Frank Caliendo gets under the skin of celebs

Chad Berndtson

Comedian Frank Caliendo is a man of many faces.

“It’s not so much vaudevillian as I think each of my characters has a specific point of view, and I like to imagine how they would act in certain situations,'' Caliendo said. “Al Pacino, for example, yells for no reason. So wouldn’t it be great to see Pacino working at McDonald’s, in that type of setting? I use the characters to point things out and apply to situations.''

Impersonation is one of the hardest comedy sells of all – not only do you have to make your audience identify with the quirks of whomever you’re impersonating, but you also have to take your impression beyond the obvious pressure points. Anyone can try a Christopher Walken, or a Marlon Brando, or a Pacino, or a DeNiro.

Caliendo, who shot to fame on Fox’s “Mad TV” and then last fall in hilarious commercial promos for his TBS series, “Frank TV,'' takes  his greatest impressions to another, uncanny level of vocal and physical impersonation.

Check out Caliendo doing George Bush, Bill Clinton, John Madden, Al Pacino, Casey Kasem, Ted Knight, the cast of “Seinfeld” and others.

Caliendo will bring his celebrity selves to South Shore Music Circus on Friday and the Cape Cod Melody Tent on Saturday.

He honed his George W. Bush and other personalities – including NFL great and Fox announcer Terry Bradshaw, and what’s probably his most famous impersonation, NFL coach and broadcasting legend Madden – on “Mad TV” from 2001-2006. Caliendo’s offbeat Madden, amazingly attuned to all of Madden’s nuances, also landed Caliendo a recurring role on Fox’s “NFL Sunday” as a guest of comedian Jimmy Kimmel.

“Frank TV'' premiered on TBS in November and has been picked up for 10 more episodes that will air after the Major League Baseball playoffs in October.

While Caliendo was the lone cast member for its first season, he has since added two regulars – comedians Mike MacRae and Freddy Lockhart – to round out the program.

“It’s more interactive that way – it’s not all just me,'' Caliendo said. “I’m never an all-about-me type of person and TBS has been fantastic about letting us do what we want with the show. I liked the show last year, but we were limited in what we could do when it’s just me talking to myself.

“I’m a big believer in the Seinfeld theory – surround yourself with really talented, really good people. Now we can do bigger and broader sketches. Got a little election coming up, as you know, and I do do a McCain, but Freddy does the Obama.''

In his standup setting, Caliendo moves from character to character, and is less about sketches than moving between characters, voices and personalities that he is imitating.

Caliendo has heard from some of the celebs.

“Madden doesn’t like me at all,'' Caliendo says, laughing. “I think Leno and Letterman like me. Charles Barkley pretends to dislike it, but I think he secretly gets a kick out of it.''

Caliendo said people such as Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams, who really get underneath a personality and make their impressions convincing, inspired him. An attention to detail allows Caliendo’s Madden – and, to a lesser extent, his DeNiro, Bush and others – to reach pop cultural status not unlike, say, comedian Jay Mohr’s now-signature impression of Christopher Walken.

“Jay doesn’t sound all that much like Christopher Walken, but he was the person doing that style of speaking. He sold it,'' Caliendo said. “If you’re the first person to get that on national TV or a national stage or now the Internet, it’s yours.''

The Patriot Ledger