"I'm always the guy that forgets the coin or the ball marker, so I gotta use like a blade of grass or a leaf to mark my ball," says comedian Sebastian Maniscalco. "I don't have all the ... [he pauses, then adopts a snooty tone] accoutrements in my bag."
Maniscalco can be forgiven for the underpacked golf bag, for he has had bigger things on his mind. Over the past few years, the suburban-Chicago native has transformed himself from a niche comic into one of the largest box-office draws in comedy. He sold out five shows at New York's Radio City Music Hall in April—one was recorded as a Netflix special that'll debut in December—and in January, he begins a series of four dates at the 19,000-seat Madison Square Garden.
At its core, Maniscalco's act is a celebration of his big and deeply Italian-American family. So nobody should be too surprised if he starts working golf into his show. He got into the game when he met his wife, Lana, 10 years ago. She comes from a "huge, huge" golf family who plays whenever they get together.
"In my family, the way we bonded was through food and eating at the dinner table," says Maniscalco, 45. "This is similar in that you bond with family and friends over golf."
The funniest part of the game, from this 19-handicapper's perspective, is how seriously people take it: the club-throwing and teeth-gnashing and endless round-rehashing. "They're like, 'Did you see that chip I made on nine?' Yeah, I was there. Am I gonna have to relive it here in the clubhouse?"
The first time he played with his father-in-law, Maniscalco nearly decapitated him with an errant tee shot. "We joke about it now," he says, "but when it first happened, I thought, I'm out of the family."
Since then he has learned to hit it straight and, apart from forgetting to bring ball markers, generally feels comfortable on the course. "I'm like the dark horse," says Maniscalco, who prefers all-black clothing to the "sorbet" outfits he sees on other golfers. "If you're golfing with me, you'll be like, This guy's gonna suck. But my tee shot's pretty good. And let's put it this way: If my ball goes into the woods, I'm not the guy who's going to, like, look for it. I'll just drop a ball and keep moving."
That "keep moving" attitude has served him well in the comedy business, where he toiled in obscurity for years before hitting the big time. "Experience and repetition" are the keys, he says. "The secret sauce, at least for me, was doing comedy every possible moment I could. So you go into a new environment, and you've seen it all and you've done it all, so nothing really fazes you. I think golf is a lot like that, too."