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Frank Caliendo says he isn't a people person, but he sure can mimic a lot of different people

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT) - Comic Frank Caliendo wrecked his knee as a high school running back. The injury convinced him he'd have to be somebody else besides a great athlete. So he became EVERYBODY else.


By Luaine Lee
McClatchy Newspapers (
11/19/2008 (1 decade ago)

Published in TV

Five minutes with him at the lunch table and he transforms himself into Jay Leno, Al Pacino and Donald Trump. Caliendo is the mimic who, as George W. Bush or John Madden, pitches Dish Network. He also hosts his own show, "Frank TV" on TBS and on Nov. 29 he (or somebody who looks exactly like him) will host the special "The Funniest Movies of the Year: 2008" on TBS.

"I was very quiet kid and watched a lot of television," he says, ordering a meatloaf sandwich and lemonade. "I've never been a people-person; kind of a loner. I like to be around very few people, I'm happy being by myself too," he says.

"I do like the reaction of having people laugh. The only thing I can tell you is my humor doesn't come from a dark place, with me for the most part. I have a very goofy side. I think I used to do comedy to be liked. I don't think that's the case anymore. I think I fulfilled that need."

Caliendo, who's dressed in a short-sleeved blue oxford shirt and dark slacks, could imitate the Muppets when he was still on training wheels. In school he'd impersonate his friends and teachers. "I never wanted to be an impressionist. I always thought they were vaudevillian _ Rich Little, Frank Gorshin. Turn around and become the guy and do a scene. Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters, those are the guys I watched ... and what Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams do is they make observations and act them out. That's what people weren't really doing with impressions, they were just doing little scenes for no reason. For me it was about taking a little logic and putting it in."

The Chicago-born Caliendo was doing standup bits at colleges when an agent phoned and asked him to send a tape and come to L.A. Once here he was offered several deals. "I did 'Hype' on the WB, which got canceled after 13 episodes," he recalls.

"Then I went straight to 'MadTV.' I didn't audition. They just put me on the show. I did my five years. It's like prison, they have a five-year contract. I didn't have the best time there. It was a different kind of comedy than what I want to do. That show is about playing in teams. I can't force fake comedy," he says.

The 34-year-old comic also landed a spot on Fox's "NFL Sunday," replacing Jimmy Kimmel. "I'd do a single sketch for 2 ˝ minutes making fun of topical NFL stuff and calling Terry Bradshaw stupid. I called Howie Long 'SIR.' They were great to me. That boosted me up to the next level."

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Caliendo married the one girl in his Cleveland audience who didn't laugh at any of his jokes. He and Michele have two children: Joe, 4, and Juliet, 2. They live in Tempe, Ariz., because he doesn't want his kids to grow up in the rarefied environment of Hollywood.

Claiming to be both ambitious and driven, Caliendo doesn't fret over where his next job is coming from. "I have no idea and I don't care," he shrugs.

"I don't worry about it, something always seems to come along. You worry yourself to death and something comes along. You don't worry yourself to death and something comes along. So why worry? I'm a very conservative type of person in my life. I save money. If I am going to buy something big I make sure. I'm not the type to get caught up in this mortgage crisis ... My dad was like that."

His father sold ranges to appliance stores then became a guidance counselor for at-risk kids. His mom was a teacher's aide for a while. He has two brothers: Terry, "we call him Dark T because he sits at the computer in the dark. He does my Web site and the major part of the marketing ... My brother, Ricco, is the guy hanging out at the bars, everybody's friend. He does scheduling for me."

Caliendo masters the voice and look of others by "feeling it." "There's different versions of doing it. There's the Dana Carvey over-the-top character. There is the Darrell Hammond right-on-the-money, kind of Rich Little, the dead-on mimicry. Then there's the cartoony mimicry, caricature. It's a weird thing I have. My brain just breaks down everything," he says.

Scribing with his index finger, he says, "There's a triangle (on the face), a straight line across the eyebrows and down here (to the chin) on the triangle. That's where the impression is in your face. If I do George Bush it's here _ eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth. Robin Williams, little sad in the eyes, you can see (him) even with these puffy cheeks I have, you can still see it. DeNiro, it's like he's looking at an aquarium and he's one of the fish."

Caliendo says he's perfecting his Barack Obama, whose voice is "part Ted Koppel and part Alien."

While he's funny onstage, Caliendo admits that he's impatient. "I love to play with my kids but they drive me crazy in a short amount of time. I come back and miss them after being away ... I'm great at driving my wife nuts. I have this crazy dichotomy when I'm home I seem to be working and whenever I'm working all I want to do is get home. When I'm home I'm doing stuff constantly and I think that drives my wife nuts. I've never taken a vacation, ever. It's a gift and a curse, both.

"People used to say I'm a regular guy, which in Hollywood means you're fat ... I'm a regular person. I just happen to be able to do a couple of extraordinary things. But I'm, for the most part, normal."



Joan Rivers is a Phoenix in her own right. She's survived tragedy in her life (her husband's suicide) and always risen to the next task. Her latest will be a show for TVLand for which she seems perfectly cast. Rivers, who once helmed her own talk show, tells me that her technique is simple, "I just ask what everybody wants to know." So Rivers will be querying the very wealthy on the new show, "How'd You Get So Rich?," produced by reality mastermind Mark Burnett.

She'll not only ask these ka-billionaires how they got that way but how they spend their sometimes hard-earned money. As for Rivers, she claims Somebody Up There must like her, too. "I wish I could say I was a religious person. I believe in God, but I also think God dropped you on Earth and said, 'I'm giving you brains, you can think. I've given you all these things now go and do it.' So I believe in that sense. But I don't believe that God's looking down on each of us and saying, 'Oh, Joan has gained four pounds, I'm going to let her lose weight today.' No, he's saying, 'I gave you a brain, now get out of my face."'

"How'd You Get So Rich?" will premiere next year.


Scottish actor Kevin McKidd, who was dynamite as Vorenus on HBO's "Rome," has joined the cast of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy." McKidd first appeared on this season's premiere, but now he's actually joined the staff as the chief of trauma surgery after having served as a surgeon in Iraq.

McKidd got his first big start in "Trainspotting," but says he failed to take advantage of it. "Even though it was a huge success, I didn't chase it. I didn't come out here. I didn't have the money. I didn't have the wherewithal. I didn't have the confidence to come out here and chase that thing. Everybody said I should. I just knew it wasn't my time. So I kind of sat back and stayed away from it, by choice really. So I had a tough couple of years where I was working in bars and working in building sites and making ends meet. I was a laborer on building sites.

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"People said I should do adverts. 'You should do daytime soaps.' I said, 'No, I'd rather work in building sites, to be perfectly honest.' I'd started so well I wasn't going to slip back in that sense. I didn't mind doing menial jobs. I wasn't going to let my standards go as far as my dream to be an actor."


There's still time to catch the "Meow Mix Think Like a Cat Game Show" on GSN, which tests cat owners in both their knowledge and their relationship with their purrrfect pets. The show premiered on Nov. 15, but will replay on Nov. 21, 22 and 23. The surprise here is that famous game-show host Chuck Woolery emcees the cat-a-thon. "Anyone who's ever owned a cat knows _ and myself included because I have had cats in my life ... there's a kind of a bond between cats and people," he says.

"In fact, cat owners believe that they can actually understand what their cats are trying to say to them. So we really kind of put that to the test in this game show ... That's why it says 'think like a cat' _ 'can you think like your cat?' And so the game show was set up to see if these people really could, were in tune with their cats. And they were entertaining. It was fun. Some were, and some weren't."

The cat-and-owner team with the most points gets to try for a cool million, as well as $100,000 for a cat-related charity.


© 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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