If you watch any of the Major League Baseball playoffs on TBS, you’ll end up seeing quite a bit of Frank Caliendo as the network promotes the second season of Frank TV, which returns Oct. 21. Caliendo also pops up quite a bit in TV ads for Dish TV service, which makes for, frankly, a lot of Frank, as well as a lot of images and voices of his impersonations. But you won’t see him do Sarah Palin, so to speak. For one thing, they taped the 10 new episodes before Palin became newsworthy. For another, well, let Caliendo explain it:
"We won’t have a Palin impression," he wrote to me last night. "But I think SNL has the market on that anyway. It already seems kind of mainstream…so I don’t miss it on the show. That’s
what everyone is doing right now anyway…ripping her…so it seems
like that it’s fresh that we aren’t. Everything is perspective. I just
look at stuff positively."
Which means he’s not too worried about the criticism he has gotten so far from the ads or from the first season. There’s a lot of snark online (just search his name in blogland). I have always enjoyed seeing Caliendo’s live stand-up. It seems as though much of the criticism about his TV effort is centered around his looks and how he may not look like the people whose voices and mannerisms he’s embodying. Here’s Caliendo’s take on that:
"I really don’t read any criticism. To me, looking like the person
doesn’t really matter if you have the essence. That’s all it’s about. I’m not an impersonator…I’m just out there trying to do some funny
stuff. Some poeple aren’t wired to get past simple visuals…some
are…everyone is different. Criticizing is easy, being funny is the hard part. Ha. Most people who criticize have never tried what they’re judging. The
key is that people are watching. Lots of people. You’ll never get
everyone to like you…and all you need is a small percentage of people
to like you."
After the jump, a behind-the-scenes clip and some quotes Caliendo gave during a conference call yesterday.
Behind the scenes:
In season two, Caliendo won’t have to do everything himself. Impersonators Mike MacRae and Freddy Lockhart have joined the cast. Lockhart does Barack Obama, Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman, among others; MacRae’s characters will include Harrison Ford and Rip Torn.
Caliendo’s favorite voice to mimic? "When they’re new, they’re a lot of fun to me. Charles Barkley is still a lot of fun." Weird ones, too, such as Jeff Goldblum. "You see everyone in the world do a Jack Nicholson or Keanu Reeves, so finding a new one I can put into the mix."
He said the influences of Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams were in how those two inhabited their characters, as opposed to old-school, Vaudevillian types of impressions in which a guy turns his back to the audience for a second, then turns around to mimic someone.
Caliendo also referenced his past experiences at MADtv twice in talking about his new show. "I remember when we did sketches at MADtv that were hilarious but stupid. But we loved it because it was stupid," he said, only the audiences didn’t get the joke. In "the Chappelle format" of Frank TV, Caliendo can preface a taped sketch so audiences know what to expect. "If you know going into it that it’s stupid, you go in with the right frame of mind." The other time he mentioned his past TV sketch show was when someone asked if he’d like to create his own fictional characters that could have a life of their own in future films, a la Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler. Not really, Caliendo said. "I don’t want to do what they called at MADtv, knock knock here comes the weirdo," Caliendo said.
Caliendo also said he doesn’t try to hurt the feelings of the people he’s impersonating. "What I like to do is subtly let you know this character is sorta goofy," he said. "For me, the Pacino impression has nothing to do with Al Pacino anymore. It’s all about him being amazed by everything around him…to me, Robin Williams when he is being serious is funnier in a sketch than when he’s trying to be funny."
How long does it take for Caliendo to master a voice?
"Barkley took me a couple of months…Bush took me two years to get right. Now I’m one of the people known for that." But he’s always working on making the voices more accurate. "When you listened to me eight years ago, you’d think, that’s John Madden? Basically, my job is I get paid to practice."
"The key is to find the one that people aren’t really doing," Caliendo said. "Like when Jay Mohr first did Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live, people didn’t really know who he was…And now…everybody is doing a Christopher Walken impression."
Does he have a favorite in the presidential election for comedic purposes? "I can do McCain way better. The way people go after Sarah Palin, it seems like there’s much there…Biden does a lot of stupid stuff, too…Obama, once people get elected, that’s when I think you see the actual person because they’re not worried about being elected for a couple of years…Obviously, for me, I can’t pull off a Barack Obama even in the makeup, but we’ve got Freddy doing that for the show. McCain certainly works for me, business-wise…For McCain, you’ve got a P.O.W. who can’t raise his arms above his shoulders, and that controls a lot of his mannerisms…and I thought, I can do that, because that’s what I’m like!"