditions that really excite you or perplex you? 

 

Sebastian: I mean I'm around a lot of Jewish people in my life. My father's girlfriend is Jewish, my sister’s husband is Israeli, obviously I married a Jewish woman. So not much is new in terms of culture and religion. I think Jewish people and Italian people are very similar in the sense that they’re typically extremely funny people, and very centered around family. The mother-son relationship is pretty much identical in both cultures. A lot of guilt...My best friend is Jewish too, he talks to his mother more than he talks to his wife.

 

*Benji, Noah, and Dan laugh*

 

Sebastian: I find the differences and similarities between cultures very rich when it comes to comedy. In a day and age where you can't point out these differences without somebody getting all hopped up or sensitive about it, I think it’s the differences that kind of make it all funny, you know? Poking fun at how we are different. I do it in my act, about how Italians when we sit down we want to eat right away, we’re not gonna be reading a pamphlet for 2 and a half hours. You know, not one Jewish person has come up to me and said “That bit is so offensive!” They understand it, they listen, they go through it themselves, so I just always thought that that was kind of the fun of comedy, and I think that in this day and age people kind of forgot about that. I mean anything you post online now...I was doing something on Instagram about how my wife ordered some envelopes on Amazon, and you get people saying {in a mocking voice} “Do you know how many trees it took to”... like what?

 

*Benji, Dan, and Noah laughs*

 

Sebastian: So, I think we should get back to being a little more light-hearted, to taking comedy as comedy, not taking comedy as serious as some people have taken it. 

 

Joseph, attempting to wrap things up: Well guys, this has been really great. I have enjoyed immensely just listening-- I can’t believe you guys are 17!

 

Benji, Dan, and Noah: Thank you!

 

Joseph: Your questions are better than some long-time journalists that I hear. 

 

Benji, talking over Sebastian: Yeah well we definitely wanted to know if we were better than Jerry Seinfeld in “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."

 

Sebastian, trying to be polite: Well I tell ya, for you guys to be so new to interviewing, your stuff is really well-thought-out and I really enjoyed your questions. I wish you the best for your website and your future--I know it might look bleak right now with all the shit that's going on in the world, I have a lot of confidence that you guys will make the best of it.

 

Dan: Thank you so much!

 

Benji: Thank you!

 

*end transcript*

Photo by Martin Schoeller

          We are very grateful to have had this opportunity to interview Sebastian. In addition to this interview, he has decided to support The Milking Cat Comedy Competition by pledging 2 backstage tickets to his next show in the winner’s city. The contest ends on September 24th, so be sure to enter here for the chance to win the tickets, as well as other amazing prizes from 4 Ivy League Humor Magazine and satirical site The Hard Times. The other rewards for first, second, and third place include up to $350, workshop sessions, merch, print copies of humor magazines, and more!

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