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Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008

Frankly Funny

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After years of touring the comedy circuit and being a featured member of “MADtv,” Frank Caliendo is star ring in his own successful TBS series, “Frank TV.” The show’s second season is set to air in October. Caliendo is the driving-force of the program, which features filmed comedy sketches combined with stand-up pieces before a live audience.

Caliendo, a Waukesha native, is a Wisconsin-grown talent if there ever was one. He burst onto the national scene with his spot-on impression of NFL football analyst John Madden and has been delivering hilariously entertaining impressions of high-profile political and TV personalities ever since.

A large portion of your act has been developed around George W. Bush. How will the 2008 election affect your material?

Bush is fun to do as a character and I won’t stop doing him; I just won’t do him as much. I do a pretty good John McCain, “Hello America, it’s time to take a nap.” Freddy Lockhart on our show does a great Obama. We’re still waiting to see who gets elected. Bush is fun to do and it’s safe to say Obama would never say things like, “I must thinkificate, America.” Obama is doable. He’s got a swagger. If you’re president, there’s always a camera on you.

Describe your methods when you take on a new character.

I do a huge amount of work. I hunker down, watch tapes. What you do is watch the tape and listen. This helps you catch all the little stuff. Even though I’m heav ier than most of the people I portray, it’s all in the triangle [pointing around his eyes and nose]. It’s all up here. This is what projects. When I’m working on a character, it’s the audience who tells me whether it’s working or not. You throw it out there a little at a time. You can throw it out there on radio because the radio guys can always save you—kind of a safety net. Nobody is paying 40 or 50 dol lars. It’s different once people are paying for that ticket.

Who are some new characters we can expect to meet?

I’ve developed James Gandolfini. The trick was, I needed a take on Gandolfini. The take on “Frank TV” was that he needed to change his image to grow as an actor. The sketch we did is “Puppy Time with James Gandolfini: [To puppy] “I love you. You know what, I love you too much, get out of my face.” I was throw ing puppies right and left.

It may seem like it comes easy. I get paid to practice. I’m always working. I used to sit in front of the mirror; now I just guess. I can see it. If I’m looking at you, if I’m talking in character, you disap pear. I’m looking in the mirror and I see Robert De Niro. I don’t know how; it’s like I’m watching almost a projection. I’m actually disappointed when I watch myself on TV because I feel like I’m look ing at myself. When I see Robin Williams in my head, I see Robin Williams walking around. But when I see me doing Robin Williams on TV, I look like the “South Park” version.

You have to find what’s funny about the person. What makes me laugh doesn’t always make the other person laugh. I’m always trying to find the way to make what I think is funny to other people. I find someone like Donald Trump very amusing. Everything is amazing and lux urious to him. He can take the most absurd idea and make it sound amazing…

After years of success, are you still having fun with this thing?

It’s still a bit different when people fawn over me. I guess I just don’t know how to react. I’m often told what I do is amazing, but for me it’s a job, something I’ve chosen. I can understand why peo ple react and I don’t fault them, I just don’t know how to react back… There are some crazy moments that remind me of how great this job can be. I recently did a show in Detroit and I got more e mails after that show than I had in years. The e-mails said things like, “Thanks for making our life better. It’s been rough here lately.” That’s the kind of stuff that keeps this special.


Photos by Jim Cryns

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