Making a good impression: Frank Caliendo bringing routine to Penn State

Frank Caliendo chuckled at the thought of picking his favorite impersonation to perform.

“You mean, pick one of my children?” the 40-year-old comedian asked.

His reluctance to decide may come from fondness, but it’s definitely not from a lack of choices. Caliendo’s famed repertoire of impressions extends from former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, to NFL football television analysts John Madden, Chris Berman and Jon Gruden, to actors Morgan Freeman, Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson.

He’s even been experimenting with characters from the film “Avengers,” including actor Chris Hemsworth’s Thor calling out the name of the movie’s villain.

“That’s what’s wrong [with fans],” Caliendo said, with mock disgruntlement. “I work so hard to figure these all out, but then all I have to say is [shifting to match Hemsworth’s voice] ‘Loki!'”

Caliendo will bring all of his impressions to the Eisenhower Auditorium on Penn State’s University Park campus for a comedy show on March 16. The show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale for $47 for orchestra seats from row AA through row A, and $35 for all remaining seats. Parking in the Eisenhower Parking Deck is $5 per vehicle.

Caliendo began honing his impersonations at a young age.

“As a kid, I did little bits of them,” he said, “but I am pretty obsessive-compulsive, so I kept doing more and more.”

When he went to college, he initially majored in broadcast journalism, but decided that he “didn’t want to work for real.” He then tried a comedy improv class.

“They said, ‘You’d be great at stand-up,'” Caliendo remembered, “to which I answered, ‘Which means I suck at this?'”

He hit the college stand-up circuit at age 22, and his first bit that really resonated was his impression of John Madden.

“So I was pigeon-holed right away,” he said.

After “a year or two,” he moved to Los Angeles, where he landed on the Fox sketch comedy show “MADtv.”

He also appeared as a frequent guest of comedian Jimmy Kimmel during bits on “Fox NFL Sunday” telecasts. After Kimmel began his late-night talk show on ABC, Caliendo took over on the football broadcasts.

After nine years on Fox, Caliendo recently moved his comedy takes to ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown.”

“On Fox, it was hard to figure out what to do,” Caliendo said. “ESPN is totally different. Fox was ‘bring a celebrity into a football situation.’ ESPN is ‘do something about ESPN,’ though every once in awhile, I’ll jump back into the ‘bring a celebrity into a situation’ because I don’t know what to do.

“ESPN always wants me to do more, but I like doing them here and there. I would like to a do fake documentary before every Super Bowl and do a draft bit, but when you get into the middle of the season, you start thinking, ‘OK, what jokes haven’t I done? Who’s in jail right now?'”

Caliendo counts Robin Williams among his comedic influences, and the impressionist brings a similar, high-kinetic style to his performances, said Matthew Bolich, advertising director of the Lewistown Sentinel. The Sentinel is presenting Caliendo’s performance.

“He is zany,” Bolich said. “He shifts gears quickly from one impression to another. You have to be on your toes. He does some comedic bits, but the impressions are his strong suit. He goes a mile a minute, and you have to keep up.”

Caliendo, who also counts Jonathan Winters as an inspiration, loves to keep things moving during his stand-up routine.

“I like the old-school impersonators,” but what they did was too slow-paced, Caliendo said. “[Their routines would be] this is this person, and this is what he would do in this situation.

“I like the speed, I like comedians doing things with lots of energy. It seemed more fun to me, so I went that route.”

Bolich expects that Caliendo’s show will thoroughly entertain anyone who attends.

“With Frank Caliendo, he appeals to a broad range of people, especially anyone who likes sports,” Bolich said. “From his appearances on the ‘NFL on Fox’ to ESPN now, he does so many amazing sports impressions. Anyone who is a big sports fan [will love this show], as well as anyone who loves impressions.”

Mirror staff writer Cory Dobrowolsky can be reached at 946-7428.