Charles Barkley Reveals that John Madden Tried to Sue Frank Caliendo Over His Madden Impression
Some people say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. John Madden was not one of them.
NBA legend and broadcasting guru Charles Barkley has long said that professional impressionist Frank Caliendo has the best Barkley voice of anyone he’s ever met. The Barkley character was a part of the most (or only) memorable moments from Caliendo’s run on Frank TV, a two-season TBS sketch series that showcased Caliendo’s chameleonic impression skills as he imitated just about every prominent member of American media in 2007 — including a certain late, great NFL coach and commentator.
On the most recent episode of Barstool Sports’ Spittin’ Chiclets YouTube show, Barkley spoke to hockey veterans Ryan Whitney and Paul Bissonnette about an unexpected call he received from the man who launched a thousand video games. According to Barkley, Madden attempted to recruit him in building a case against Caliendo in order to silence the comic’s insulting impressions using the long, litigious arm of the law. Little did Madden know that he could have just waited two years for TBS to do it for him, sans lawsuit.
“I remember this phone call I got from my agent. He says, ‘Hey, John Madden wants to talk to you,’” Barkley recalled. “He called me, I said, ‘Hey, you’re the best. It’s an honor and a privilege.’ He says, ‘Thank you. … I want to talk to you about a lawsuit I’m thinking about filing on this asshole Frank Caliendo.’”
The Chuckster continued, “I’m like, ‘What?’ He says, ‘This asshole, have you seen the impersonation he does? I hate it and I’m thinking about filing a lawsuit.’” Barkley repeated the old adage about flattery, saying that he personally found Caliendo’s impression of him to be amusing and complimentary. The coach didn’t see it that way.
Barkley said of the awkward end to the conversation, “I don’t want to insult John Madden. I was like, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what? Let me talk to my agent and my representation and I’ll get back to you.’ I never called him back.”
Fortunately, Caliendo did manage to make amends with the late legend without any lawyers present. In 2017, the comedian told The Chicago Tribune about his chance meeting with Madden at the Super Bowl, describing how he bridged the gap with the gruff coach by doing the Madden impression for the man’s own grandkids. “I broke the ice with the kids and I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m the guy who talks like your grandfather: (Madden voice) ‘If you don’t finish your dinner, you don’t get any dessert!’” Caliendo recalled. “The kids look at Madden. They look at me. Nothing. It was the longest three seconds in my life. And suddenly the kids start to crack up, and then it was like a light bulb went on in Madden’s head: ‘I get it now!’”