• Image about Frank Caliendo

Madden and More

Impressionist Frank Caliendo brings his schizophrenic shtick to TBS.

By Joseph Guinto

John Madden is Frank Caliendo's "Free Bird." Unquestionably, Caliendo owes his current career success to the spot-on impression he does of Madden, the rumpled, heavyset, NFL Hall of Fame coach and NBC sportscaster. It was Caliendo's Madden that helped him land a weekly stint on Fox NFL Sunday and score steady appearances on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman, breaking away from the pack of no-name comedians on MadTV. The Madden impression is also what first got Caliendo noticed by TBS, which just debuted Frank TV, Caliendo's own sketch show. Audiences, too, clearly love the impression - it relies on weird, guttural noises, telestrations sans Telestrator, Brett Favre exaltations, and the word boom. But maybe they love it too much.

In the unaired pilot for Frank TV, one of the first impressions Caliendo does is of Madden. Pretending to circle himself on a Telestrator, Caliendo, as Madden, says, "Here's a guy who's a little bit tired of doing that voice every week."

That was just a joke, he later insists during an interview. Summoning the same Madden voice, Caliendo says, "Here's a guy who doesn't mind doing the Madden impression - boom!" Still, just as Lynyrd Skynyrd had other songs ("Sweet Home Alabama" wasn't bad), Caliendo does other impressions. A lot of them. And, yeah, he wouldn't mind if people asked for, say, an Al Pacino every now and again. "But that's really how TV goes," Caliendo says. "What you do in this business is you try to pigeonhole yourself so you can get known. And when you finally get known for something, you spend the rest of your career trying to convince people you can do other things. Hopefully, I can do that with this show."

Caliendo can certainly do other things. He's a sportscaster, for one. The 33-year-old comedian grew up in suburban Milwaukee and studied broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He had hoped to someday become an anchor on ESPN's SportsCenter. "It didn't go that way, though," he says. "When I was in college, I showed up at a comedy club one night and got into stand-up right away. I was working within months. Usually it takes years for people to get regular bookings."

It's easy to understand why his career took off so quickly. Though he's on the short side - about five feet seven inches tall - and has a very Maddenesque frame, Caliendo can be shockingly convincing playing thinner, taller characters. In the Frank TV pilot, he does a killer, albeit heavier, Cosmo Kramer. "You have to suspend a little disbelief with some of the things for me," Caliendo says. "But at the same time, I am trying to lose some weight right now because I watched the Seinfeld skit and I thought, Oh that's just hideous. It was almost like the South Park version of Seinfeld."