Frank Caliendo's phone didn't stop ringing. That's because on Thursday, the comedian became a punchline of sorts.
Q: What happens when John Madden retires?
A: Frank Caliendo starts looking for work.
"Frank Caliendo is doing alright," he assured me in a phone call from his Phoenix home yesterday. "I'll be OK."
Here's what else he had to say – in his voice, in President Bush's and in Madden's.
Question: What's the day been like for you?
Caliendo: It's been kind of crazy. Everyone's been calling, SportsCenter, NBC News – which I thought was kind of odd – just everyone. It's kind of weird, a lot of people thought of me, that was the first thing they thought. It's an interesting thing.
Question: Well, what does this mean for you?
Caliendo: They say he's healthy and stuff, which is a good note for him – and possibly me.
Usually, when a person passes away, as far as the impression goes, that's where you have to stop it for a while. I think Madden will still be relevant in football. I think you'll still hear him once in a while.
Question: What are other people asking you?
Caliendo: People have been asking me, "What's your statement? What's your statement?" The first thing I thought of was President Bush talking about Barack Obama taking office: [In Bush voice:] He deserves my silence.
Question: Well, what I want to know is what Madden meant to you when you were younger, before he became a part of your act.
Caliendo: I grew up in Wisconsin. We were Packers fans through and through. In that part of the country – you know, you're in Baltimore – people really, really care about their football. For me, even before Madden went to Fox, he was at CBS. When he went to the NFC and we were seeing him during Packers games all the time, we were mad at him because he seemed to love the Cowboys so much. Of course, eventually it turned into him loving the Packers and Brett Favre.
I mean, growing up, Madden is football. And football is Madden. They go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. You say his name, football comes to mind. You say football, and you're picturing his face.
Question: There are others – guys like Dick Vitale and Howard Cosell – but what makes Madden different? Will we see another one like him?
Caliendo: I think he is very unique. Some people say Tom Cruise was the last big movie star movie star. Maybe him Tom Hanks, maybe Will Smith, but not as big a scale. I personally enjoy Troy [Aikman] and Joe [Buck] and those guys. But it's different now. It's hard to explain. Maybe because graphics and the imagery of the game is so life-like now that you feel like you're there. But I think there will be some time before we ever see a guy like John Madden come along again. …I'm sure we'll see it because you never say never, but to me, it's Cosell and Madden. They're just different.
Question: If he wasn't so big, you probably wouldn't have gotten as much mileage out of a Madden impression, right?
Caliendo: Part of the thing with Madden is so many different demographics know him, from small kids playing video game to people who see him in commercials and Ace Hardware, to his coaching days with the Raiders to broadcasting. Terry Bradshaw is that same way. He's in movies, commercials, broadcasting. They're so famous that you hit so many different people. You can't really hide from them.
Question: And he's a unique character. I mean, the way he talks…
Caliendo: You want that, especially when you're younger. You want the booms, the whaps, the pows. That makes it more fun. To a lot of people, I think, that makes it football.
Question: How did your impression come about?
Caliendo: I was in broadcast journalism major in college (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee). It evolved. I would try it out on people and it would be OK. It took years to get to the point where it is now – you can interchange us on the phone at times. That's one of the things that always scared Madden. [In Madden voice:] You can't tell that it's not me saying that stuff [inaudible mumbling] cuz he's saying [more mumbling] some silly things.
Question: (Laughing because even though I hated the FrankTV commercials during the World Series, on the phone, you think you're talking to Madden.) What's he told you about the impression?
Caliendo: I've never actually met him.
Question: Really? Weren't you at Fox at the same time?
Caliendo: Jimmy Kimmel would bring me on for sketches, but we were never in the same place. I was always told he wasn't quite fond, though. I always wanted to meet him to say hey. Usually when people meet you, they get it more. I've had critics all over the place telling me I'm the worst thing in the world for football. They come to see me and see what I do, and they might still rip me, but they'll at least say, 'Hey, I get it now.'
Comedy in sports is a very different thing. Natural comedy is one thing. On the set – JB and Terry and the guys – it's like hanging out in the locker room. But a comedy bit, very difficult to do. It took us a couple of years to really get going with it. But we've come into our own now.