The pain behind laughter

Radio City Music Hall in New York City, 2017 – via Wikimedia Commons

A crowd filled with bouncing bodies, tears, and gasps for air all due to extreme laughter. Laughter caused by relatable situations turned into hilarious mocking by stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalco. Throughout the endless set of jokes and humor, one thing shows discreetly but abundantly. Pain.

     Stand-up comedy is an art. The ability to hold your audience’s attention for the duration of your performance is not an easy task. Props and sets are not used unlike in a theatrical performance but hand gestures, movements, and inflection in tone become even more essential.

     Sebastian Maniscalco executes these phases of a comedian’s performance perfectly.

     Other challenges include knowing your audience and trying to relate your humor to concepts they understand.

     With a majority of Maniscalco’s fan demographic being middle aged he relates his set mostly to his own family. Other jokes often target things that people his age are doing. Wedding photos, having children and comparing his life to other people his age, are some of the focal points throughout his set “Stay Hungry”.

     Maniscalco’s imitations are so spot on that humor can be found for any age group. Although viewers may think this mockery is mean, others could argue that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Flattery might be a stretch due to the sarcastic looks and voice impersonations. On the other hand it does seem Maniscalco is envious. 

     “This is the problem with me, I can’t pay attention to what I’m doing. I am honed in on everyone else.” When referring to a time he encountered a stranger stretching on a treadmill next to him Maniscalco how easily irritated he gets by people.”I can not run on a treadmill with another grown man looking right at me”

File:Treadmills at gym.jpg
Gym filled with people running on treadmills in 2008- Wikimedia Commons

     The crowd laughed and probably related when someone at the gym that has annoyed them for similar reasons. The next largest laugh followed right after, when he quoted his wife asking “Why do look at everybody, just do you” and his response was “because that’s what I do, I like being bothered”.

     After getting into his set and beginning to understand what the crowd likes, and hearing the biggest laughs, Maniscalco gets rolling. Family related jokes seemed to be the biggest hits, so that is the direction he took.

     Maniscalco was opening up about his life and family in front of thousands at Radio City and the fans loved it.

     It seemed clear that him and his wife had extremely different lives growing up, and this is where the pain and envy are abundant. After talking about his wife’s family and their wealth, he says “They are the type of family that after college go backpacking through Europe to find themself. That shit don’t fly on my side.” Maniscalco immediately changes tone talking about his upbringing, “I couldn’t tell my father ‘Dad im going to Europe to find myself’” he proceeds to imitate his father’s response “What you mean go find yourself? I found you, you right here in my house. You want to see yourself, go to the mirror, you got no job and you’re in my house”.

     The humor lies in the different lives growing up for a married couple. But the irony is that you can hear the jealous husband in Maniscalco’s voice, but it is buried deep inside him, and covered by the laughs of thousands of fans.

     “My wife’s family goes on retreats to better their inner self, they do therapy. My family doesn’t do none of this, no therapy, no bettering. It’s like ‘THIS IS IT! WHAT YOU GONNA DO CHANGE? THIS IS YOU!’’

     Within the severe changes of tone, and yelling, those moments all relate to his childhood. He remembers it as brutal and hard, and when he opens up he gets laughed at by thousands. Humor is the end goal of his performance, but in this set particularly, the audience can see the pain behind laughter.