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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Frank Caliendo performs tonight at the Riverside Theater.

The many faces of Frank Caliendo come home


Waukesha native Frank Caliendo has possibly impersonated hundreds of different people over his comedy career.

From the well-known mainstay that drove him to larger success – his impression of John Madden – to his ever-growing repertoire that now includes Morgan Freeman and President Obama, the chubby funnyman has seen his talents grow from stand-up stages to also include radio spots on a multitude of shows and parts on several different TV programs.

Tonight at 7:30 p.m., the Mad TV alum will be back in Southeastern Wisconsin to perform at The Riverside, and if you see him out and about in the city, he might just break out an impression for you if you ask him nicely.

"I'm pretty low key. I wouldn't say I try to hide but I don't exactly let everybody know what's coming. But, if somebody asks me to do it, I do it. Most of the time I try and kind of just blend in."

Lately, Caliendo has found that he's being recognized a little less, but for a good and healthy reason.

"The interesting thing, I've lost about 40 pounds so it's kind of funny, people don't recognize me as much right now. When they do they think I'm Frank Caliendo's little brother."

How did Caliendo manage to take off the pounds? Watching his calories and doing exercise, but he's willing to endorse any weight-loss system that's willing to offer him a little money.

"Whoever pays the most, I did their thing," he jokes. "No, it's really just watching calories and exercising a lot, just getting the heart rate up. I got on the elliptical machine I put in front of a TV and I just watch the news or sports or whatever, and just make sure I did that about an hour a day. I started out I could only do like three miles per hour for like 20 minutes and I was winded, and now I do seven or eight miles per hour for an hour."

After losing so much weight, producers at FOX's pregame show have had to find new ways to exaggerate or minimize his waistline based on the character he's dressed as – which is just a small adjustment to what they were previously doing.

"You can always pan out and look a little heavier if you shoot up – you know if you put the camera low and aim upward – we actually had that with Madden. I'm never going to be skinny, but I look thinner than I ever had before so they shot down to up. When you shoot up to down you actually make somebody look a little bit thinner so on the thinner characters we'd do that. When you watch it on TV it definitely looks different."

The loss of weight was inspired by a moment of clarity after Caliendo saw himself sitting next to Tom Cruise on the Tonight Show, and Frank has found that it's actually helped with the characters that he portrays.

"It's funny because in some ways I look the same. I'm still not skinny. I'm still chubby, but I was getting heavier and heavier. I rarely ever watch anything I do but I saw the thing with me sitting next to Tom Cruise and it looked like I was like eating him. So, I decided to try to lose some weight. It's helped with the characters and stuff like that, by a long shot. If you were to look at a sketch from this year versus two years ago probably, it's funny because one of my producers pulled a sketch from a couple years ago where I wasn't in character and it was just me and put it alongside what I look like now and he was like, 'You're almost unrecognizable.'"

Since he was last in Milwaukee Caliendo has changed up his routine a bit by going heavier on the Morgan Freeman and lighter on his beloved Madden impression, and estimates that the audience will get somewhere around 50 different impressions throughout the evening.

"I still do Madden but I do less Madden. I've started narrating a lot of my act at times with Morgan Freeman instead of explaining it with John Madden. I do a little bit of President Obama now. On any given night it can depend. There's at least, well I won't say at least, but there's usually around 50. Sometimes there's quite a bit more. I hit the main stuff and then go with the flow of the audience on how they're going."

Not just comedians love to do impressions, something Frank encounters on occasion when a fan or critic performs their version of what Caliendo does – which he admits puts him in an awkward position, but ultimately he does find it flattering.

"When people do it quickly, that's cool. When people dwell on it and you don't know how to react, that's the trouble. I mean, it's like people will come up to me and say, you know – they'll pick a wild one, like one that I glance over just to do a joke – and they're like, 'You know, I really love it when you do Yoda.' I'm kind of like, 'Well anybody can do Yoda, it's a joke that I do it for. But, before I can get that out, they start doing theirs for the next two minutes. I just stand there and go, 'How should I interact with you at this point, because you're like performing for me?' I'm awkward socially to start with, but usually they're doing it out of good intentions and not to be a jerk or anything like that, obviously, so I take it with a grain of salt. That's the toughest thing. I mean, I don't mind doing impressions for somebody. I think it's kind of cool, even if somebody does something from the show or they've seen me do on TV. The funny thing is sometimes I won't remember stuff I've done on TV and they'll be like, 'You remember when you did this?' I'll be like, 'No, I don't, but thanks because I might put that back in the act because now I've got it.'"

Caliendo, who is a home-body, does admit that he's toying around with the idea of looking into doing some small roles for projects that will hit the big screen.

"I would love to do some small parts in movies and stuff like that but the problem with that is you have to go on location far away and I have two little kids that are 5 and 7, and a wife, so that makes it kind of hard. I don't like to be away as it is that much. I don't even live in L.A. I live in Phoenix. Maybe someday, we'll see."

However, what seems more likely at this point is for Caliendo to continue his run on TV in the form of a sitcom structured around him as a father instead of his impressions – as was previously tried with the short-lived sketch comedy show, "Frank TV."

"We're working on some sitcom stuff to see if there's a route to go with that. I want to do more of a, not a cheesy family sitcom, but more of an at-home family sitcom more about me and what I'm like as a dad and stuff like that. They're actually working on that right now. The impressions might leak in, in a small way, but it would be more about playing a character, a single one character on TV."

Whatever lies in store for the future of Caliendo's career one thing is for sure: he will continue to master new impressions to the utter glee or complete dismay of the general population. Hopefully for Caliendo (and Wisconsin's) sake, he rockets to a new high in his career and carries his warm Midwestern personality to a much larger national audience.


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