Frank Caliendo has character — after character after character. Next week, the stand-up comic will bring 100 or so of his near-perfect impressions to the stage at Eisenhower Auditorium. Caliendo mixes Seinfeld-esque observations with energy similar to Robin Williams’. Over the past decade, he’s been seemingly everywhere, both touring the country and on television.
When it comes to celebrities, nobody is safe. Caliendo has introduced crowds to the deep thoughts of former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He pokes fun at fellow comics such as Norm MacDonald and David Letterman. He also claims to have actors Robert Downey Jr. and Morgan Freeman — who can’t stop narrating — in the works. He is quick to point out that it is not just the voice that makes the character. Caliendo goes a long way to mimic sayings, mannerisms and odd habits.
Lately, his sports impressions have garnered him a lot of attention, including a parody “30 for 30 Documentary” that aired on ESPN and has almost 1.5 million views on YouTube. In the video, he impersonates close to 10 NFL coaches and analysts.
“A lot of (my characters) are from TV,” Caliendo said. “But (sports) announcers are some of the most over-the-top people in the media. Sports people are interesting, but it only hits a specific audience.”
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On a national tour, the 40-year-old comedian bounces around from clubs to theaters and auditoriums; this means knowing the audience is vital. For an impression to be funny, the audience needs to know who the person is.
“I may do (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones out in Dallas,” he said. “But nobody will care outside of Texas. They see him constantly there.”
Caliendo said he credits comedians Williams, Dana Carvey and Daryl Hammond as influences, but he likes to spotlight the differences in their styles.
“Carvey creates cartoon characters with his impressions,” he said. “Hammond hits it right on the money. It’s a totally different take on what impressions are; worlds apart.”
Caliendo does not strictly rely on spot-on impressions. He also tells jokes that are funny on their own. Throughout a show, he strategically introduces characters.
Once the audience hears them, he can pull the character back into the show at any time after that. By the end of the show, all of the eccentric, often silly personalities are on stage with him.
Through all of the sports heroes, politicians and actors, Caliendo may pick a few controversial stars, but he insists that his act stays clean and family-friendly.
“Rarely do people leave because the show is too clean,” he said with a laugh. “Anybody can come without worrying about the words that will be thrown around.”
Two characters Caliendo is most known for are Bush and NFL sportscaster John Madden. He said real people are the funniest, so he rarely does movie characters. Although he is working on scenarios he can put the entire cast of the Avengers into.
“I like to set the characters up and tell jokes about what they are about too,” he said. “And sometimes put them into things that don’t make sense — like working at McDonalds.”