To say Pablo Francisco is an impressionist comedian is an understatement. An impression is merely an appearance or suggestion of something. Francisco does full-on duplications. These have included everything from Kermit the Frog as a drug dealer to Arnold Schwarzenegger as a little tortilla vendor.
Francisco, 40, will bring his personas and more to town for a string of performances from July 10–13 at the Pittsburgh Improv. Before that, Entertainment Central spoke to him over the phone to discuss his comedic beginnings and how he keeps that Schwarzenegger impression fresh after 23 years of standup.
Pablo Left His Home In Tucson, Arizona
The Tucson-born Francisco remembers being a kid and seeing impressionist and voice actor Rich Little on television. Little, known as “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” was an early inspiration. Other comedic influences included Steve Martin and Benny Hill. Francisco said he appreciates contemporaries such as Joe Rogan, Carlos Mencia, and Dane Cook.
He also acknowledged his father’s role in developing his sense of humor: “My dad was always the life of the party. He had good timing when it came down to entertaining people.”
Perhaps the most pivotal moment in Francisco’s early life came when two cousins introduced him to an old-fashioned RCA tape recorder. He would use it to practice not only his impersonations but also the sound effects he now employs on stage. These range from a DJ scratching to the “lub-dub” of a beating heart.
Ultimately, practicing and goofing off in front of his friends made him want to take his impressions to the stage. “I would make fun of everyone’s mom but in a good way. After a while, the reaction was there at the parties, and it turned into amateur nights,” he said. Those amateur nights were made possible by a brother’s fake I.D., as Francisco was only 17 when he first took the stage. Early venues included Laffs Comedy Caffe in Tucson, a jewel in a city not exactly on the mainstream comedy circuits: Laffs has also hosted the likes of Tim Allen and Robin Williams.
After high school, Francisco studied film at United States International University (now Alliant International University) in San Diego. Jamie Foxx, who was still going by his birth name, Eric Bishop, also attended USIU. Foxx encouraged Francisco to perform at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, and he moved there shortly after.
The Man with the Golden Voice
In 1996 Francisco became a featured player on “MADtv.” In 2000, he performed a half-hour special on “Comedy Central Presents.” One-hour Comedy Central specials have since followed: “OUCH!” in 2006 and “They Put It Out There” in 2011. In 2001 and 2002, he joined Carlos Mencia and the late Freddy Soto as part of “The Three Amigos” comedy tour.
Later Francisco would guest-appear on Mencia’s Comedy Central series “Mind of Mencia, ”performing as “Movie Voiceover Dude,” arguably his most famous recurring impersonation. The character is a take-off of the late Don LaFontaine. (I know, who? But if you have ever been to the movies, you probably heard LaFontaine’s deep bass; he narrated 5,000 film trailers.)
In 2008, LaFontaine himself joined Francisco and “MADtv” alum Frank Caliendo in a sketch titled “The 3 Trailers.” It ran on Caliendo’s comedy series, “Frank TV.” Prior to the taping, Francisco got to chill with LaFontaine at the trailer-master’s house. Two hours into the hang-out, LaFontaine, apropos of nothing, decided to play concert footage of his favorite musicians. “I was ripping on every single one of them,” Francisco said of LaFontaine’s taste in music, which included Michael Bublé. But, to show it was all in good jest, he added, “I couldn’t believe how nice he was. He was telling me about the business. We bonded for five hours at his house.”
Jukebox of Comedy
Francisco likened his style to a comedy jukebox: “If people request, we’ll throw it out and put it back in.” Mark Wahlberg is the newest addition to the rotation. (“Hey, man, what’s the deal?” the impressionist said in a voice that could have been straight out of the new Transformers movie.)
As for impressions he has been doing since the ‘90s, like Schwarzenegger: “People say, ‘Are you still doing that?’ Yeah, but it’s going to be different. It’s going to have a twist.” This year’s twist is “Arnold Making Love to Various Celebrities.” If you are worried about losing your appetite during the bit, Francisco guaranteed that it will come later in the set, “after the food has been eaten.”
Francisco and some of his peers have an upcoming special on NuvoTV, an English-language Latino cable channel that recently brought in Jennifer Lopez as a partner and executive. He described the special, titled “Here We Go Again,” as Dave Chappelle meets cartoons. When asked what else he would like to add to his resume, Francisco responded, “Right now, getting back into film. Of course, I want to do movies. The movies are a fun thing. Movies and to make fun of things around the world.”
Pittsburgh, however, was not included as one of those things to make fun of. He made sure to say that he has “a great time in Pittsburgh. We have the best time there, always.” Francisco, who is of Chilean descent, may even have dual citizenship with Steelers Nation: “My grandfather couldn’t speak any English, but one thing he liked was the Steelers.”
Pablo Francisco is a top-notch performer with black and gold in his blood. And if that’s not enough, consider this invitation: “Start the party at Pablo’s place at the Improv. You don’t have to talk to your date. The lights go down, and we do the talking.”
For tickets and showtimes, visit the Pittsburgh Improv site. Comedians Steve Kramer and Sean Savoy will be opening.
Special thanks to Ani Istanboulian.
Chris Maggio is a freelance writer who likes live music and good comedy.