There’s a long, proud tradition in comedy of taking advantage of whatever stage and microphone you’ve been handed and doing whatever you can to ensure you’re greeted with howls of execration. Andy Kaufman reading The Great Gatsby aloud is probably the greatest example, but from everyone from grizzled insult comics to little kids who’ve just learned the “Orange you glad I didn’t say ‘banana’? ” joke knows that there are a lot of laughs to be had by carefully cultivating a hostile relationship between performer and audience. That’s probably the kindest lens through which to watch host Sebastian Maniscalco’s opening monologue at Monday night’s MTV Music Video Awards, in which the stand-up comedian took on online influencers, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and participation trophies before an audience of people who, again, chose to attend the MTV Music Video Awards:
By most definitions, the oldest millennials are now between the ages of 22 and 38, which makes this either a bold play for the not-particularly-desirable 39-and-up demographic from the perpetually ratings-challenged awards show, or an even bolder play for the 21-and-younger demographic based on the assumption that their generation’s rebellion will involve giving up their cellphones, abandoning Instagram influencers, and frying a lot of zucchini. Or, if you’re an optimist, it’s a great work of avant-garde anti-comedy in the Kedzie Matthews vein that will inevitably fail to be appreciated in its own time. No matter his intent, however, Maniscalco’s decision to go on MTV to yell about the kids on his lawn is—well, it’s a choice, is what it is.
Here are Sebastian Maniscalco’s comments, as delivered at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, on the matter of what’s wrong with these kids today:
Wow! Listen. I didn’t mean to come out to a cloud of smoke, but backstage my mother’s frying zucchini. It’s not really her fault, she’s making it for 20,000 people tonight. So we cracked the window, and hopefully this will all clear out for the Devils’ home opener. Welcome to the 2019 VMAs, my name is Sebastian Maniscalco and I’m going to be your host tonight. Man, what a night! We’re celebrating the music the way it always was intended: in a hockey rink in the middle of Newark. Listen, I know a lot of you have your phones out—you like to document everything as it’s happening. You know what? So does MTV. They got 26 cameras all over the room and I guarantee you your phone’s not gonna get this shot. So unless you have a spider cam, just put your phones away and let the professionals record the action.
Also, I am so glad to be here. I’ve been here a week in New Jersey. I’m from Los Angeles, where everybody’s riding around in a Bird scooter taking photos of themselves in front of a wall, and everybody with an iPhone apparently is an influencer. Now, listen: New Jersey doesn’t have time for that, all right? Jersey has had one influencer for the past 40 years and that’s Bruce Springsteen. All right, listen, listen. Obviously we have a lot of people from the music industry here tonight. Now, there’s a lot of feuds going on with the music business. People throwing shade. I just found out what “shade” was this week. So with all the shade flying back and forth, coming up with the seating chart for tonight was harder than arranging the tables for my uncle Luigi’s fifth wedding, so I hope everybody’s happy over there.
Now, just a couple of announcements before we get started. This is happening for the first time: MTV, what they’re doing is, they noticed that we’re living in ultra-sensitive time, right? So if you feel “triggered,” or you feel offended by anything I’m saying up here, or anything the musical artists are doing, they’re providing a safe space backstage where you’ll get some stress balls and a blankie. And also Little Nas X brought his horse, which will—yeah, horses backstage—which will double as an emotional support animal. So if you want to talk to your ushers, they will send you back to where that’s happening. Personally, I would remove you from the arena, put you in your car, and send you home, but they opted with the safe space.
While we’re talking about feelings not getting hurt, I just want to let you know that MTV is doing this old school tonight. They’re giving out one trophy per category, all right? Not everybody’s walking away with a moon person or a participation ribbon. This is not Little League. So if you don’t win tonight, I do have a little advice for you: Next year, work harder. Are we ready to get this thing started or what?