While many Americans are already weary of this bruising presidential election cycle, Frank Caliendo sees it as a gift from the comedy gods.
The stand-up has long had an impression of the real estate mogul turned reality star in his repertoire. But now that Donald Trump is officially the Republican presidential nominee, the master impressionist expects to get even more mileage out of his act.
“I used to only be able to do 30 seconds of Trump and people would care, but and now it’s like 20 minutes,” he said. “Even if he doesn’t win, I have at least another year where people will be interested in seeing it.”
Caliendo said years ago he actually met Trump, while doing a side-by-side comedy sketch with him for television. He said at the time there was a big difference between the on-camera Trump and off-camera Trump.
“It was my first and only run-in with Trump. During the middle of the sketch he stops everything and says, (breaks into Trump voice) ‘Is this good? Is this good? Does anyone think this is funny?’ And everyone around him says, ‘Yes, it’s good, Mr. Trump.’ ‘Yes, Mr. Trump.’ ‘Yes, Mr. Trump.’ And I asked him, ‘Do they ever say it’s not good?’ And he says back, ‘No, that’s the problem,’ ” Caliendo said. “He was a completely different person off camera as on. But I don’t know if that’s still true. Some people tell me he has become the character.”
Caliendo will bring his Trump as well as his full cast of characters to his show at Gallo Center for the Arts on Friday, Aug. 5.
The comic rose to national prominence while appearing on “Fox NFL Sunday” and as a cast member on “MADtv.” Caliendo is known for his spot-on impressions from the worlds of celebrities, politics and sports including John Madden, Bill Clinton, Charles Barkley, George W. Bush, Jonathan Winters and Jon Gruden.
He said perfecting takes is an inexact science. Some impressions take longer than others to master. Picking out who would make a good impression is also a judgment call. For sports figures, one of the areas he is best known for, Caliendo says he tries to select those who have done commercials or guest starred on TV and film to broaden their audience. Caliendo had a long run with “Fox NFL Sunday” and currently works with ESPN and its NFL coverage.
Why he got interested in the sports world, he said, stems from his childhood.
“I grew up playing sports, so that’s kind of what I knew. So I got into that realm and sort of got pigeonholed there,” he said. “Now I think there are more people doing them maybe than you think.”
Still for all of his joking around with famous personas, including past and possibly future presidents, Caliendo said he tries not to get too political with his humor. He also keeps the shows clean and all ages.
“I stay out of the politics of it; it’s more about the characters of the people. I have a take on them and make them more characters,” he said. “I just stay silly with it.”
Caliendo found out he had a knack for impressions when he was young. He said he grew up doing them for family and friends. Then he went to college for broadcast journalism in his home state of Wisconsin. But it was comedy he said that ended up being his passion. He said now he considers himself more of a character creator than a strict impressionist.
“There are plenty of people better at it than me. They’re better at dead-on impressions. It is finding the take and making it funny for more than 30 seconds that is hard,” he said. “You have to come up with something crazy and interesting and make it a fun character for people. I try to mix it up. It’s not like the vaudeville impressions where they were like, ‘Hey, what if this guy ate a banana.’ ”
He also keeps track of what’s happening in the zeitgeist, like the smartphone game turned global phenomenon “Pokémon Go.” One of his most popular posts on Twitter is a short video of him playing the game while narrating as Morgan Freeman. The tweet has been liked and shared more than 5,000 times.
“It’s funny how many people have seen that tweet, and it’s taken on a life of its own. I’ve never seen so many anime avatars retweeting something in my life,” he said. “And half of them think it’s actually Morgan Freeman.”
Still there are a few people he never tries to impersonate. He said he never does female voices because “they never come out right.” But he will try almost anyone, maybe just not on stage.
“People think I’m better than I am because they don’t see the bad ones I try,” he joked.
But he does have his favorites. Academy Award-winner Freeman is one of them. And the other, well, you guessed it.
“Trump is a tremendous amount of fun, it really is,” Caliendo said. “He makes up his own facts, and that’s the best thing. And he’ll say, ‘And everyone knows it,’ and we’re all like, ‘We do, we know it.’ ”