Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009 | 2 a.m.
If You Go
- Who: Frank Caliendo
- When: Beginning Monday, 9:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays
- Where: Lance Burton Theatre, Monte Carlo
- Tickets: $48.65 to $81.36; 730-7160
Beyond the Sun
Caliendo with Letterman
There’s a new headliner on the block.
Beginning Monday, impressionist Frank Caliendo will try to help fill the comic void on the Strip left by the passing of Danny Gans.
The deal between Caliendo and MGM Mirage was in the works before Gans died in May — so this wasn’t a crass scramble to fill Gans’ black-and-white saddle oxfords.
Besides, Caliendo and Gans worked different sides of the stage. Where Gans displayed his gift by replicating the voices of great vocalists, Caliendo leans toward non-singing celebrities. Best known for his John Madden, he also does impressions of Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Robert De Niro, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
But the 35-year-old Chicago native’s performance is as much about the humor as the sound-alikes.
Before signing a 10-year deal to perform 46 weeks a year at the Monte Carlo, Caliendo was visible all over television, from the canceled “Frank TV” and NFL pregame shows to late-night talk shows and Comedy Central.
The hyper Caliendo, who lives in Tempe, Ariz., with his wife and two children, recently stopped by the Sun to chat:
You are in such demand, why did you decide to sign a deal with the Monte Carlo?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I don’t really want to do much sketch on TV anymore. I’m doing “The NFL on Fox” on this year and next. “Frank TV” was just too hard. Besides, it was canceled. I was looking for something to do. What would I do next? I like doing TV, something totally new every week. But I like live audiences. I was tired of traveling.
Are you afraid the challenge will be gone if you don’t have to scramble for work?
No. It’s all artistic. You always come to see certain things. A lot of my bits come from talking to people on the radio and things that come in from the news that week. I do a whole bit on Bob Dylan, who is now doing a GPS voice. (He does a Dylan impression:) “Turn left.” It seems like a bit but it’s real. Eventually other people will do it. (Sean Connery impression:) “Make a left now. No, you made a right.” (Al Pacino:) “Where are we? We’re lost.” (Ray Romano:) “Oh come on, what are you doing over there?” These things write themselves, if you have a concept. I like to take from reality, it’s more natural, more organic. Johnny Carson said the funniest things come from the truth. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?
When did you realize you could imitate people?
I’ve always had that mimicry ability. I watched “Saturday Night Live” and “In Living Color.” I loved Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams. (He does both voices.) I liked Rich Little and a lot of the impressionists. Frank Gorshin. John Byner. All those guys.
But impressionism never seemed to evolve. Stand-up comedy has evolved. Impressions have stayed vaudevillian. Most impressionists, it’s “What if Jack Nicholson ...” and they do Jack Nicholson. I take something and write it as if it could be true. I take a logical progression to get to an illogical situation. For example, Al Pacino yells in movies for no reason. What if Al Pacino were a librarian?
At what point did you decide this was the career path you wanted to take?
When I graduated from college I was thinking about going to school more. But I once took a comedy class, an improv class, and the teacher said “Hey, you should try stand-up.” I said, “Do you mean I stink at this?” He said “No, impressions aren’t used that much in improv.” So I tried the stand-up and did well. People were hiring me like after the fourth or fifth time. When I started, not a lot of people were doing impressions. Now all over YouTube people are doing impressions.
Have you added Obama to your repertoire?
Yeah. I don’t have it down yet. I’m working on my physical resemblance. You can tell when he’s going to say something important or it’s going to cost you a couple of bucks: “Look, here’s the deal. I’m going to talk slow at the beginning and speed it up at the end.” There’s definitely a cadence. It was hard in the beginning to make fun of Obama. But I think he’s become more human to people, so it’s a little bit easier.
How different will your show at the Monte Carlo be from your regular act?
It will be my stand-up show on steroids.