HotStar: Frank Caliendo
Frank Caliendo is hard to avoid. Turn on the television and there he is, doing one of his dead-on impressions on “MADtv” reruns, “Fox NFL Sunday,” the late-night chat-fests, his TBS show “Frank TV” or even DISH Network commercials.
Caliendo and his cast of characters, including John Madden, Donald Trump, Dr. Phil, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, also make regular appearances on radio programs like “The Bob & Tom Show” and “The Howard Stern Show.”
Don’t think Caliendo’s life is all laughs though. Like most people who tell jokes for a living, he’s quick to point out that comedy is serious business.
“I graduated from college with a degree in broadcast journalism and didn’t want to work for real – so I’ve been working about ten times as hard doing this ever since,” he told Pollstar.
The comedian got his start in Chicago comedy clubs, where he quickly moved up the ranks thanks to his insistence on doing more than just mimicking celebrities.
“They liked me and they started working me right away,” he explained. “Usually it takes years to do that. I was doing the impressions and I had material to go with it, so it was something different.
“My bits, if you break them down without the voices, they still make sense. I never wanted to be a vaudevillian impressionist. My goal was to be like one of my idols when I was a kid, Jonathan Winters or Robin Williams when he was starting out and crazy and all over the place. I kind of combined those styles with the impressions to get what I do.”
A comedian working with Caliendo sent a videotape of his act to New Wave Entertainment’s Barry Katz, who knew right away he’d found a client to manage.
“Sometimes I watch tapes without the sound, because you can often tell if somebody’s special,” Katz told Pollstar. “I watched him with the sound turned off for about a minute and then I turned it on and I was blown away.
“I called up the number on the tape and he picked up the phone. I didn’t even say ‘Hello,’ I just said, ‘Who the fuck are you and where did you come from?’ because I was that blown away.”
Katz convinced Caliendo to work with him, flew him out to California and eventually got him a development deal with the WB network that resulted in a sketch show called “Hype.”
When the project – which the comedian admits “wasn’t a good show” – tanked, the head of Fox scooped him up and gave him a spot on “MADtv” without an audition.
His 2001-2006 run on the show, combined with as many live appearances as he could fit into his schedule, did a lot toward increasing his fame. But Caliendo said landing a regular spot on “Fox NFL Sunday,” where he often appears as Madden, is what vaulted him into the stratsophere.
CAA’s Matt Blake, who has booked the comedian for several years, agreed.
“His business really started kicking into gear when he got that,” Blake told Pollstar.
There is one person, though, who isn’t a fan of his appearances on the show.
“Madden won’t come near me,” Caliendo said.
He’s also never met the president, but he did get to do his impression of Dubya at the Congressional Correspondents’ Dinner, which had Vice President Dick Cheney “falling off his chair.”
Caliendo attributes part of his broad appeal with audiences to how he treats his subjects – with some respect.
“I don’t want to offend people. I walk the middle of the road and try not to make people mad. I don’t talk about policies. It’s all about a person’s mannerisms and silly things they say, not about attacking the person.
“But I will have two people come up to me after a show and the conservative will go, ‘Oh, you must really love the president,’ and then somebody from the far left will go, ‘You must hate him as much as I do!’ And I’m thinking, ‘Did you guys see the same show?’”
So does booking a client who takes on so many other projects make Blake’s job a nightmare? Actually, it’s just the opposite.
“It’s wonderful because with comedians, you don’t have to route stuff. You still do because you want to make his life as easy as possible, but with a plane you can put him all over the place. It’s not like a bus tour. And Frank loves to work, so it’s really just like a puzzle fitting the dates into all the TV appearances he makes.”
Caliendo’s future is a busy one, with live shows on the books through February and a new season of “Frank TV” coming this fall. Although he won’t rule out other projects, his goal is to make the most of his popularity while keeping his feet firmly planted.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can and provide for my family while this is working and I’m selling tickets. To me it seems more important to do that right now than to spend 10 days in Los Angeles not getting any work because they thought Jack Black would be better.
“I didn’t know I was going to be doing any of this 10 years ago, so I just gotta go with the flow and see what the next step is.”