Fox News Thinks Sebastian Maniscalco Will Turn the Tide in the Culture Wars
One of the funniest jokes to come out of veteran comedian Sebastian Maniscalco’s new Netflix special, Sebastian Maniscalco: Is It Me?, is the headline of FoxNews.com’s review of the aggressively apolitical comic’s most recent performance: “Mocking Woke May Be the New Norm in Comedy, Thanks to Sebastian Maniscalco.” (I’m guessing that “We Haven’t Watched a Single Comedy Special By a Guy Over the Age of 40 That’s Come Out in the Last Eight Years” was too wordy.)
The idea that complaining about “wokeness” or “cancel culture” in comedy was not normalized until Maniscalco’s most recent special, which was released last week, is absurd enough in its own right, but for the conservative news outlet to choose Maniscalco — a comedian who has made it his career goal to never mention a sitting president in a single set — as their champion in “The Culture Wars” betrays such a confounding misconception of Maniscalco and the landscape of modern comedy. Everyone is already making “woke" jokes, and Maniscalco isn’t interested in being a “Culture Warrior.”
This is like saying that eating Italian food is the new norm because Bill Burr went to Olive Garden.
“Maniscalco isn’t looking to inflame the culture wars or make political statements. … (But) his new Netflix special, Is It Me? might change all that,” Fox writer Christian Toto boldly declared of the Chicago area native who has become a Middle-America megastar in recent years while he’s sold out Madison Square Garden four times and drawn millions of viewers to his streaming specials. Maniscalco is a profoundly physical performer who draws heavily from his Italian-American upbringing and his family life to find common ground with his audience, but as he has explained at length, that’s all he’s trying to do.
“What I’m providing for the audience is a little escapism from everyday life, to not only laugh at my experiences with my family but things from their life,” Maniscalco explained at the “Pollstar Live!” convention last year during a Q&A session. “I don’t get into current events or politics, that’s nauseating to me. Whatever a president who is in office is doing is not funnier than what my father is doing. When you get bombarded with politics all day long, I think the last thing you want to hear is some comedian saying what he thinks about the situation,” he added.
To be clear, there are plenty of jokes in Is It Me? that would appeal to a Fox News writer who spends all day worrying about how Starbucks holiday cups or people posting pronouns on Twitter are bringing about the downfall of Western civilization — Maniscalco riffs on the sanitization of language relating to race, he jokes about a child in his son’s class who “identifies as a lion” and he complains about how the term “walk-in closets” has been deemed non-inclusive toward the disabled. However, anyone who has watched a comedy special in the last decade is already used to those exact gripes, and Maniscalco fans understand these complaints do not represent a sudden shift toward “inflaming the culture wars,” because all he does is complain.
Case in point: In Maniscalco’s 2019 special, Stay Hungry, he tells the story of how his wife tried to convince him to avoid an annoying patron at his gym because of the consternation they cause him with their weird, jerky workout movements, but Maniscalco rebuffs her, saying, “That’s what makes me happy. I like to be bothered.”
This is the ethos that is shared by Maniscalco and most every comedian of his generation or above when it comes to “cancel culture” or “wokeness” — of course comedians are bothered by being told that they shouldn’t say certain words or tell certain jokes, that’s why every special from a comic who has been active since the 1990s includes on average 20 minutes of griping about cultural sensitivity. There’s nothing that Maniscalco or his contemporaries love more than being annoyed, and audiences love a grumpy comedian. None of this is new.
But to claim that Maniscalco is somehow on the front lines of the Culture Wars or that he’s taken on the mantle of conservative comedy — Toto writes, “The comic might as well put on a MAGA hat to some observers” — is to ascribe a level of political intention to Maniscalco’s comedy that he has spent his entire career trying to avoid.
Toto was disappointed to report that the woke mainstream media wasn’t in any way offended by the special that Fox believed to be an atomic bomb dropped on progressive politics, writing, “Both the Chicago Sun-Times and Decider.com, the latter a reliably liberal news site, praised the special … Even progressive critics can’t muster outrage over the material.”
Clearly, the leftist media machine is not interested in fighting Toto’s Comedy Culture War with him, nor is Maniscalco even aware that he was supposed to be a foot soldier in it. Nothing in Is It Me? has added anything remotely new to the exhausting conversation of “wokeness” in comedy, nor is any of Maniscalco’s material remotely right-wing enough to warrant the crowning of him as the new conservative comedy provocateur.
If Fox needs a conservative comedy hero, they should just dig up Dennis Miller and give him a new show. Maybe it would be slightly less insufferable than Gutfeld!.