Sebastian Maniscalco Kills the Old-School Gangster in Scorsese’s ‘Irishman’


The Big Picture

  • Sebastian Maniscalco’s comedic presence enriches the depth of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and adds levity to the film’s late-period masterpiece.
  • Maniscalco’s performance as “Crazy” Joe Gallo showcases his versatility as an actor and his ability to embody the theatricality of a showy gangster.
  • The Irishman serves as a reflection on the decay of the old-school gangster, and Maniscalco’s portrayal of Gallo highlights the self-destruction and downfall of this archetype.

Upon release, every Martin Scorsese film is a seismic event in the film community, if not the nation itself. As it pertained to his 2019 gangster opus, The Irishman, its swan song quality surrounding Scorsese’s relationship to the crime genre, his contemplation of faith and redemption, and his fruitful artistic partnership with Robert De Niro in projects like Raging Bull heightened the anticipation of the film. Not to mention, the casting of Al Pacino and Joe Pesci presented itself as the ultimate crossover of icons in the gangster cinematic oeuvre. The totemic gravity of The Irishman should not mitigate the subtle nuances and moments of levity that round out Scorsese’s late-period masterpiece. One comedian-turned-actor, Sebastian Maniscalco, brings his innate comedic presence while providing richer depth to an already rich text.

The Irishman

Release Date
November 27, 2019

Martin Scorsese


209 minutes

Main Genre

Crime , Documentary , Drama

Charles Brandt , Steven Zaillian


Sebastian Maniscalco’s Comedic Presence Complements Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

Maniscalco, who stars in the new Chuck Lorre series Bookie, which recently premiered on Max, is one of the top stars to emerge in stand-up comedy in the last decade. He has been a mainstay on late-night talk shows, and he’s appeared in minor roles in comedies, including The House and Tag. As is the case with various comics, Maniscalco has found a home on Netflix, with the streamer releasing two of his specials, Stay Hungry and Is It Me? Last May, the comedian brought his semi-autobiographical story to the big screen in About My Father, in which he starred alongside Robert De Niro once again.

In between Maniscalco announcing himself as one of the perennial comics and attaining mainstream recognition in 2023, few would have pinned him for a supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic. However, the director’s track record has demonstrated his deep admiration for comedy, as he frequently casts comedians to spice up minimal roles. Albert Brooks‘ film debut was in Taxi Driver, playing a staffer in Charles Palentine’s campaign. Casino, a film already filled with copious amounts of humor, features comic legends Don Rickles and Alan King in the cast. Maniscalco is not the only comedy veteran in the cast of The Irishman, as the film provides an opportunity for Ray Romano to show his versatility as an actor. Scorsese tapped into the dark side of Jerry Lewis and an uber-famous talk show host in The King of Comedy, with Lewis giving the performance of a lifetime.

Maniscalco’s stand-up subject and brand of performance certainly complements his role in The Irishman. His material often focuses on nostalgia and his distinct upbringing in an Italian-American family. It’s not always that Maniscalco yearns for a return to an old-school environment in his stand-up, but rather, he reflects on how his father reacted to the changing times. His comedy has modern sensibilities, but his persona is rooted in a pastiche, Rat Pack-like classical performance. Reflecting on the past is at the heart of The Irishman. Furthermore, the comic’s ingrained Italian heritage in his act implicitly connects him to the text of the film.

Sebastian Maniscalco Commands the Screen as Joe Gallo in ‘The Irishman’

In The Irishman, Maniscalco plays “Crazy” Joe Gallo, a mob enforcer for the Colombo crime family. Gallo’s history of violence and mayhem is vast, but the film truncates his historical legacy within the context of the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro). He was notorious for orchestrating the murder of rival bosses, kidnapping his own boss for a ransom, and ordering a successful hit on his boss, Joe Colombo. These events are brushed upon by Sheeran’s narration. In the film, he is characterized as an incendiary and brazen mafioso who takes pride in his disrespect of authority, which is represented by his habit of wearing sunglasses indoors. Gallo’s rogue and callous behavior met its comeuppance on April 7th, 1972, when he was assassinated at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy, Manhattan. In the film, Sheeran methodically kills Gallo, but since Scorsese’s unreliable narrator meddles with history, the true perpetrator may never be known.


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The striking performance given by Sebastian Maniscalco is unconventional. Audiences expect the presence of a comic in a dramatic film to invigorate the narrative, even at the cost of seeming like the performer is operating in a different film entirely. Maniscalco is dialed into the atmosphere and thesis of Scorsese’s sobering reflection on crime and the decay of the old-school gangster. The interpretation of Joe Gallo was designed to be conveyed by a comedian. When he is subpoenaed over his ties to Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), Gallo acts like a “wise guy” in the truest sense possible, as his opening statement in court is “This carpet would be great for a craps game.” He may disrespect authority, but he loves the limelight, as he is seen welcoming the paparazzi outside the Copacabana. Maniscalco’s comedic instincts suit Gallo’s theatricality, a trait that angers Sheeran and his mafia boss, Russell Bufalino (Pesci). Sheeran and Bufalino hide in the shadows, while Gallo is a showy gangster made for tabloid fodder.

In Goodfellas, Henry Hill characterizes wiseguys as “movie stars with muscle.” Maniscalco’s Joe Gallo is a realized embodiment of that description. At the Copacabana, a fictionalized portrayal of Don Rickles, played by Jim Norton, performs at the club and makes a jab at Italian-Americans. Gallo, in a brief version of Joe Pesci’s “How am I funny?” interrogation in Goodfellas, pretends to threaten Rickles with a bottle of liquor. Everyone in the building, including Rickles, is aghast, believing that he will erupt in a violent rage. The ease with which a wise guy like Gallo can switch from being jocular to demonic is jarring. The shift between both personalities calls for a radiant performer. Maniscalco, like all of Scorsese’s best performances, is rooted in authenticity. The comedian could have easily fit in with Henry’s crew, eating a lavish dinner and “breaking balls” with fellow wiseguys.

‘The Irishman’ Gives Us the Death of the Old-School Gangster

Keeping in the spirit of Martin Scorsese gangsters, Gallo meets his demise due to his self-destruction. After insulting Bufalino for wearing a pin for the Italian-American Civil Rights League, as he refers to it as a “bullshit league,” Sheeran defuses the situation. Despite his efforts, Sheeran receives a defiant look from Bufalino, signaling that it is Gallo’s time to go. Being the obedient soldier that he is, Sheeran, in his typical cold and calculated fashion, proceeds to kill Gallo at his birthday party at Umberto’s. The hit on Gallo is one of the most notorious mafia killings in recent memory, but Scorsese’s take on the event is perceived with little honor.

The Irishman, in the same mold as Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, is deeply meditative on how crime and violence unfold in the United States. Scorsese’s unofficial send-off to the gangster film is a beautiful revisionist take on the genre, akin to what Clint Eastwood did to the Western in Unforgiven. Whatever takeaways viewers had from Scorsese’s previous gangster flicks were flipped on their heads. While this reaction would’ve been in bad faith, if someone thought being a gangster was admirable after watching Goodfellas or Casino, then a viewing of The Irishman is sure to put those assertions to rest. Scorsese’s rejection of this rollicking way of life is symbolic in the Joe Gallo character.

In Scorsese’s previous crime epics, ones that are unfairly maligned for glorifying and condoning the criminal underworld, figures like Gallo are usually the protagonists. The charismatic, larger-than-life anti-hero, exemplified by Henry Hill and Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, is primarily championed within the narratives of his films. Until their foreshadowed demise, they operate like untouchable kings who attain all the wealth and power imaginable. Scorsese presents The Irishman as a world inhabited not by Robin Hood-like vigilantes, but by soldiers belonging to a ruthless system of evil. As soon as Gallo steps out of line by insulting Bufalino, he is immediately murdered for it. Any time a comedian is cast in a Martin Scorsese picture, everyone should take notice. Not only is the director’s eye for talent impeccable, but he brilliantly configures a comic’s innate abilities into the makeup of his film. Considering his background and style of performance on stage, Sebastian Maniscalco was born to be a supporting player in a Scorsese crime epic.

The Irishman is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.

Watch on Netflix


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