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First Mover: Frank Caliendo

In taking his pitch-perfect impressions to ESPN, the comedian says it's time to mothball his Madden bit.

Photo: Paul Mobley

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Specs
Age 38
New gig Contributor to ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown
Old gig Comic prognosticator, Fox’s NFL Sunday

So, what sort of role are you going to play on Sunday NFL Countdown?
I’d like to keep some of the basic studio stuff I did when I was at Fox, doing skits and hopefully a little standup. But I’m also planning on doing more taped features, merging the sort of stuff I did before with bits where I go out with a camera and find a subject to really dig into—bring a Kenny Mayne feel into it.

What was the biggest difference between the Fox NFL experience and what they do at ESPN?
Well, the tone’s very different. Fox does the NFL a lot like they program the rest of the network. There’s sort of a locker room sense of humor that prevails. With ESPN, it’s more like a pat-you-on-the-back kind of comedy. I mean, they’ll all get on each other a little bit, but it’s never mean-spirited.

Your new gig gives you an opportunity to bring more “voices” to the show. Who are you working on now?
Doing impressions of ESPN people was not an option before, so right there you have a whole bunch of huge personalities I haven’t had a chance to try on. So, I have Chris Berman down and I’ve been working on my [Ron] Jaworski, my Herm Edwards. One I’ve been having a lot of fun with is Jon Gruden.

It’s kind of weird to ask you to do an impression for a print Q&A, but…
[In Gruden’s voice] Yeah, well, you know the thing about Gruden is, he’s so positive, man. No matter what’s happening, he puts it in a positive light. [In his own voice] And the way he puts that inflection in his voice, that’s the key to getting his voice down.

So it’s a mix of getting a handle on the voice and then wrapping it around some sort of context. Like, when we were talking about how absurd those [State Farm] “Discount Double Check” commercials are…
[In Gruden’s voice] I mean, the people of Green Bay really should show a lot more respect to their starting quarterback. Aaron Rodgers brings the Lombardi Trophy home, and the poor guy can’t so much as go to his local insurance agent without getting heckled. That one guy’s got cheese on his head! I mean, man.

Are there any bits you’ve retired because you’ve been doing them so long? Like, “If I keep this up, I’m going to be Rich Little trotting out Nixon for the zillionth time.”
He’s part of the greatest hits package, but I don’t think I would do John Madden again unless I had a chance to work with him in a skit. That’s the only way it would make sense.

As a comedian whose act doesn’t necessarily translate to Twitter, what’s your take on social media?
With Twitter, it’s a little harder to tell jokes that somebody hasn’t heard already. You have all these people out there sharing their opinions and telling jokes in real time, and by the time you get on, somebody’s already done some version of what you’re trying to do. And then they’ll just kill you for it. I’m glad Twitter wasn’t around when I was getting started.

At this point in your career, how many impressions can you do?
Over 100, if you start counting Walter Brennan. [laughs] I don’t get a lot of requests for that one.