© Lions Gate / Courtesy Everett Collection
On a quiet morning recently in The Summit, Los Angeles’ ultra-exclusive gated community, a crane was called to deliver olive trees to Sebastian Maniscalco’s home.
The Illinois native, known for his down-to-earth attitudes about his immigrant parents, his onstage physicality and his risqué, went uncharacteristically silent as he watched the greenery fall over his scenic Beverly Hills vista. He used to talk about his more humble roots.
“I like to poke fun at or poke fun at what we see in society and make fun of my family and my immigrant upbringing in the old world. I think I do it in a way that we all laugh together.” diverse.
Maniscalco’s father, Salvatore, immigrated from Sicily at the age of 15, obtaining a cosmetology license to support his wife and children with cutting and dyeing jobs at a suburban salon. And he’s the inspiration for the new comedy “About My Father,” which Maniscalco co-wrote with Austin Earle, in which Robert De Niro takes on the role of Salvatore. Opens on Friday in theaters.
Viewers of Maniscalco’s six specials, most of which air on Netflix, will instantly recognize his father’s appearance. Sebastian is quoted as saying in the opening montage: “If the sun is out, the man must work”. The film is a pseudo-biography, following Sebastian’s flirtation with a WASP-y artist (Leslie Bibb) and her intimidating political mother (Kim Cattrall). He and De Niro are invited to a country club family weekend, and the cultural differences flow faster than the Tom Collins mix.
“My dad saw the movie about six weeks ago. He cried. He’s my biggest fan and my biggest critic. A lot of people live in L.A., and they’re sycophants. Where I grew up, people see all this shit. My dad is tough,” says Maniscalco, sitting in his home office. He radiates handsome vibes, with the intimidating presence of a nightclub bouncer. But there’s a contradiction here. He’s a guy who will cry in Hallmark commercials but also cringe in a parking lot.
Maniscalco moved to Los Angeles in his early twenties to work on the comedy club circuit while bartending at the Four Seasons. He refused to conform to the hotel’s elaborate formalities (“Good morning, sir. Good evening, sir,” he recalls being asked to chant), and his laid-back attitude made him memorable to guests like Jerry Seinfeld. Fifteen years later, he’s making the rounds and making his stride in Hollywood. In addition to “About My Father,” he just finished producing “How to Be a Bookie,” an HBO Max comedy co-starring Charlie Sheen and written by Chuck Lorre. He sees the projects as an opportunity to expand his core audience.
Globally, TV and movies will bring my comedy to a wider audience. I wanted to do it creatively and as a commercial move,” he says. “I wanted to share a love letter with my dad and, in doing so, add some of my perspective. Whether you know me or not, I think the movie gives a good sense of who I am.”
Maniscalco admits he was intimidated by film as a medium, saying that standing up lets him “work in a room for an hour and get a laugh. With film, I do stuff and get something done. It was hard to wrap my head around that.”
While he hopes “About My Father” will do well at the box office — a challenge to comedies to hit theaters in recent years — Maniscalco thinks he’s already won. “I grew up watching De Niro. I had his posters on my wall. And now he’s playing my dad?” he says. “My kids will see this one day. It really is a success.”
Salvatore also got a few perks, after spending some time teaching De Niro how to do the perfect dye job. But this is a completely different set of roots.