Sebastian Maniscalco returns to the Borgata: Some noticeable changes, but still a comedy champ

The reigning King of Comedy has eight more shows on the schedule at the bayside gaming hall.
Sebastian Maniscalco kicked off a short residency at the Borgata. Chuck Darrow reviews.
Sebastian Maniscalco kicked off a short residency at the Borgata. Chuck Darrow

Having established himself as the biggest standup comedy act in the solar system before COVID-19 hit, it would have been easy for Sebastian Maniscalco to use the 18 months of down time to decompress from his meteoric rise to the top of the comedy heap as well as make up for lost time with his wife and two young children. But judging from his triumphant return to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa Friday evening, he devoted copious amounts of time, energy and creativity to keeping his Monarch of Mirth crown post-pandemic.

The Chicago-spawned funnyman embarked on a thrice-postponed, sold-out, 12-performance residency-lite (spread out over three successive weekends) with two Event Center sets that also launched his Nobody Does This tour.

The inaugural show found him in peak form despite the long layoff. Most importantly, the 48-year-old Maniscalco reminded the wildly enthusiastic audience that not since Jerry Seinfeld emerged 40 years ago has a comedian so consistently and successfully spun the mundanities of daily life into comedy gold. During a typically quick-moving turn, Maniscalco, who took the stage dressed in what might be deemed “Springsteen drag” (black leather jacket over a black T-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers), delivered knockout punches to a broad spectrum of topics that included GNC store personnel; the dining-out experience—both with his family and a deux with his wife on “date night” (“Now we argue without the kids”); the parental division of labor and modern early-childhood education (with a killer bit that also served as a brutally hilarious takedown of political correctness).

And while he is definitely not a topical comedian, he obviously understood the importance of addressing the events of the past year-and-a-half; he did so at the top of his performance: Acknowledging the patrons wearing masks who comprised a small fraction of the 2,000-plus ticket-holders, he began an extended riff on the Coronavirus by claiming the masked-up made him nervous: “What do they know that I don’t know?” he wondered.

All of the above riffs triggered unending gales of recognition-borne laughter, which has always been his stock-in-trade.

While the quality of Maniscalco’s apparently all-new material remains as high as ever, those familiar with him couldn’t help but notice some changes. For instance, his act seems to now have room for more traditional standup formats as opposed to his older presentations, which relied more on characterizations, context and execution than on mere punch lines. But more significantly, his delivery and overall demeanor were noticeably less manic. Gone, for the most part, were the perpetual motion, twisted posture and calisthenic-like movements that were his visual signatures; Friday night found him surprisingly anchored to the center of the stage.

But the pitch-perfect vocal tones (some of which evoked Andrew “Dice” Clay) remain, as do the mercurial facial expressions that often pinball from angry, to amused, to perplexed in the space of just a few sentences.

And he is still able to ignite tsunamis of guffaws by inhabiting “everyday” characters as a way of commenting on the absurdities of human behavior.

As a bonus, Maniscalco served up a good deal of sharp and biting ad-libs during give-and-take sessions with random audience members.

It all combined to confirm that the reign of King Sebastian continues unabated.

Fun up front

Successfully warming up Friday’s early-show crowd was Maniscalco’s longtime opener and fellow Chicagoan, Pat McGann.

Wielding a likable, easygoing stage presence and polished, sure-handed delivery, the observation-focused McGann also dove into the COVID pool: He said he felt comfortable sending his kids to Catholic school because “we don’t believe in science,” and offered that he’s taken so many virus-imposed walks with his wife that they are “stacked up ‘til 2041.”

Another high point of the set was his routine about cosmetic medical procedures, especially the one known as “cool sculpting” which, he insisted, is when they freeze a body part “and carve $1800 out of your checking account.”

McGann’s time on stage perfectly set the tone for what was to come, and added immensely to the evening’s merriment.

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