Emily Strohm
February 23, 2018 04:51 PM

For as long as he can remember, Sebastian Maniscalco wanted to be a comedian.

“In second grade, when they went around the room and asked everybody, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ You heard a fireman or a teacher,” Maniscalco tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I said, ‘I want to be a stand-up comedian.’ No one in my class even knew what that was.”

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Sebastian Maniscalco
Courtesy Sebastian Maniscalco
Sebastian Maniscalco
Courtesy Sebastian Maniscalco

And that’s exactly what he did. At 44, Maniscalco is one of the biggest names in the industry. He’s currently on his fifth nationwide tour, Stay Hungry (also the title of his new memoir). He’s sold out five successive nights at Radio City in New York City, where he’ll be filming his new TV special in April. And last year, he earned $15 million — landing him on the 2017 Forbes list of the world’s top-earning comedians, alongside the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Kevin Hart.

But making it big would take many years.

Watch the full episode of PEOPLE Features: Sebastian Maniscalco, streaming now on PeopleTV. Go to People.com/peopletv, or download the app on your favorite streaming device.

Raised in Illinois by his parents Salvatore, a hairstylist, and Rose, a secretary, Maniscalco’s family always encouraged his interest in performing. “I loved making my family laugh,” he says. “And I wasn’t watching cartoons when I was a kid. I would watch Johnny Carson with my father.”

After graduating from Northern Illinois University in 1995, Maniscalco moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dreams. “I told myself it was comedy, or bust,” he says.

Now a comedy giant, Maniscalco couldn’t be more grateful for all his success.

“I’m flabbergasted at the response people have given,” he says. “I always wanted to do stand-up for a living, but to the extent that it’s happening now? It’s amazing.”

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