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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Richard Roeper

‘Sebastian Maniscalco: Is It Me?’: In great new special, comedian revives old-time Vegas

Dressed to the nines in a tux, Sebastian Maniscalco performs at the Wynn Las Vegas in his special “Is It Me?” (Netflix)

Most of the approximately 1 billion stand-up comedy specials on Netflix get right to it, with a disembodied voice proclaiming, “Ladies and gentlemen, make some noise for …” as the comic takes the stage. Occasionally there’s a prologue, e.g., Aziz Ansari walking in Brooklyn before opening the backstage door in “Aziz Ansari: Right Now,” or a montage of Anjelah Johnson making stops in Tampa, Baton Rouge, Jacksonville, Orlando, et al., in “Anjelah Johnson: Not Fancy,” or arguably the most elaborate entrance in modern stand-up TV special history: Jerry Seinfeld jumping out of a helicopter into the Hudson River in a Bond-like prelude to “23 Hours to Kill.”

For “Sebastian Maniscalco: Is It Me?,” the northwest suburban native (who sounds like he was born in a Scorsese film) intones, “Vegas: the jewel of the desert … while today the hotels are taller and shinier, the clientele has … lost some of its sheen,” as we see a montage of present-day casinos and characters.

“My favorite Vegas is from a bygone era … when everyone smoked, drank martinis and dressed to impress,” continues Maniscalco, as we see a montage of pictures of him photoshopped with the Rat Pack. “That’s the Vegas I’d like to bring back to life.” Cut to Maniscalco in a tux, walking onto a gold stage with gold curtains at the Encore Theater in Wynn Las Vegas.

‘Sebastian Maniscalco: Is It Me?’

It’s a nice touch, and even some of the audience members honored Maniscalco’s request to dress up like in the old days — but then it’s time to get down to it, and like every other comedy special, what matters is the hour with the comic and just a microphone, combing through their life’s experiences, making observations about the world in which we live, putting themselves out there in an effort to make us laugh. On that note, Maniscalco is a seasoned, likable, solid pro at the top of his game who will keep you laughing and nodding in recognition throughout.

“Everybody says you have to have a date night when you have kids …,” says Maniscalco in his opening bit. “So now we go out and we argue without the kids. It’s nice, we get a lot more accomplished without the kids being there.” And don’t even get him started about how his wife “doesn’t utilize her menu time appropriately … start reading, get your head in the menu, they’re gonna ask us questions! Pick a protein, stop looking at the [crown] molding.”

Maniscalco is hardly likely to incite Ricky Gervais or Dave Chappelle-level backlash, but he does poke fun at “woke” trends, e.g., saying he has little patience for the classmate in his daughter’s kindergarten class who identifies as a lion: “23 kids, one lion in the class. … I don’t blame the kid, I blame the parents. Kid probably came down in the morning, dressed as a lion … if my kid comes down and he’s dressed as a panda bear, I’m telling him, ‘Get the f--- upstairs and put some jeans on, I’m not taking a panda bear to school.’ … We don’t see that outfit ever again. Daddy said no.”

While not overtly political, Maniscalco’s comedy persona is that of an old-school guy who makes politically incorrect (but not hardcore offensive) observations about ethnicity and race and modern-day sensitivities (“you can’t say ‘walk-in closet’ anymore [because] not everybody walks”) and is bemused by modern-day, gentle parenting, saying that’s not for him: “I talk to my son like he’s in the union, Local 606, working a warehouse 15 hours.”

We all know guys like Sebastian Maniscalco. They’re just not as funny about it.

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