Posts Tagged ‘Charles Barkley’

By W.G. Ramirez

Go to comedian Aries Spears’ twitter page (@AriesSpears) on any given day, at any given moment, and there’s no telling what you’ll find.Aries_Photo

One moment he’s breaking down the NBA like a sports analyst, the next moment you’d think he was on stage in the city of the team he’s bashing. Other times he’s simply offering up questions to his followers, and from what I can tell, is as serious as Kobe Bryant’s comeback on Sunday in looking for answers.

Like on Dec. 1, when he posed the question: “If u had no way out n had to pick ur demise which would u choose: tangle wit a grizzly bear or deal with an angry out of control elephant?” Or on the more serious side, like the one he tweeted on Friday: “Question of the day: if you could only pick 1 for the rest of ur life which would be mandatory to feed ur soul MUSIC OR COMEDY?”

Regardless of the tweet – be it G-rated, PG-13, R, X or Sports Related (yeah, athletics gets its own rating) – there’s no doubt about it, the 38-year-old stand-up genius who can make you think you’re listening to LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, DMX and Jay-Z all in one rap, is as entertaining as they come.

And even if a town like the entertainment capital of the world – my own Las Vegas – is missing out on his live show, following Spears on Twitter not only provides followers with a healthy dose of daily laughter, but also introduces the many personalities and thoughts of a star that has yet to shine his brightest beam.

“I get a lot of love from fans across the world,” said Spears, during a recent phone interview, after he returned home from a show in Northern California. “I almost feel like – how there’s a people’s champ and there’s a paper champ – in this industry I’m the people’s champ, but I’m not the paper champ.

“There are only so many people they let into that country club and put on that letterman’s jacket.”

Metaphorically speaking, of course, Spears may not be allowed into comedy’s country club, but it’s very easy to see him being the headliner for those wearing the letterman’s jackets inside those clubs.

Ranging from movie stars, rap artists to NBA stars, Spears has become a hit with his impressions, to accompany his smack-you-in-the-face humor that may deal with relationships, to society, to racial issues. He’s not a modern day Don Rickles, who was known for attacking every nationality known to mankind, but Spears’ “real talk” humor hits home, at times without anyone noticing the reality of his concept, because they’re caught up in laughter.

The only time that stands out for Spears, in which he second-guessed doing an impression was when former Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin put him on the spot to do a Mike Tyson impersonation – with Tyson sitting alongside him.

“He was like an unchained lion back then,” Spears said. “He might be trained, but any given moment he can flip the switch and claw your face off. He took it with a grain of salt.”

Other times he admitted he’s become giddy when his impressions are brought to light, like the first time he heard Turner Sports basketball host Ernie Johnson mentioned Spears’ impressions of Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley to the two former NBA all-stars.

“It threw me, I was a like a little girl screaming,” said Spears, who transitioned from being a Bulls fan to the Miami Heat when his good friend Shaq signed with the Heat in 2004.

Born in Chicago and raised in New York, Spears makes no qualms about what he was most passionate about growing up – Michael Jordan.

Of course, right?

“I was a Jordan fanatic,” said Spears, a diehard NBA fan, to go along with his fascination for pro boxing. “When Jordan was playing, I was with the Bulls. When he retired, I lost interest in the game.”

It’s no surprise, as most young NBA fans in the mid- to late-80s grew to love His Airness, and then follow him through his championship run(s) in the 1990s. After all, when all you could do was watch TV, and you’re a basketball fan like Spears, Chicago’s flagship station WGN was a cable television goldmine when Jordan played for the Bulls.

“I grew up a television fanatic,” Spears admitted. “My mother had two jobs, so television raised me.”

But something else happened along the way, while Spears would watch TV until he fell asleep, leaving TV to watch him.

“I began mimicking stuff I saw on TV,” Spears said. “I honestly believe it’s something you’re born with. Like the ability to sing, doing an impression is like hitting a note. It’s something I am talented enough to be blessed with.”

But there are serious sides to Spears as well, like when asked his opinion on use of the ‘N’ word, as it’s become the hot topic in the sports world more than ever in 2013.

“It’s never okay for anybody outside out of Blacks to say that, cause history says so,” said Spears, who then rattled off countless historic times of struggle for his race, so fast I couldn’t keep up, but it was clear he was ardent in making his point, from as far back as slavery, through the Civil Rights Movement, to present-day struggles with racism. “Nobody is allowed to say that. I would never say it to a white guy, because if I say it in front of a white guy, I don’t want him to feel comfortable in saying it in front of me. But when we’ve been called that, we’ve always been able to flip that and make it work for us.

“One thing Black people know: not all white people are racists, but as a race they’re known for racism.”

Aries_TwitterThat last line might have been one of the most philosophical things I’d heard surrounding the issue, or anything for that matter, concerning racism. Quick, to the point, and made much more sense than trying to figure out if a glass is half-empty, or half-full.

A lot of our conversation made a lot more sense than plenty of things, like why Spears hasn’t been moved up to comedy’s big leagues, or so it seems. He’s put in his time, he’s leaves audiences in tears and he’s someone to be admired for his climb in a rough-and-tumble business.

“I’m in an industry that’s political,” Spears said “It’s like high school, not everybody gets to sit at the cool kids’ table. I gotta figure out how to play that game. Anybody who has seen my body of work has respect for what I do. Kevin (Hart) can sell out Madison Square Garden. I can’t do that yet.”

I’m not sure how much of that has to do with marketing, rather than talent, quite honestly. Spears has seen and done more than people actually know. His television credentials run deep, dating back to 1993, when he first appeared on A Different World, and includes an eight-year stint on MADtv. Plus, his list of movie credits currently sitting at 10, includes the role of Tee Pee, Rod Tidwell’s “militant brother” in the hit Jerry Maguire.

Spears promises he has some surprises for his fans in 2014, and says he’s yet to peak.

One thing is for sure, after being a fan of Spears for a while now, and speaking at length to him on the various topics, I’d be first in line to pay for a ticket at Madison Square Garden, or even comedy’s country club that has yet to enshrine him.

Heck, I’d just like to see him play Las Vegas.

I guess for now, I’ll stick with Twitter and answer his Questions of the Day.

By W.G. Ramirez

I admit it, when I was a kid I used to have my portable Panasonic cassette player and while watching Monday Night Football would record myself calling the game in Howard Cosell’s voice.

I played Pop Warner football, but also loved the idea of broadcasting. Ask me what I wanted to do back then and the answer is easy: I wanted to play in the NFL. Nevertheless, here I am a 26-year veteran of writing sports. I’ve also done television and plenty of radio.

Never, though, have I revisited those days of impersonating arguably the greatest big mouth in sports broadcasting, rest his soul. So you’ll have to excuse me if I get a little giddy when I watch comedian Frank Caliendo impersonate not just one, but at least a dozen sportscaster personalities from time to time on ESPN.

Seriously, can you imagine an all-star sports-casting roster that would include John Madden, Jim Rome, Colin Cowherd, Stephen A. Smith, Adam Schefter, Mel Kiper, Chris Berman, Jon Gruden, Mike Ditka, Charles Barkley, Bill Walton and Shaquille O’Neal?


Frank Caliendo impersonates Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden on ESPN.

Catch him during an interview on ESPN’s Mike and Mike, and Caliendo might provide you with every last one of them, and then some, leaving you in tears of laughter when it’s all said and done.

The stand-up comic, who will be appearing in Las Vegas at the Orleans Hotel on Friday and Saturday, has successfully carved a niche into the sports world, by slicing his brand of comedy and impersonation into pre-game shows on Fox and ESPN the past 13 years. After doing his famed-Madden on Fox NFL Sunday during the 2000 season, Caliendo was invited back as a semi-regular guest the next two years before joining Fox’s pre-game show as a prognosticator in 2003. That lasted until 2012, when his tenure came to an end, and a new one began on ESPN.

Since signing a contract with ESPN, Caliendo has not only expanded his arsenal of characters, but has grown his popularity among even more diehard sports fans while portraying some of the most lovable characters on the entertainment and sports network.

“The people who watch ESPN are a different group than that watch Fox overall,” said Caliendo, during a phone interview on Tuesday. “I think ESPN people tend to watch a lot of ESPN and know everyone on ESPN. … Some of these guys, it plays way better to do it on ESPN than it would anywhere else cause you’re playing for the right audience.

“They see it, and they go crazy.”


A regular guest every so often on the Mike and Mike show, Caliendo was announced as a newcomer to ESPN’s pre-game show by Berman, and the comic immediately broke into an impersonation of the host, explaining how the panelists each take their turn at frustrating “Boomer.”

But it wasn’t until his Gruden impersonation took off, and later his Kiper bit, when viewers normally interested in whether or not quarterbacks were available for their fantasy teams or just interested in updated news on their teams, were tuning in to see who Caliendo would portray next.


Frank Caliendo, l, appears as Mel Kiper in a bit alongside analyst Todd McShay.

“The one thing about the football sketches is you have one shot every week,” the 39-year-old veteran comedian said. “If you’re on Saturday Night Live, there’s eight sketches, there’s a cast. If two of ’em are great, if two of ’em are good and the rest aren’t very good at all, people think it’s a great show. If I go on and do one, and it stinks, people remember for it a month. You’re trying to do new stuff, you’re trying to play it safe. It’s a difficult thing.”

Other than the Sports Show with Norm Macdonald, a short-lived sports comedy series, Caliendo said he can’t remember anyone that’s been able to sustain a calling for sports comedy. In fact, he said, there were times while at Fox he felt his time to leave was overdue, simply because there were some weeks he felt out of place.

“Fox is like a magazine; nice pictures, a layout, a Bacardi insert you can sniff,” he said. “You go to ESPN, it’s like a newsroom. Everybody’s in cubicles, there’s stats everywhere … it’s just a completely different feel. Not to say one is better than the other, it’s just a very different type of thing.

“What I like about ESPN (is) we kind of do stuff when I have an idea, or when they have an idea they think I can do. Usually the stuff for me parodies ESPN and that’s what I found really works there. It’s a very different kind of feel from Fox to ESPN.”

It also make it easier that the targeted audience is the right demographic, one that already watches the network daily and understands the nuances and smallest details of the people Caliendo is poking fun at with his bits. Throw in the fact the sports anchors and personalities at the network have no problem being a part of the skits, and Caliendo says there’s legitimate feeling that allows for an element of surprise that not only makes his job easier, but also a bit more fun.

“At ESPN, they let me have way more creative freedom in terms of the sketches,” he said. “At Fox, it really just became a formula of ‘we’re going to take topical jokes and try and do ’em with whatever character.’ At ESPN, it’s really making more fun of ESPN than anything. The fact that ESPN is doing that themselves, I think you can’t beat that, because (they’re) in on the joke.

“It creatively, especially last year, was one of the most fun times I’ve had because I got hungry again to do something different.”


ESPN wanted him to do even more this year, but Caliendo said he didn’t have the ideas to support the networks plans, and so rather than be tied to a contract he couldn’t honor – basically not biting off more than he can chew – he has spaced his appearances out and plans on returning to the pre-game show as the playoffs approach. He revealed he’s working on several personalities, including former Philadelphia Eagle and football analyst Ron Jaworski, but also said there a couple of things that don’t include impressions.

Caliendo said he’s also had plenty of opportunities to tackle other new projects, but above all things, he said he remains focused on what he calls his No. 1 priority: being a father.

“My career is kind of second,” Caliendo said. “I’ve got two little kids, and most of the time I’m more worried about them and helping them with homework and stuff like that than anything else.”

And while long-term projects take a backseat to his children – because at the present time they’re at the point in their lives “they still like me,” he joked – short jaunts to Las Vegas, like this weekend, he doesn’t mind.

“The great thing about the city is, there’s pretty good food there,” he said, laughingly. “There’s always stuff going on. The entertainment, the amount of different things you can go see, even in one night, is amazing.”

But don’t expect to see his ESPN characters while he’s on stage at the Orleans, where you’re more likely to be entertained by his George Bush, Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams, Morgan Freeman and of course the always-popular John Madden impersonations. Sure, he’ll probably throw Charles Barkley and/or Shaquille O’Neal in there, but it’s all a matter of finding a groove with the audience he’s performing for at the time.

“It may vary a little bit from city to city, but with Vegas I generally have to keep it pretty broad,” he said. “You kind of just feel it out to see what you might spend a little more time on than something else. That’s the weird thing about a Vegas … you might have somebody from Baltimore, sitting next to somebody from Mississippi, sitting next  to somebody from Los Angeles. They’re going to laugh at different things. It’s not a cohesive group. I just try to hit a little bit of everything and whatever people like I stick with a little bit more and maybe improvise a little off of that.”

Who knows, maybe he’ll even throw in a little Cosell for yours truly.