Sebastian Maniscalco is one of the top-grossing comedians in America, beloved for his stories about the food-obsessed family he grew up in, and his constant irritation at just about everyone around him. Now he’s parlayed his love of food into a new Food Network show, Well Done. Sebastian talks with Dan about what it’s like going from a working-class upbringing — during which he torched hams to earn a little extra cash — to selling out Madison Square Garden many times over. Plus, Sebastian shares his rules for being a good dinner party guest.
Find tickets to Sebastian's upcoming tour dates at sebastianlive.com.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Electro Italy" by Nicholas Rod
- "Happy Rider" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Fire Breather" by Steve Pierson
- "Skinny Jeans" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- "Horn in the City" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Can You Dig It?" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
Photo courtesy of discovery+.
Dan Pashman: I just want to start off right here, Sebastian, with the hard hitting questions. You say your wife makes this popcorn. Tell me about this boulder's popcorn, small kernels.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, it's we got wind of this popcorn from her brother, who lives in Colorado now.
Dan Pashman: Okay. Got it.
Sebastian Maniscalco: And to be honest, prior to having this popcorn, I didn't really pay attention to the size of the actual popcorn. But this is — it pop small and simple in a little canola oil in this thing called the Whirley Pop. And then my wife pretty much makes the best popcorn I've ever tasted.
Dan Pashman: And why are small kernels better?
Sebastian Maniscalco: Something about it, the way it hits your mouth. It's it's not so chewy.
Dan Pashman: So most popcorn, the people are eating, there's two types of kernels. There's butterfly kernels. That's like movie theater popcorn. They're kind of like misshapen. There's little jagged edges sticking out. Those will hold seasoning well. And then there's the mushroom kernels. Those like the balls. They look almost like a little mini death star.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Jeez you’re really into the popcorn.
Sebastian Maniscalco: I didn't know that was this different shapes to the kernel.
Dan Pashman: No, this is a whole thing. They also said these boulder popcorn kernels are hull-less, so when the popcorn pops it breaks, it goes into smaller pieces and it doesn't get stuck in your teeth.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Listen, I don't know how deep you went into this.
Sebastian Maniscalco: I'm just going solely by the taste of it.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Sebastian Maniscalco: I didn't think my wife wouldn't go, "Babe. There's no husk on the corn. It's amazing."
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Sebastian Maniscalco is one of the world’s most successful comics. He’s been among the highest-paid stand-ups over the last five years, selling out whole arenas all across America. In 2019, he sold out four shows at Madison Square Garden. Jerry Seinfeld has called Sebastian his “favorite comedian.”
Dan Pashman: And in fact, on stage Sebastian is kinda like an Italian Jerry Seinfeld. He zeroes in on a microdetail of human behavior, picks it apart, and points out the utter ridiculousness of it. Often getting very agitated in the process, and with elaborate movements, acting out a scene as he describes it. And a lot of the human behavior he dissects has to do with food and eating. Here’s a bit from his stand-up special, What’s Wrong With People?:
CLIP (SEBASTIAN MANISCALCO): You go out with a group and you go out to anything, like a dinner and whatnot. And when the bill comes, it gets weird.
CLIP (SEBASTIAN MANISCALCO): Cause what normally happens is the bill will travel around the table. People will then begin to pitch in what they think they owe. The problem with this is there's always somebody last to get the bill. A look of confusion and concern comes over their face. They're like, "Wha, what, what? .." Now people see this and they're like, "Ehh? You need a couple extra dollars, or something like that?"
CLIP (SEBASTIAN MANISCALCO): You're like, "Well, I'm $687 short." So the two bucks you're gonna pitch in ain't even gonna put in a dent in this. So how about this? How about the bill take another left? Do another left. I don't think my chicken tenders were 700.
Dan Pashman: Sebastian has been practicing this style of comedy since he was a kid. He grew up in a food obsessed family in Chicago. His dad is an Italian immigrant, who works as a beautician. His mom was a school secretary. And for Sebastian, the kitchen table was Sebastian’s first stage.
Sebastian Maniscalco: I would come home from school and I would talk to my family about kind of what I saw at school, what happened. And I had a funny twist on it, very observational. I was never the class clown at all. I, actually, despised the class clown when he got up and tried to make kids laugh. I was like, "Sit down. It's not funny."
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] You're like, "Let me punch this up for you."
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah. So yeah, the food at dinner time definitely brought our family together, and it still does. I mean, every time my dad comes to visit from Chicago to Los Angeles, you know, I make sure I get a nice charcuterie board with cheese and meat, have some wine and, you know, we could sit there and talk for four or five hours. So food has always been really important in our family and it's kind of what's brought us together.
Dan Pashman: And who were the primary cooks in your household growing up?
Sebastian Maniscalco: Primarily, my mother. My mother cooked. She was a stay at home mom for a little bit, and she was in charge of kind of making breakfast, lunch and dinner. And then later on in life, my father got into cooking. It was very theatrical. He would come out with, you know, chef coat, chef hat.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Right.
Sebastian Maniscalco: And not to be funny. It was to — I'm working.
Dan Pashman: Right, right, right.
Sebastian Maniscalco: You know, it's like Superman coming out without his cape. My dad had to have the coat on and what have you.
Dan Pashman: Whether or not he was cooking, Sebastian’s father knew how to eat. In 2018, Sebastian wrote a memoir called Stay Hungry. Here’s an excerpt from the audiobook.
CLIP (SEBASTIAN MANICALCO): My father and I sit around, talk, eat, and justify the indulgence by reconfirming to each other how good the food is. In one sitting, we have Italian bread, meat, fruit, olives, olive oil, gelato. It just doesn’t stop. Tiger Woods’s father, Earl, pushed him to become better at golf. My father pushed me to eat tripe. There is one major aspect of my life where I don’t over-indulge, fill up, or even let myself feel satisfied: my career. My recipe for success is to stay hungry. I never let myself bask in any glory. My father’s voice is like a broken record constantly playing in my head, saying, “Don’t get too comfortable! Nothing comes easy for the Maniscalcos! Get back to work!”
Dan Pashman: Now, speaking of working, you were working from a young age.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Work was always big in my family. You know, there's no summer break. It's like you come home and your working.
Dan Pashman: I gather one of your very first jobs was at Olive Garden.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yes, I worked at the Olive Garden.
Dan Pashman: You also, during holidays, you work making honey baked hams.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, torching hams.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] How does that work? Tell me about the —
Sebastian Maniscalco: That works where you basically get in a refrigerator, a large refrigerator and you put on a — like a white suit with a — like a helmet. They give you a torch and you start torching ham and turkeys for the whole day.
Dan Pashman: To like brown the outside?
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, they put like, I don't know if it's like a sugar crust on it or something they put. I forget what it was.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Sebastian Maniscalco: And then you would scorch that. It was almost like a creme brulee type of —
Dan Pashman: Got it.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Torching, you would do. And you do that for 10 hours a day. I come home smelling like a ... like a whole ham, and they would told me, “Take your clothes off in the garage ..."
Dan Pashman: Right.
Sebastian Maniscalco: "And then come in because, you’re stinking up the whole house." But yeah, anything for money back then, as far as work is concerned, nothing was below me or anything like that. I was just hustling.
Dan Pashman: Right. And now being Italian and being from the Chicago area, you obviously have spent some time eating Italian beef.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Mmm, yeah.
Dan Pashman: What's your favorite Italian beef place?
Sebastian Maniscalco: Johnnie's Beef in Chicago is my favorite with some hot peppers. Sometimes I would put like this whiz cheese on it. They have like this cheddar cheese, but as I grow older, I just like a nice plain beef with some peppers and french fries. I mean, you go into a full coma after eating it. But for me, it's been one of my go-tos.
Dan Pashman: And for folks who don't know, I mean, this is basically like a roast beef sandwich, but it comes with — you've got the juice.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And you're going to dunk that sandwich into the juice. My brother and sister-in-law had their rehearsal dinner at Portillo's, another esteemed Chicago beef place.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And we were dunking the hot dogs into the juice.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Wow.
Dan Pashman: When you do a function there, they give you — it's not just like a little dipping cup of juice. They give you like a bucket. It's a communal bucket of juice. More sandwiches should be dunked into juices.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, I think a juice dunk is a nice touch when it's a beef sandwich like that. I mean, a lot of people don't know what the sandwich is outside of Chicago. You know, I don't really see it anywhere else.
Dan Pashman: But now Portillo's just had an I.P.O., so I think they're — it wouldn't surprise me if they go nationwide now.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, I mean, I live in L.A. and they do have one. It's somewhere not close to me. So you got to travel like 45, 50 minutes.
Dan Pashman: Right. I got to say I have mixed feelings about a place like a classic Chicago Italian beef place going nationwide. Once everything is everywhere, then nothing is special.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, it comes watered down, I guess. If you could only get a Portillo's hotdog in Chicago, it just has a different meaning. I know the guy is actually a guy, Mr. Portillo, that opened up Portillo's. He really did a great job not only with the food, but if you ever go to Portillo's, it should be a template. The way they take your order is so quick. And the way they prepare the food is — they got it. It's like an assembly line.
Dan Pashman: I know you've gotten frustrated with other restaurants that attempt to have assembly lines and don't move quite as quickly.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, Chipotle being one of them where, you know, it's — I mean, sometimes I just think they get bogged down with the way they're preparing the bowls or the burrito. And I don't blame it all on the employees. It's the people on the other side, too. I mean, I'm sitting behind a guy and he's putting, literally, every ingredient into the burrito. And the poor person can't even shut the burrito, right? I don't know if you've ever been to Chipotle, where the burrito actually splits the tortilla — splits because it's so bit.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. And then they got to go get another one.
Sebastian Maniscalco: And that's it, we got redo. You know, it's like, eh, there’s another 13 minutes out of my day.
Dan Pashman: Sebastian worked in food through much of high school and college. But he always knew he wanted to be a comic. There was never any other option. Once he had ten thousand dollars saved, he picked up and moved to L.A. to pursue his dream.
Dan Pashman: But he wasn’t getting out of restaurant work just yet. He needed to pay the bills while he tried to get his stand-up career off the ground. So he continued waiting tables in LA. And he had a very specific system for deciding which places he’d work at.
Sebastian Maniscalco: What I would do is I would go in, I would sit down at the restaurant, and have a meal and kind of look at how things were working, how the server was, how the restaurant kind of operated to see if I wanted to work there. I treated this like, you know, I had a choice.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Right. It's like, you're making them interview for that for you.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, yeah. Like, I'm interviewing them, and I didn't know how hard it was to get a table — it's basically harder to get into the serving industry in L.A. than it is in the entertainment business because everybody's waiting tables. Of course, this is back then. I'm sure it's changed now, where people are doing Uber and what have you. But back in 1998, you know, that was the thing you did to supplement your income. So I'm going all these restaurants and then I would apply and the thing and ...
Dan Pashman: What were you looking for?
Sebastian Maniscalco: First and foremost, I had to enjoy the food because if I was going to be selling the food as a waiter, I'd have to enjoy what I was selling. And the number two, just seeing how the attitude of the staff was if they were happy or miserable. Sometimes you go into these restaurants and there's a collective misery among the people that are working there. So — because you're in the service business and it's not easy. You got to, you know? I mean, it's toxic if someone is on the waitstaff constantly complaining and bitching, that kind of permeates throughout, and it's not a good environment to work in.
Dan Pashman: So you weren't one of those people.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Oh, I bitched a lot. I'm not ... it's uh ...
Dan Pashman: But then in terms of just dealing with the customers on a day-to-day basis.
Sebastian Maniscalco: It was awful. It's terrible. The general public is just not good.
Dan Pashman: But restaurants were what Sebastian knew. He landed a job serving drinks at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills — very fancy. Meanwhile, he was taking comedy workshops, doing as many sets as he could at open mics or wherever he could get a gig. Eventually, he started performing short sets at the Comedy Store, the famous L.A. club.
Dan Pashman: He'd leave in the middle of a shift at the Four Seasons. He’d time it perfectly so he’d clock out for a break, drive the 8 minutes to the club, arrive just as it was his time to go on stage, do a set, and race back. Sometimes he didn’t even have time to change, so he’d perform in his uniform.
Dan Pashman: The job at The Four Seasons gave Sebastian the flexibility he needed to pursue comedy. And, since it tended to attract some very particular customers, it also gave him plenty of material.
Sebastian Maniscalco: A woman came in, ordered a glass of wine and then called me over to the table. And even just the way people call you over to the table would set me off. You know, you'd get, you know, like, "Excuse me!", you know, here we go with two fingers. Right away, I knew it was going to be a problem. And she thought the wine glass the rim of the wine glass was too thick to rest on her lips. She wanted to know if we had a thinner wine glass because it was too heavy on her lips. And of course, you know, working at the Four Seasons, you have to internalize everything. It's not like, you know, you could say — you could tell them off or be sarcastic. You have to be, "Yeah, sure, absolutely." And then ...
Dan Pashman: You're totally right. A lot of customers have this issue.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, yeah. You know, just very, you know, subservient. Yes, right away, ma'am. And then you go in the back and you know, you put your fist through the wall. So there was a lot of those moments where these little things would kind of set me off and bother me, just the behavior of people. It used to be a huge celebrity hangout. So you would have these looky loos come in, sit at a table, taking a major real estate, and order a chamomile tea and sit there for four hours. You'd be like, "All right, there goes my rent," you know, I mean? We have appetizers, you know? You'd have people order like seven-nut caddies because they were too cheap to get an appetizer. So ...
Dan Pashman: It's funny to me to picture you waiting tables, knowing now that so much of your comedy is based on your frustration with people being annoying.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: But like, were you aware at the time that you were waiting tables like, "Oh, I have this, I am especially annoyed by these types of people ...", and like ...
Sebastian Maniscalco: Oh, that's — that annoyance is basically the root of my stand-up comedy.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, Sebastian gets his big break — so big that he can order a bottle of Jack Daniel’s for breakfast. But it’s not what you might think. Plus, he shares his rules for being a good dinner party guest. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. On last week’s show, I take a field trip with Professor Steven Alvarez and the students in his Taco Literacy class. You see, according to Steve, you can read a taco just like you read a book.
CLIP (STEVE ALVAREZ): Well the first thing, of course, we have to unwrap it — I mean, open up the book cover, but as see — the first thing you see is — well, you notice it's a flour tortilla. And that already is very different.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): What does that tell you?
CLIP (STEVE ALVAREZ): Well, it could one or two things. One, is that we're dealing with a Norteño taco or we're dealing with a taco Arabes. In this case, we're going with the latter.
Dan Pashman: We hit up a bunch of taquerias in Queens, and then we make one surprising final stop on our taco crawl. That episode is up now, check it out. Now back to Sebastian Maniscalco.
Dan Pashman: One thing to know about him. he was not an overnight comedy success. He was in L.A. for four years before he got his first break. The legendary comedian, Andrew Dice Clay, asked Sebastian to open for him.
Dan Pashman: Sebastian kept his job waiting tables at The Four Seasons, but instead of slipping out to the Comedy Store, he was squeezing in tour dates around the country with Dice. Now, to be clear, this big break wasn’t a huge jump in salary. Sebastian was still hustling to pay his bills. But while he was on the road, he did get a per diem.
Sebastian Maniscalco: They gave you a hundred bucks a day to eat food in the hotel. Well, I wasn't eating a hundred dollars worth of food. So what I did was, I was looking at the room service menu and I saw a bottle of Jack Daniels, $40. So I would order bottles of alcohol with my meal and take the alcohol home to stock my bar at home. This is ... this is ... again, growing up the way I grew up, you didn't waste anything.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Sebastian Maniscalco: It's not like you're going to get a hundred dollars and you're going to spend 50 of it and leave the — you're gonna spend that 50 on something. So I decided to spend it on alcohol. So I would order like two eggs, toast, hash browns, and a bottle of jack for breakfast. And the guy would come up going, "Jesus, this guy is downing Jack Daniels at 9:00 in the morning?" And little did he know I was just taking it home to stock my bar.
Dan Pashman: Did you talk with your dad about any of these strategies?
Sebastian Maniscalco: Oh yeah, he was totally for it. I mean, my dad is very frugal and, you know, I was even privy at a young age that my father really worked hard for his money. We come from a working middle class family. And when we went to, say a place like McDonald's. I was conscious of not spending his money there. You know, like, I didn't get a Big Mac. I got a cheeseburger, small fry, and I didn't get a coke because I didn't feel like I want to put that financial burden on my father. I was even annoyed if we brought out another — a friend of mine to McDonald's and that friend got a Big Mac, large fry, and a super-sized drink. And I would go, "Really? You're going to you're going to soak my father for the seven dollars instead of four dollars?", you know, I don't know where that came from, but I was always conscious of even going out to dinner, and I know somebody else is paying. I won't, maybe, get what I would normally get because I don't want to like — I think it's rude to to do that, when somebody else is paying, you know what I'm saying?
Dan Pashman: And if someone else knows you're paying and they order from the really expensive, how do you feel about that?
Sebastian Maniscalco: It's a turn off. I got a bad taste in my mouth.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Sebastian Maniscalco: I pay attention to all those things and maybe too much. You know, I invite you over for Thanksgiving dinner, right? And you go, "What can I bring?" And I tell you, "Don't bring anything, just come." And if you just come with nothing then I get upset. So, I mean, I don't know. I've been always that type of guy who kind of has a rule — like a rule book of how you behave.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Sebastian Maniscalco: What's polite? What's unpolite. And I hold that against people, which maybe I don't think I should do so much.
Dan Pashman: Well, the issue of what to bring, both as a host and a guest, what can I bring? What can I bring? What can I bring? That is so fraught. Everyone feels like they have to bring something. They want to bring something. They feel bad showing up empty handed. So everyone could bring something. But then it's like, well, you can't ask one person to bring like a hundred dollars worth of stuff and someone else to bring eight dollars worth of stuff. You can't assign one person to cook three things and one person to cook only one thing, cause it's like, "Oh, you like that person's cooking better than the other person's cooking?" And as the guest, I'm kind of like, well, maybe I have certain things that I'm excited to make and other things that I don't want to make but you're going to assign me something, which isn't really what I'm excited to bring, but I guess I just have to do it because you told me to.
Sebastian Maniscalco: See, I don't even like where this is going.
Sebastian Maniscalco: And I'll tell you why. If it's not a collective — Okay, guys, I'm going to host and you're going to bring this. You're going to bring that. If it's if it's not like set from the get go that this is a collective thing, I got a problem with you saying you're going to host Thanksgiving and you start barking out assignments, right? Like yeah, yeah. I'm gonna host Thanksgiving. I want you to make mashed potatoes. I'm like, "What the hell am I doing?" Right?
Dan Pashman: I'm assigning people things that I know that they know how to make. But they're all saying to me, "What can I bring? What can I bring? What can I bring?"
Sebastian Maniscalco: The, "What could I bring?", is a polite courtesy ask. If you're hosting, host the damn thing. Have everything. If somebody asks, "What can I bring?", you say nothing. I don't even ask people. If I'm going to come to your house, I know what I'm bringing. I'm going to bring something that you love. Like, if I know you that well, I know you like to drink tequila. You like to drink wine or you like a specific cigar. I am going to get a profile on you of what your likes are, so when I go over to your house — boom, and you're like, Oh my God, it’s my favorite tequila."
Dan Pashman: Right.
Sebastian Maniscalco: It’s why my wife loves me so much because I listen. All right? I don't like when people come to my house with food they made at their house. You know, a they need to explain it to me. And, "Oh, it's a family recipe ....", and they're like, "Where should it put it?" It's like, just by the garbage. No one's gonna eat that. It don't go with what I got.
Dan Pashman: All right. Anyway, back to Sebastian’s story. He continued to go between stints at The Four Seasons, and more promising comedy opportunities. After a couple of years opening for Andrew Dice Clay, Sebastian joined a comedy tour headlined by Vince Vaughn. Then, back to the Four Seasons again.
Dan Pashman: Finally, after eight years working there, Sebastian quit the job that had made his comedy career possible. He was making enough money in stand-up that he could stop refilling nut caddies.
Dan Pashman: A few years after going full-time with comedy, Sebastian filmed his first special. Now he was headlining shows, touring more widely, growing his audience. In 2017, he cracked Forbes’s Top 10 Highest Earning Stand Up Comedians list. He started selling out arenas. And all along, food and family remained a huge part of his comedy:
CLIP (SEBASITAN MANISCALCO): You have to understand something about the way I grew up. I grew up in a house where there was food everywhere. Every two feet, you just bump in — I had a grandmother who lived in the basement just cranking out lasagnas.
Dan Pashman: Sebastian mimes his grandmother frantically pulling lasagnas from the oven and throwing them up the stairs.
CLIP (SEBASTIAN MANISCALCO): It’s like a lasagna factory in the basement. Food just kept coming up the stairs for no reason. There was meat hanging from the ceiling ...
Dan Pashman: Around the time Sebastian’s career was really taking off, his relationship to food was changing, too. It was partly because of his success, but also because of his wife. In 2013 he married the artist, Lana Gomez, and as he writes in his memoir, she came from a different background. Her family had money; her stepfather was known as the Grape Ape because of his obsession with fine wine. Sebastian had always loved food, of course, but between Lana’s family, and his own increased earnings, he began experiencing the world of fancy food.
Dan Pashman: Now he’s combining where he came from, and where he’s at today, in a Food Network show called Well Done. Each episode tackles a topic, like grilling, or food photography — and Sebastian goes out and learns about it. With his salt of the earth persona, he tells stories from his childhood and pokes fun at any hint of ridiculousness around him. But he also finds himself in some of L.A.’s white tablecloth restaurants, drinking expensive wine, and eating high end cuisine, as he sometimes does in his own life today. The show kinda feels like a comedic version of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. I asked Sebastian, what are some of the annoying tropes of food TV shows that you wanted to avoid in your show?
Sebastian Maniscalco: I wanted to educate people on food and also have a good time with it and have them laugh. I didn't want to do a lot of the bite and smile stuff you see on a lot of this stuff where they go, "Mmm — oh my god!" I'm not saying that's not there, it's just minimal.
Dan Pashman: The first episode of Well Done is about fish. Sebastian plans to go out on the Pacific with a fishing crew and a fancy chef. They’ll catch fish, and the chef will show him how to prepare it. Right before they get on the boat, Sebastian says:
CLIP (SEBASTIAN MANISCALCO): So I'm ready to catch my dinner. Everything's riding on this moment. Well, not everything, just my manhood. I'm surrounded by manly men who could break me in half with their pinky fingers.
Dan Pashman: Almost immediately after they leave port, Sebastian gets really seasick. Like, staggering to the bathroom with help from the camera crew seasick. But he’s a comedian, so he jokes through the misery.
CLIP (SEBASTIAN MANISCALCO): As soon as we get some fish on the line, bring ‘em on the boat ,and let’s get the #### out of here.
Dan Pashman: Once they return to shore, Sebastian texts his dad a photo of himself laid out on the deck. His dad writes back, “It’s embarrassing to the family.” I asked Sebastian about that moment.
Dan Pashman: That whole dynamic of kind of like you positioning yourself of like proving your manhood on the boat and then like reporting to your dad and him being embarrassed like I thought — I mean, first of all, it's all very funny. But I was also curious. like what ideas about sort of masculinity and food that you got from your dad?
Sebastian Maniscalco: See, my dad was in the army, and my dad always looked at me as like, you don't know how to do anything. You don't know how to build anything. You know, like, I wasn't good with my hands. In my house, My father took care of — dishwashers broke? I'll fix it. He never was even patient with me enough to even teach me stuff.
Dan Pashman: It's interesting to me that your dad has gotten more into cooking and that your dad is this sort of like guy who went to the army who fixes things. And again, it's like, you know, changing of the generations. But it feels like from the way you portray him is that there's a certain attitude that he thinks that he's more rough and tumble than you are and that there's like this sort of father-son dynamic there.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Well, my father is a beautician. This guy's doing dye jobs and highlights and blowouts during the day, and he'll come home and he'll make a patio. You know? So it's like you got, literally, him him holding a can of hairspray and then at night, you know, WD 40. So it's like hairstylist and the glam game is, you know, "not manly," like going fishing or building a patio. He's at the best of both worlds.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Sebastian Maniscalco: You know, I always hire people. If I don't know how to do it, I would hire people. And my dad's sense was, "Why hire somebody when you could do it yourself and save the money?"
Dan Pashman: As Sebastian has gotten more successful, he says he’s gotten more comfortable spending money, especially on the things he loves.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, I don't mind going out. I mean, listen, I know the hard work and all the stuff that I've done up to this point. You know, if I want to go out and enjoy myself, I got no problem doing that.
Dan Pashman: Have you taken your dad out for some expensive meals?
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: What does he think of that experience?
Sebastian Maniscalco: He enjoys it. Maybe a little uncomfortable at first, you know? But I think now, you know, he really enjoys the experience. Of course, you know, he's a critic, too. You know, he's ...
Dan Pashman: Shocking, Sebastian. I wouldn't have expected that.
Sebastian Maniscalco: To go out to a nice restaurant, and he's always doubting whether or not the artichoke — he likes artichoke. He's like, "Are these fresh artichokes?", and I'm like, "Dad, it's fresh." We're not eating at the corner restaurant back home. But yeah, he's likes it. My mom specifically likes that. She likes to be wined and dined and she likes kind of fancy and going out and enjoying herself and has no qualms about ordering. Talk about — she'll order the lobster, you know?
Dan Pashman: Right.
Sebastian Maniscalco: No, she don't ... she don't hold back.
Dan Pashman: Sebastian and his wife Lana have two kids, ages 4 and 2. And while Sebastian and his parents are warming up to their new lifestyle, he worries that his kids will get too used to it.
Sebastian Maniscalco: My struggle for me is, I had a specific way I was brought up. Like I said, working class, a family. We went on one vacation a year, nothing really fancy. And now my kids are growing up in a totally different way, growing up with was more than what I had growing up. And you just got to work double hard to instill in the kids, you know, manners and not everybody lives like this. And you know, you might go to a house that's smaller than ours. That's okay. You know, just just trying to make them grounded people. That's what I struggle with.
Dan Pashman: How do you think that their relationship with food grown up the way they're growing up will be different from yours?
Sebastian Maniscalco: They're always looking for snack. I mean, I can't believe the amount of snacks these kids eat. Snack — it wasn't really an option growing up. We had like our three square meals and, you know, maybe get like an ice cream cone at the end of the day, if you were good.
Dan Pashman: You cook for them?
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah. During the pandemic, it was, you know, breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I would be making like a beautiful, you know, Four Season-esque type brunch for these kids. I mean, it was multiple foods just because they're so young and I didn't know what they were going to eat. I would make pancakes, French toast, eggs, and a bagel just to kind of see what they would gravitate towards. And I would get up at five o'clock in the — I felt like I was running a hotel. Get up at five a.m. to make — because I knew they were getting up at 7:00. So I'd make this beautiful breakfast for them.
Dan Pashman: You were doing prep.
Sebastian Maniscalco: Yeah, I was doing prep, like a sous chef.
Dan Pashman: Now Sebastian is back on the road for work, so he misses a lot of family meals. But sometimes he brings the family with him.
Sebastian Maniscalco: I did the Red Rock in Colorado, which was a beautiful outdoor venue. They came to that and my daughter’s four and a half, and kinda gets what I do a little bit. My son, obviously, two-years-old, doesn’t know what’s going on. He just knows that daddy’s up on stage talking into a microphone.
Dan Pashman: Sebastian says his kids haven’t started doing comedy bits at the dinner table yet. But meal time for him is still sacred.
Sebastian Maniscalco: I'm trying to keep those traditions that we had as a family growing up and eating around the table alive. So when I'm home, I like to clear my schedule and kind of just spend time with the family.
Dan Pashman: That’s Sebastian Maniscalco. Season 1 of his show, Well Done, is airing on Food Network now. And Season 2 is available on Discovery+. He’s on tour now and well into next year all over America and Canada, find the dates at sebastianlive.com.
Dan Pashman: Next week on the show, it’s our annual end-of-year spectacular. We’ll hear from some of you about what you resolve to eat more of in the new year, and we’ll replay one of our favorite episodes from this year that you might have missed. In the meantime, check out last week’s episode about how to read a taco.