Frank Caliendo, table tennis, and the sticky question of hometown ties
Also discussed: Chester French, Orson Welles, jet skiing with Mark Zuckerberg
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Whenever a complete stranger asks me for my opinion of comedian Frank Caliendo (something that happens more often than you would think), I typically answer: “Extreme ambivalence mixed with murderous rage.” The kinda-sorta local boy-made-good has carved out a career both impressive and mildly irritating: A long run on MADtv (a terrible show, but still), his own show on TBS (it tanked, but still), and a regular gig on FOX NFL Sunday (co-hosted by Terry Bradshaw, but still) have turned the unassuming, Waukesha-raised comedian into a household name. And good for him. He seems like a nice guy, and a few of his impressions make me chuckle. Still, there are only so many times I can hear his “John Madden eating a turkey leg” voice before I want to put my head in an oven.
So imagine my delight/mild irritation when I discovered the following video, which mixes up a lethal cocktail of vague annoyances: Frank Caliendo and table tennis. In what appears to be an extremely rough promo, Caliendo shills for the 2011 United States Open Table Tennis Championship, scheduled for June 30-July 4 at the Frontier Airlines Center. Cue the flop sweat and George W. Bush voice!
Huh. Who knew Frank Caliendo was a table tennis fan? (Another video proves he’s not half-bad, either.) And who knew Milwaukee was hosting the 2011 United States Open Table Tennis Championship?
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about Caliendo’s local ties, which are just as dicey as his De Niro. Sure, he graduated from Waukesha South, and yes, he studied mass communication at UWM, but as far as I can tell, he never made a mark on Milwaukee. I’m fairly hip to our local comedy scene, and I don’t recall ever hearing his name bandied about town. Online bios for Caliendo typically make reference to an emceeing gig at an unnamed “Milwaukee comedy club,” but no club I know of claims to have given him his first big break. (Any help, readers?) So is it me, or is Frank Caliendo the Chester French of Milwaukee comics? You know, local, but not really local.
But should these questionable hometown ties bother us? A lot of people get peeved whenever Chester French is described as a “Milwaukee band,” or Garbage is described as a “Madison band,” but rarely are those labels tossed around by the groups themselves. (It seems the only time a band and/or a celebrity will cop to somewhat humble roots is when it helps establish a cred-boosting, “jes’ plain folks” image.) Instead, it seems that small towns and overlooked states are the guilty parties. How many times have you heard about “Kenosha-born Orson Welles?” Sure, it’s swell that Welles was born in Wisconsin, but he’s hardly an example of a local success story.
Of course, the question of origins and hometown cred is ultimately irrelevant—Caliendo is still getting paid handsomely to make silly voices and yuk it up in table tennis promos, and Chester French is probably jet skiing with Pharrell and Mark Zuckerberg as we speak. (Sadly, Welles isn’t up to much these days.) Somehow, I doubt they’re losing much sleep over any missed Shepherd Express “Best Of” awards. Or, for that matter, a blog contemplating their Milwaukee-ness.
And, like I said before, good for them. As for the Table Tennis Championship, we can only hope that Caliendo pulls himself away from his Tom Cruise impression (or is it Ben Stiller doing Tom Cruise?) and makes a Milwaukee appearance. It’ll be like he never left.