The pingpong enthusiast on Milwaukee’s comedy scene, L.A.’s laundromats and more.
Comedian Frank Caliendo has enjoyed plenty of success since his formative Waukesha years. The impressionist has had his own show on TBS, a lengthy stint on Fox’s “MADtv,” and a stand-up career, which means trips home to perform at the Riverside. He’s currently a regular on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown,” where he provides spot-on impressions of sports personalities, like his hysterical rendering of NFL analyst Jon Gruden.
Were you a sports fan growing up?
I grew up playing baseball, football and basketball. I never did anything, or even thought about doing anything, in the entertainment world. Originally, I went to [the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee] to be a SportsCenter anchor, but I realized I wasn’t going to be good at that. I branched off and made my own thing.
It seems to be working.
It’s good enough.
Any new impressions?
I’ve been trying to work on more characters and not impressions, to work on the acting side of it. Impressions really just have a life span of the person, but characters can live on forever.
How often do you visit?
A couple of times a year – to perform, visit family. I usually go to UWM to play pingpong.
Aren’t you a pingpong aficionado?
I don’t know if that’s the word, but I’ve lost 50 or 60 pounds and that’s been part of it.
What do you think of Milwaukee’s comedy scene?
I don’t know much about it now. [When I started], there was the Comedy Café, Stooges and a couple of others. The Café was always the elite of the clubs. There were open mics, like at the Safe House. I did a little bit of that when I first started. Open mics seem to have gotten bigger, even in laundromats. That’s where they do them in L.A. – laundromats and all kinds of terrible places.
What’s it like to perform at the Riverside?
It’s one of my favorite places to go. It’s a beautiful theater. The people are great, and they have the same shared experiences because I grew up there. I couldn’t tell you what the theater used to be like. I’ve never been a good audience member. I’ve always been a person who holds court.
Frank Caliendo: Jan. 23. Riverside Theater. 116 W. Wisconsin Ave., 414-286-3663, riversidetheater.org.