It was evident from an early age that Frank Caliendo possessed an enviable skill.
While growing up in the suburbs of Chicago during the ’70s, Caliendo discovered that he could easily mimic people and characters. While watching “The Muppets” he discovered that he could easily impersonate Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear.
“I never had an idea that it would lead to a career,” Caliendo said. “But here I am.”
Caliendo, 44, is an old-school sort, who favors impressionist Rich Little’s work more so than contemporary entertainers.
“I liked that style more than what I saw on ‘Saturday Night Live’ when I was a kid,” Caliendo said. “I always liked that vaudeville style.”
Caliendo, who will perform two sold-out shows Aug. 16 at Penguins Comedy Club in Cedar Rapids, is adept at observational humor, and is unpredictable and cerebral.
His impressions of former basketball star/television analyst Charles Barkley, actor Morgan Freeman and Jon Gruden are spot-on. Caliendo looks eerily like the latter, who left the broadcast booth to coach the Los Angeles Raiders.
“What I do is most effective when I do people that are easily identifiable,” Caliendo said.
He was part of MADtv’s sketch comedy cast from 2001 to 2006.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“I learned a lot from MADtv,” he said. “I learned how to act with people. When you do stand-up, you make some gestures. There’s facial expressions, but obviously acting is a whole other level.”
Caliendo took it to another level with his own vehicle, the underheralded “Frank TV,” which aired in 2007-08. Caliendo found his footing while appearing initially on “Fox NFL Sunday Pregame” and then on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown.” His impressions of such former jocks/turned broadcasters Ron Jaworski and Mike Ditka are hilarious.
However, his greatest hit, is his impression of John Madden. The former Raiders coach and iconic Monday Night Football analyst was not a big fan out of the gate. “He absolutely hated me at first, but when I met him at the Super Bowl in Dallas, something changed,” Caliendo said. “He realized that there is no malice in what I do. My impressions are just goofy.”
Caliendo’s comic hero Steven Wright is a fan because of the Madden impression.
“I once wanted to be a comedian like Steven Wright,” Caliendo said. “I told Steven Wright that I wrote a joke like one of his. ‘I built an addition to my house, completely out of mirrors. The walls are made out of mirrors, even the furniture is made out of mirrors. I go in there when I want to reflect on things.’”
Wright never heard him deliver the joke, but he did meet Caliendo. “He goes up to me backstage at (The Late Show with) David Letterman and said, ‘Aren’t you the guy who does Madden?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I love you’ and he was smiling. Now that’s validation.”
Caliendo commands respect, which isn’t common among impressionists. As the comic food chain goes, impressionists have not garnered much respect. They rank about a notch above ventriloquists.
“It’s true, but the difference between myself and others who do impressions is that I write an act,” Caliendo said. “There are people who do better voices than me but they have nothing to say ...“It’s not enough to sound like a certain person, you need the material to get the laughs.”
WHAT: Frank Caliendo
WHERE: Penguins Comedy Club, 208 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7 and 9 p.m. Aug. 16
TICKETS: Sold out