Frank Caliendo to raise voices at Dover Downs

Comedian/impressionist Frank Caliendo will perform at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center Jan. 18. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — When talking to Frank Caliendo, you’re never quite sure who you’re speaking to.

During a 15-minute phone conversation Tuesday afternoon, his voices ranged from a young Al Pacino and Bill Clinton to Donald Trump and even Billy Crystal.

On Jan. 18, Mr. Caliendo, the well-known comedian and impressionist, comes to Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center, bringing along many of his famous friends.

Although these days he finds himself doing more standup material rather than impressions in smaller clubs, he says the Dover Downs show will consist mainly of material for what he’s best known.

“It will be ‘a best of’ show with some new stuff mixed in. In clubs, my stuff has been kind of raw but you can’t really do that in casinos where people are paying higher prices than they would in clubs where I can be a little more experimental,” he said Tuesday by phone while waiting for a flight in the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

“So it’s a business situation as opposed to messing around in clubs.”

He’s looking to branch out in other comic directions, which includes more mainstream comedy, including bits about his family, for example.

“The difficult thing is when you get known for doing one thing, sometimes you want to do some other stuff. But it’s a gradual thing and I just can’t just abandon the impressions either. It would be like if you saw Billy Joel in concert and he did ‘Piano Man’ first and moved on to other things,” he said.

To that end, he’s starting up a soon-to-be-released series of podcasts with fellow comedian Al Jackson called “Al and Frank Try to be Serious.”

They already have four episodes ready to go, about sports, being a dad, comic books and social commentary.

“But not like social commentary where one’s on one side and one’s on the other and there’s a lot of fighting.” he said.

“And there’s still an impression here and there. I’m just trying to drive it to be more of an entity of my own.”

The 44-year-old Chicago native burst on the scene as a cast member on the Fox television sketch comedy show “Mad TV” from 2001 to 2006 with dead-on impressions.

Later, he starred in his own TBS series “Frank TV” from 2007 to 2008 where he portrayed a bevy of characters in different sketches.

But sports fans know him best for his NFL predictions each Sunday for 10 seasons as a guest on the “Fox NFL Sunday” pregame show. He still appears on ESPN programs mimicking sports personalities such as former TV commentator and current Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and former basketball star and analyst Charles Barkley.

He said he never specifically started out to have his niche be sports impressions.

“That was just born out of laziness. The sports people were the ones I could do, so I kept doing them and that’s what I became known for,” he said.

“So not only did I pigeonhole myself to be an impressionist but I pigeonholed myself to be a sports impressionist.”

His best known voice has always been another former Oakland football coach and commentator, John Madden.

Mr. Madden retired from sports broadcasting in 2009 and as Mr. Caliendo pointed out, his voice isn’t even heard on his popular line of video games anymore. But he’s still a big hit with a segment of Mr. Caliendo’s fans.

“Mostly the older ones now. It’s him and Morgan Freeman. For the younger ones, it’s Charles Barkley or Donald Trump, whatever side they are on,” he said.

He sometimes even has people thinking he is Mr. Madden.

“I coach my kid’s flag football team. And we got beat once and the coach was running around saying ‘I just beat John Madden.’ And I’m like ‘Dude, I’m not John Madden. I’m more like (fashion designer) Steve Madden than I am John Madden,” he said.

Although he has done President Trump for years, he said he did have a Plan B had Hillary Clinton won the election in 2016.

“I would have just brought back Bill. ‘I’m back. And this time it’s going to rule,’” he said while imitating the former president.

He established himself as a comic force with his two seasons on “Frank TV.” But he said it was tough going.

“They ended up cutting a lot of the material out of each show for time, which I think took the air out of lot of sketches,” he said.

“They wanted to just have it be me and I was in mostly all of it, which was hard. Eventually they let me have two other friends be in it with me. But it was still me in every scene, which was difficult.

“And the makeup was huge and time consuming. Plus, we did an episode and a half a week, which was tough. When the president of the network said the show was canceled, I was actually OK with it. It was a lot of work.”

As his flight to Indianapolis was about to board, there was time for one last important question.

Keeping in mind that Dover was in Eagles country, who does he like to win the Super Bowl this year?

“Oh it’s gotta be the Eagles,” he said.

“But I’m like Trump. If I was in New Orleans, I would say (slipping into President Trump) ‘I love New Orleans. You guys are going to win. You’re the best.’”

There are still a limited amount of tickets left for Mr. Caliendo’s 9 p.m. show in Dover. Prices range from $30 to $50 and can be purchased online at doverdowns.com.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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