18 January 2019 | saoirse1412
"Stay Hungry" Falls Flat
Ten minutes into Sebastian Maniscalco's new Netflix special "Stay Hungry" I hadn't even cracked a smile; fifteen minutes in, I was checking how much was left in the special.
Maniscalco's characteristic Italian affect defines his new Netflix special. He speaks in short bursts, leaving ends of sentences hanging, and this blunt style comes through in the way he writes his comedy. Within the first fifteen minutes of the special he's run through multiple anecdotes, each less entertaining than the last. When I did finally crack a smile around the twelve-minute mark, it was during a story that would have had me in stitches had it been in the hands of a more gifted comedian. Punch lines that require earnestness are treated with derision, which ruins the joke entirely. By the time I was halfway through the special, the judgmental tone that Maniscalco is known for had become monotonous and grating.
All good comedians should be great storytellers and Maniscalco is not. His stories are disjointed and frequently interrupted to tell random bits from his life and share small pieces of information about his family throughout. There is no sense of plot or climax to any of his stories; the whole hour feels like you are listening to a three-year old telling you what happened at school that day. He feels flighty, easily distracted, and hard to follow.
"Stay Hungry" gives the impression that Maniscalco has difficulty finding topics to write his comedy about. He spends the first half of the special running through anecdotes at lightning speed, with none landing particularly well. Around the halfway mark he digs into his longest story, which is about the birth of his one-year-old daughter. It's Maniscalco's trademark style to find fault with everything around him and the birth of his child is no different. He derides the hospital, the nurses, his family and in-laws, himself, and everything about the process of childbirth. It would take a gifted comedian to make complaining about childbirth funny, and Maniscalco is not this comedian. When he finishes the story, you feel uncomfortable and confused as to what you are supposed to be laughing about.
Maniscalco tries to be a physical comedian, and it almost works for him. He paces across the stage, derisively mimics those who he tells his stories about, and uses his expressive Italian face to exemplify his disgust with the world at large. But it's hard to combine the use of physical humor with the angry-at-the-world comedy that Maniscalco relies on. Truly great physical comedians like Martin Short walk around the stage with a sense of joy about everything - they throw themselves into their physicality with an earnestness that demands that you take them at face value. Maniscalco uses physical comedy to mock the people in his world, and it often comes across as bland and distasteful. There's no doubt that he has a great stage presence, but he can't quite figure out how to use it to his advantage.
He's lucky that he has such a large stage presence because Radio City Music Hall is a big stage to fill. Despite being a sold-out show, it lacks the energy that came with John Mulaney's Radio City special last year. Maniscalco's audience become experts in polite laughter over the course of the hour and the larger pieces of applause feel forced by long pauses. With "Kid Gorgeous" you could feel from watching at home how much the audience was enjoying Mulaney's presence, and despite the fact that Mulaney does not engage with his audience in a traditional sense you can feel the give-and-take relationship between them. This aspect of stand-up is absent with Maniscalco - you get the distinct feeling that he is talking into a mirror.
"Stay Hungry" is the first comedy special I have watched in a very long time where I didn't laugh once. If you want to hear a middle-aged Italian complain about the world, listening to someone on the New York City subway would probably be funnier; if you want an hour of comedy, re-watch your favorite special again instead. I promise it's a better use of your time.