Frank Caliendo is sure to make a good impression at Lake Tahoe’s greatest sporting event.
The comedian appears at MontBleu Saturday, July 19, the night after the second round of the American Century Championship. In its 25th year, the celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe stars Charles Barkley. Now there will be two of him.
A “tirble” golfer but a great sport, Barkley chastised Caliendo for spending so much time trying to be him. Barkley may not be a role model, but Caliendo’s caricature of him is something everyone loves.
“Chuck told me to keep doing impressions of me,” Caliendo told Tahoe Onstage. “I asked, ‘Why?’ ‘Because every time you do it, I make more money.’ ”
Caliendo has only been to the celebrity tourney once before, when Aaron Rodgers was a backup to Brett Favre and the comedian was in Tahoe for a private event, figuring his days impersonating sports figures would soon end. His contract with Fox Sports, where he appeared in pregame sketches, was about to end.
“I wasn’t going to do any more football stuff,” Caliendo said “I didn’t know what I was going to do. Fox kind of said, ‘This is the end,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, OK, I agree.’ I wished I would have had another year, just a goodbye year. Then ESPN wanted to do something with fans, something completely different.”
Caliendo’s impression of NFL analyst John Madden allowed his foot in the NFL door, but his work with ESPN has him using that foot to kickoff jokes better that Sebastian Janikowski with the wind at his back.
“With the Fox stuff I was always doing celebrities from mainstream entertainment and then apply it to football,” Caliendo said. “And now with ESPN it’s really to find a way to make fun of ESPN or have fun with an ESPN concept. It’s more self-parodying of ESPN than anything. That’s widened me to find a bunch of new impressions. I was always just doing the same stuff at Fox.”
Caliendo honed his craft after suffering an injury when he was a University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee sophomore broadcast journalism major.
“I hurt my back really bad and couldn’t even walk for a little while,” he said. “So I worked on voices because there was nothing else to do. I went onstage once and it didn’t go very well. Then two years after the injury I started going onstage and people were liking it.”
He said his goal is to hear a “recognition moment in a laugh.”
“I just let the audience judge,” he said. “If they’re laughing, I don’t care if it’s right on the money or not. To me it’s not about being exact, it’s about getting the laughs. … I am doing impressions of what you think the person sounds like.”
Caliendo came into the national spotlight as a cast member for “MADtv.” After a few seasons, however, his creativity was stymied.
“They would have a George Bush sketch and a John Madden sketch every week,” he said. “That tainted me a little bit. I wanted try to other stuff.”
The Madden impression landed the Fox job working with Jimmy Kimmel. Now with ESPN, he’s gained wider popularity with sports fans. However, he said he varies material for standup performances.
“If I throw out a sports guy, then I will throw out something that’s nonsports so I don’t ever lose the audience,” Caliendo said. “Charles Barkley is beyond sports so I throw him up early in the show.”
But Caliendo is cognizant of the sports fans in the crowd.
“I might do Mel Kiper Jr. at the end of a show and it will be for seven people out of 500,” he said. “But those seven people are the happiest people in the room. That’s what they had come to see.”
A “30-for-30 Mocumentory” on Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman (VIDEO) is what Caliendo considers his best work. In it he impersonates coaches John Gruden, Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, Jim Harbaugh and Mike Ditka, analysts Ron Jaworski, Adam Schefter, Kiper and presidents Bush and Clinton.
His parody of Gruden is dead-on. With scowling eyebrows and a visor, he described Sherman: “I call him Control Alt Delete because on the football field, whatever windows are open, he closes them up in a hurry.”
In a separate sketch, “Quarterback Camp,” he drew up some plays with the ex-Raiders and Buccaneers coach, calling for an “Albacore 3 Wide Casa Dilla.”
“I didn’t know how he would take me at the beginning,” Caliendo said “He’s a fun guy and a funny guy but it’s always one of those things were when you are a football coach, people are always looking up to you all the time. They start to get it and they start to have fun with it. (It led to) me grilling him and he’s just laughing his butt off.”
Caliendo said he’s lost 60 pounds in three years, 30 in the last year.
“So I look a lot more like people I’m doing impressions of now,” he said. “When you see the ‘30 for 30’ of the Gruden thing I did, there is a total difference from two years ago when I looked like Cartman from ‘South Park.’
“When I did George Bush I used to say I looked like him if he got stung by a bee and had an allergic reaction. People are so mean on Twitter. They used to go, ‘You’re fat and you suck. Well now they really just say, ‘You suck.’ ”
Caliendo began to learn the football world has affection for him during his previous time in Tahoe. Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlesberger approached him with the enthusiasm of a star struck fan.
And at another appearance, he received an ironic piece of advice from Joe Theismann, another Tahoe celebrity golf regular.
“It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard,” Caliendo said. “I was going up onstage and Joe Theismann says to me, ‘Break a leg, buddy.’ ”
The last time Caliendo saw Barkley, it was at a Phoenix Suns charity event. The plan was for Caliendo to open his standup show with a couple of Barkley jokes, then do 25 minutes of other stuff before doing the Barkley impression again, and then have Barkley join him onstage.
“He came up after a minute and a half,” Caliendo said. “He said he couldn’t take it anymore.”
Expect more improvisation during celebrity golf week.
Does Caliendo golf?
“Not very well,” the comedian said. “But that hasn’t stopped Chuck.”
This is going to be fun.
Doors open at 8 p.m.
Show starts at 9 p.m.
Tickets: $54.50 & $64.50 (+$3 facility fee)