Frank Caliendo, gorilla trainer

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photo courtesy frankcaliendo.com, all rights reserved Frank Caliendo 

People love impersonations – just ask Frank Caliendo. The comedian’s uncanny ability to mimic Robin Williams, George W. Bush, and Al Pacino have landed him roles on MADtv, his own show on TBS (The Frank Show), and has kept him busy touring the nation. That Other Paper spoke with Frank just in time to plug his headlining appearances at the Cap City Comedy Club tonight, May 19, at 8pm and 10:30pm.

That Other Paper What are your earliest memories of comedy – of seeing or hearing things that made you laugh?

Frank Caliendo I remember being a very serious child. I did watch a lot of TV as a child. I loved Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters. They did multiple characters and changed between them. It definitely influenced me.

TOP Can you pinpoint the first time you realized you could make people laugh?

FC I did a lot of that during grade school and high school. I was very good at making the class laugh – and knowing when to quit so I didn’t get into trouble. This really started around fourth grade and really got going in 5th and 6th.

TOP What were you like in school?

FC High B student. Almost a student in college. I was an “athlete,” but I wasnt in a clique. I just liked to get along with people when I was younger. I was never a party person – never great in big groups – but people would gather around me when I was goofing around. I seemed to draw a crowd.

TOP When did you begin doing impersonations?

FC I could do a little bit of it all my life. I could do Muppet voices and copy people on TV – SNL characters, In Living Color, etc. I even did impressions of teachers when I was in school. I really got going in college. I learned a lot more, started to do impressions of actual people – not just characters from movies or sketches. It’s the kind of stuff I do today. After graduating from college, I didn’t want to work at a desk job, so I just took a chance on standup and developed more from there.

TOP Are there any impersonations you’re able to do but don’t perform because they’re no longer timely?

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photo courtesy frankcaliendo.com, all rights reserved Frank Caliendo 

FC Not really. I don’t believe in timeliness. If it’s nostalgic and it’s funny, it’s good. You can make anything seem timely by transitioning to it properly. The only way an impression doesn’t work is if the person doesn’t know who you’re doing. With the Internet and TV the way they are, everything is rerun. Ten years ago, you didn’t see episodes of ’80s TV anywhere. Now the Internet and cable have them all over the place. Classic movies live forever. Who doesn’t know Caddyshack? Ghostbusters? If regular people make references to those movies in every day life, I do too. I’m just a regular guy who’s got a little bit of a freaky ability.

TOP What sort of creative outlets did you have growing up?

FC I didn’t do much. I wish I’d have taken an acting class or been in drama. I’d have been more prepared for Hollywood if I had. I was acting on TV, and I’d never acted at all before that.

TOP What aspirations did you have as a child?

FC I wanted to be a gorilla trainer. Not really. I never really thought about it. I’m the kind of person who lives my life as it comes to me. I guess I might have wanted to be a sportscaster as a kid. But that was just because it seemed better than other stuff.

TOP What sort of impact did college have on your career?

FC None, really. I just wanted to get my degree. i didn’t have any Animal House stuff going on. I had to pay for my own schooling, so I worked a lot.

TOP How would you describe your first open mic experience and your early years in comedy?

FC First open mic was great. I did very well, and they wanted me to work right away. Because of the impressions I was given a chance to move through the ranks quickly. I was featuring in six to eight months and headlining before my second year in comedy.

TOP How did you support yourself during the early years?

FC I worked at an indoor baseball and softball place. I also worked at a golf course on the grounds crew. But not much while I was performing. I was lucky – working a ton right away – so I didn’t have lots of bad jobs.

TOP Do you think bad comedians know they’re bad?

FC Most of them have no idea. Really bad ones who think they’re good can be funny to me, though.

TOP In the Hollywood Reporter, The Frank Show was described as “everyman’s take on popular culture.” Do you consider yourself to be an everyman?

FC Pretty much. I think “everyman” means fat. Ha.

TOP I wanted to get your take, then, on three bits of pop culture: 1) The Secret

FC I can’t tell you. That’s why it’s “the secret.”

TOP 2) Alec Baldwin’s message on his daughter’s answering machine.

FC I think he made a mistake and he knows it. I think it’s a family matter and that we don’t know the entire story behind it or the events that led up to it. I know that if I didn’t get to see my child, I’d be pretty bent out of shape. I think that whomever leaked that is a pretty bad person. That stuff should be taken care of by family members. It’s not for us to even judge.

TOP 3) Don Imus calling the Rutger’s Women’s Basketball team “nappy-headed hoes.”

FC [It was] in bad taste and wrong, but people have the right to say “jokes”. He didn’t break the FCC’s rules. His audience didn’t care about it – people outside his audience did. If we shut everyone up – even on the radio – that seems like a very bad world. Everyone is scared today. The news loves to do stories about racism and how people don’t get along, just like they like to spend time on Hollywood catfights. When you think about it, nobody separates people more than the news when they talk about voting, etc. In polls, “white people vote this way, black people vote that way, the Jewish vote goes here, Hispanic people vote this way…” Imus made two mistakes: He tried to make a joke at the expense of innocent people, and they were involved in sports. Both are looked at differently by our culture and protected much of the time.

TOP Lastly, what do you like to do after a performance?

FC I sleep. Just like after this interview. Ha.