Sebastian Maniscalco: stand-up comedian, Italian, funny, metrosexual

On the occasions when I need a break from work but have to remain at my desk, I go on to YouTube to browse any new comedy videos that a fellow comedian fanatic might have put up. Lately I’ve had a real affinity for watching two comedians from the Axis of Evil comedy tour,  those being Ahmed Ahmed and Dean Obeidallah. Seriously funny stuff. (Check ’em out!)

About a month ago, I was at home watching a standup comedy marathon on Comedy Central and I happened to catch a half hour special by Sebastian Maniscalco. I laughed loudly and heartily and had a feeling he was a strong up-and-comer. I didn’t know at that time that he was one of the comedians chosen by Vince Vaughn to participate in Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Tour. That’s going on the Must Rent list. And so, on one of the days that I needed a laugh break, I looked up some new clips of Sebastian on YouTube. The video clips posted were so funny that I went onto his website and dropped twenty fat ones to get his DVD.

It arrived via snail mail a week or so later, a handwritten return address on the top left corner (my post office is a convenient 15 blocks down the street from me – a real treat), and I watched it immediately. It’s only an hour long but it’s very well done, and much to my delight and surprise, his performance takes place in St. Louis! He’s originally from Chicago, so it sort of makes sense, but still. What’s up homies from the Lou?

The Arch in all its shining glory

The Arch in all its shining glory

But anyway. Sebastian’s persona is that of a macho, Chicago-accented Italian pretty boy. He comes off very close to New Yorkish but you can’t mistake his Midwestern accent. He’s very clean-cut and presents himself well; which he jokes about later when he talks about people who are slobbish when going to places like the grocery store (people like me who “roll out of bed and then [they’re] in the fruit section”). He prefers to scrub himself down thoroughly and put on six sprays of cologne, style his hair and then he’s ready to hit the food store.*

One of Sebastian’s strengths is that while he has the occasional dirty joke, he doesn’t saturate his material with them. I personally find that if a stand-up comedian can be hilarious without always resorting to talking about men and women and sex, s/he can consider him or herself successful. (Let me just insert that I am biased and think men make better stand-up comedians than women. I know, I know. It’s completely going against my own sex but I really do think men are funnier when it comes to this profession. However, people like Ellen Degeneres and Bonnie Mc Farlane give the guys a run.) Sebastian inserts the occasional nuts joke but nothing cringeworthy. Big kudos to you, Sebastian!

Speaking of Kudos, there’s a joke about Kudos snack bars in his act at the grocery store. Can’t miss it.

I watched the DVD on my own and then went over to my girlfriend’s apartment to watch it all over again while we munched on Mexican takeout. The second viewing solidified my decision to write a raving post about the guy. I don’t know if it’s because he’s Midwestern or not but I like that he’s not quite up to speed on all things technological. He refers to “new features” of cell phones like texting and accidentally activating the Web browser for his cell phone material. He then proceeds to compare the people at the gym who have all their music on their “Pods” (on the bicep, no less) to himself, who still wears a portable CD player on his waist. I mean seriously, how old school can you get? But the self-deprecating jokes are fantastic, even if there only a few.

One of Sebastians classic facial expressions.

One of Sebastian's classic facial expressions.

By far one of his best jokes is his “downtown Beirut” joke, referring to a cheap store relative to whatever city he’s in, this one being TJ Maxx. In this instance he is dead-on-balls accurate, since in St. Louis, TJ Maxx is absolutely a nightmare. It’s right up there with Marshall’s. Nothing is where it’s supposed to be, everything’s a mess and chances are, you’re saving money because whatever you’re buying is damaged, or as he refers to it, “irregular.”

Sebastian’s delivery is full of fantastic facial expressions, some physical humor (including the Beirut joke) and lots of sarcasm.

I won’t ruin all of the jokes for everyone but the material flows nicely from one joke to another, and he ends with one of his strongest, that being about Today’s Man. Hints: apple martinis, frappuccinos, flip flop sandals. See the YouTube clip at the end!

I rated his DVD “Going Up” (no idea where that comes from, unless he’s referring to his climbing the stardom ladder) four stars out of five, which is pretty high up there in my lowly opinion. I’m not a stand-up expert but I do consider myself an amateur connoisseur since paradise for me would  be a stand-up comedy marathon sprawled on comfy furniture with good friends and good drinks. I frequently seek out stand-up on my movie channels and Comedy Central, I love the show Last Comic Standing to see new faces and new material and I have even written my own jokes on the side, never to see the light of day.** I love going to comedy clubs but since it can be a pricey adventure, I don’t go very often. I’m content to stay home and laugh my boisterous laugh in the privacy of my home.

As to the “wrap the gift” joke that I refer to in the headline, I will leave that to you to find out on your own. It’s great advice and hilariously delivered.

See him. Decide for yourself. Support one of the next famous faces of comedy. Embrace the mirth. Since my YouTube clips keep getting pulled, go look for a current one to tantalize your funny bone.

*The phrase “food store” is something I had never heard of in my life before I moved to New York and dated a New Yorker. I even Googled search terms looking for it and if Google can’t come up with any relevant information for this phrase, pretty sure hardly anyone uses it except for said ex-boyfriend and his family. Oh and my friend Jim once used it. Maybe now it will catch on. I just say grocery store like most people.

**Note about me: I have incredible stage fright and while I can crack myself up at my own jokes, I would never be ballsy enough to actually perform them.

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My Stereotypically Midwestern Yet All-American, Comprehensive and Inappropriate Relationship with Ranch Dressing

When I told my best friend that I was doing a post on ranch, she laughed and then credited me with introducing her to the concept of ranch dressing. I like to think of it as a lifestyle choice. She’s just as Midwestern as I am, as we both hail from St. Louis, but she doesn’t have an affinity for it the way I do. She said it’s a pretty big seller at the pub she works at in DC, since they sell bar food like wings, fries, “salad,” and other fried shit you can dip in it. I’ve loved ranch as long as I can remember – way back in the 80s, when it wasn’t even cool to like ranch.

“I’ll never forget when we went to The Cheesecake Factory at St. Louis Galleria and you ordered the buffalo chicken strips with ranch dressing and you were horrified,” my best friend reminisced. The fact that she remembers this so distinctly 8-12 years later tells you how indelible the trauma was.

And I was traumatized. On the totem pole of ranch, Cheesecake Factory is the subterranean post holding the rest of the totem pole up, as it has the worst tasting slop called ranch I’ve ever had. I couldn’t even finish the meal, because both the strips and the dressing were the most horrid, bizarre interpretations of these foods I’ve ever had. So ranch lovers beware: Cheesecake Factory will not provide you with satisfying the crave for chicken fingers ‘n ranch. Stick with dessert. Now Denny’s? You’re good to go. Seriously. I don’t joke about my ranch rating system.

Ranch dressing is a classic, All-American flavorful sauce that makes tons of foods taste delicious. Its origin is literally from a ranch in California. If you love the taste of mayonnaise, buttermilk and various herbs/spices, you can’t not love it. Creamy and tangy, it turns anything boring or unpalatable into a richer, more delicious fare. Now for whatever reason, despite its popularity (number one dressing since 1992!), people who do not care for it (let’s call them “Outsiders”) will give you certain looks if you declare it your favorite dressing. Maybe this is like the whole White Castle issue where it becomes taboo or hoosier to enjoy it. But I distinctly remember telling someone that my favorite dressing was ranch, and I got the most baleful stare, as if I had just said I put mud on my salad. Apparently it’s much trendier to name something that has the word “vinaigrette” or “Dijon” in it.

Well, I am not that girl who prefers vinaigrette over ranch. Don’t get me wrong, I love olive oil and vinegar for a salad. I grew up with my mom’s awesome homemade oil and vinegar dressings for her Italian salads but the love of ranch has superseded over time, but only because it’s so delicious on more types of food than just salad. Just writing this makes me want to go out and get something that has a side of ranch. Fast food restaurants have clued in to the popularity and purposely make containers of ranch for dipping. You no longer get the fat pouch of ranch that’s meant for salads.

I used to have a video here of a girl eating an entire container of ranch (gross). I can’t say I’ve never licked the remnants of ranch dressing from a plastic ranch container. Because I have. But that’s because Jack in the Box’s Buttermilk Ranch Dressing makes Number One on Zoe’s Ranch Favorites. It’s a tough call to say why I frequented the Jack in the Box on Page Boulevard so often back in my late teens – for the jalapeno poppers or the ranch that came with it. I would get profoundly pissed off when I would get the poppers and the person at the drive-thru had forgotten the icy cold Buttermilk Ranch Dressing packets. It almost made the damn things not worth eating. I have not graduated to putting ranch on tacos or pizza (I just can’t get there), but I have put it on almost everything else. A few other places that top the list are: Sonic, Zebb’s in Rochester, NY and Chili’s. These places know the meaning behind creating a perfect blend of the buttermilk, mayo and spices and how consistency is everything. Steak ‘n Shake, McDonald’s, Ruby Tuesday and even Dairy Queen all have decent ranch. So it’s safe to go there. However, what I don’t understand is why there are places that exist who don’t even offer ranch as a dressing. Today for lunch, I went with my friend and colleague to Brooklyn Diner in Times Square, where we paid about 2.5 times the appropriate amount of money for what we ordered. When we ordered our $6 plate of fries to split, I politely asked for a side dish of ranch for dipping.

The waiter solemnly informed me, “Oh we don’t carry ranch.” I stared at him, trying to control my jaw from falling too hard onto the table. A DINER doesn’t carry RANCH? What kind of Communist establishment was this?

I gained my composure and asked, “Okay…do you have something similar? What’s the next best thing you could recommend?” He had the sheer audacity to offer me bleu cheese dressing! People: ranch is not in the same league as bleu cheese dressing and should never be confused as such! Sure, they’re both creamy and white. That’s where the similarities end! And people who are into bleu cheese dressing will tell you the exact same thing. Bleu fanatics, while possibly considering themselves in an upper echelon of taste preference in dressing, should know that despite the degree of taste difference, ranch and bleu are cousins since they both have mayo and other spices in them, but one has buttermilk and the other uses moldy cheese for the sharp flavor. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get hungry looking at white sauce with chunks in it. Reminds me too much of curdled milk. There, I said it.

Friends and family laugh at my being an opinionated ranch dressing connoisseur of sorts. I’m sure someone would love to say to my face, “Yeah don’t be too proud of that.” My friend David has a “take or leave it” kind of attitude towards ranch. He was more of a ranch chip fan than anything else. “Ranch lost its general appeal for me around the early 1990s when the Dorrito corporation changed the name of their popular chip flavor ‘Cool Ranch’ to ‘Cooler Ranch.’ What does that even mean? Unfortunately, the whole ranch industry suffered a blow,” he told me. So needless to say, he won’t be the first to dip his fry in the bowl of ranch that I order when we’re out having burgers and fries. Obviously I place the ranch well within reach of me and I watch it closely. Unless we’re at Brooklyn Diner or some slophouse that can’t even make a decent ranch. How can you screw it up?

Actually, David’s real reaction when I told him that I was going to write about ranch was, “Are you going to talk about how you stop just shy of carrying it around in your purse?” I shockingly laughed but had to admit he wasn’t the first to pose this question or to joke about it with me. One of my college friends and I were watching a reality show in which a girl carried a bottle of Hidden Valley around in her purse (full size!) and whipped it out while she and her boyfriend were eating fast food. She was mocked mercilessly. I have not resorted to doing this, although having the portable Jack in the Box containers on my person wouldn’t be entirely objectionable, should I find myself at those rare establishments that don’t deign to serve the superb stuff. (Seriously, Brooklyn Diner? Really?)

Obviously if I ever get over my love for this blend of flavors and textures I’ll be the first one to write about it and retract any statements I have made which put it on a pedestal above all others. But in the meantime, I embrace my passion for it and proudly wear my love on my sleeve. Nevertheless, I don’t think I would stoop to having one of these. But don’t quote me on it.