Sebastian Maniscalco sweated starring with De Niro in 'About My Father': 'You gotta bring your game'
NEW YORK − Sebastian Maniscalco has daddy issues. And boy, have they paid off.
The comedian’s six stand-up specials mine big laughs out of his relationship with Salvo, 76, his Sicilian immigrant hairstylist father.
Now he’s bringing that comedic two-step to the big screen with “About My Father” (in theaters Friday), a thinly veiled homage to the actual culture shock he and his father both felt after Maniscalco fell for his artist wife, Lana Gomez.
“I felt like a fish out of water,” says Maniscalco, 49, recalling his visits to the Gomez family's summer home in North Carolina. “Very nice people, but it wasn’t the vibe I was familiar with growing up in Chicago. No other languages were being spoken. There was a lot of tennis. At breakfast, you’d talk about where you’d be going for lunch.”
Those visits are recreated in “About My Father,” in which Maniscalco essentially plays himself getting set to propose to Leslie Bibb, with David Rasche (“Succession”) and Kim Cattrall (“Sex and the City”) as his future in-laws. A weekend of painful yet funny miscues ultimately resolves and ends in a group hug.
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And who plays Salvo, also named Salvo in the film? Here, Maniscalco has officially entered the Italian American Son of the Year pantheon, as the role was snapped up by Robert De Niro.
While the two shared a few minutes of screen time together in Martin Scorsese's 2019 Jimmy Hoffa epic, “The Irishman,” Maniscalco dismisses any notion they became close.
“It’s not like I could call him and say, ‘Hey, Bob, you wanna do this?’ No. We went through the proper channels,” he says with a laugh. “This wasn’t something I had on a vision board or manifested like they say.”
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Robert De Niro summoned Sebastian Maniscalco's dad, Salvo, to learn how to highlight hair
But the casting did seem like an easy fit. De Niro called Salvo to the Oklahoma set of Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” to pump him for Italian sayings and beauty tips.
“What a gracious guy De Niro is,” says Salvo Maniscalco, who left Cefalu, Sicily, at age 15. “And so particular. He wanted to know specific phrases in Italian, and how to do highlights in women’s hair. He needs to be on the inside.”
Sebastian had anxious moments opposite the legendary actor.
“I mean, it’s De Niro, you gotta bring your game,” he says. “In one scene, I couldn’t cry, I told him, I can’t get there. And he says, ‘I didn’t know if I should ask about your process.’ And I go, ‘Process? There ain’t no process. It’s called hope. As in, I hope I cry.’ ”
If you’re unfamiliar with Maniscalco’s stand-up work, much of it is centered on his ability to be annoyed by, well, most people.
Like the guy on the gym treadmill next to you who insists on running sideways. Or the vacationers who check into glamorous Las Vegas hotels with battered coolers held together by duct tape.
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For Sebastian Maniscalco, jokes about his father are laced with respect for fading traditions
But the jokes that involve his father inevitably have an undercurrent of love and respect.
In his 2019 Netflix special "Stay Hungry," Maniscalco tells the audience his father is upset he can’t see him. “Dad, I’m playing Radio City!” Maniscalco implores, to which Salvo replies: “What, you’re a big shot now, no time for your father?”
During Maniscalco's routine about how people go on expensive retreats to "find themselves," he says that if he ever told his father such a thing, the response would be, "You're looking for yourself? Well, I found you. You're right here, in my kitchen."
In another bit, Maniscalco, who has two children, Serafina, 6, and Caruso, 3, laments overparenting: “If I had asked my father for a ride to school, he’d have said, walk down the street and when you see people your height, you’re there.”
Salvo turns to look at his son, radiating pride: "Sebastian was always funny, but I didn’t think it would turn into this, wow.”
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Maniscalco’s parents, Salvo and Rose, divorced 15 years ago and remain good friends as they revel in their son’s success. But so far, only Dad is fodder for humor; la mamma remains culturally off-limits.
Was wiseguy Sebastian difficult to raise? “No,” says Salvo. “He could take a lot from me, I pushed him hard.”
Maniscalco shifts in his seat. “Anything I did, I asked myself, will this embarrass my family?” he says. “If we’d go to McDonald’s, I knew how hard my dad worked, so I’d get a cheeseburger instead of a Big Mac.”
Sebastian Maniscalco doles out chores to his kids and no baby talk allowed
Both Maniscalcos confess to a fierce work ethic. Salvo still heads to his salon to see co-workers and clients, while his son is constantly working on new material. "My brain would be fried if I didn't go to work," says Salvo.
Sebastian grinds away because he’s well aware of fame’s fickle nature. “If someone wants a photo, I’ll do it because who knows if anyone will ask in a few years?” he says.
But now even Salvo is asking Sebastian to slow down and savor the fruits of his labors. “I said to him, ‘Dad, what are you talking about? At 50, you were working 60-hour weeks!’”
As a result, the youngest Maniscalcos are already on the clock.
“I talk to my son, Caruso, like he's a bricklayer in the local union, no baby talk,” Sebastian says. “I got him doing chores, opening Amazon boxes.”
Sounds like there will be plenty of father-son material for the stand-up career of Caruso Maniscalco.