YOU MIGHT think

Frank Caliendo

would have been quite upset when George W. Bush left the White House last month - and not for political reasons. After all, the 43rd president unintentionally helped propel the Chicago native's career as, arguably, the top impressionist working today.

While countless entertainers made comedic hay from Bush's perceived lack of brainpower, Caliendo's vocal and facial imitations really accentuated W.'s foibles. But while Bush is gone, he's hardly forgotten by Caliendo, who does two shows at Borgata tomorrow.

"I've cut down a lot of the Bush stuff, but people laugh more now than they did when he was president," noted Caliendo during a recent phone chat from his Phoenix-area home. "You don't get the people who would get angry [at his impersonation] before. Everyone laughs pretty hard at it."

On a purely show-business level, President Obama's election was probably the worst possible outcome for Caliendo, who claimed he's still working on his impression of our new commander in chief. The main impediment, not surprisingly, is Obama's race.

"I can pull-off the occasional African-American [imitation]," he said referring to his dead-on, makeup-enhanced take on former Sixer Charles Barkley, who sort of shares Caliendo's somewhat husky build.

But beyond the vocal and physical aspects of portraying Obama, there's a much thornier situation for Caliendo, who peppered the conversation with shtick employing the voices of Bush, Barkley, actor William Shatner and others.

"There are a lot of black/white issues out there," he offered. "No one knows what you can say and what you can't say. It's probably easier for a black comic."

And then there is the "honeymoon" period with the media and public that Obama is currently enjoying. "If Bush had signed [the bailout bill] then took three days off and went out to St. Valentine's Day dinner, people would be ripping him," Caliendo said. "But people like to give a new president a chance."

Beyond his live act, Caliendo's career is somewhat checkered these days. He just re-upped for two more years as a featured performer on FOX's NFL pre-game show (on which he has showcased his withering John Madden impersonation). And he recently released a full-length DVD, "All Over the Place."

But his weekly Tuesday night sketch-comedy series, "Frank TV," has been canceled by TBS after a star-crossed, two-season run. The first season was sabotaged by the Hollywood writers' strike; this year's run included an early episode that aired opposite election night coverage, a blow he has described as fatal.

But Caliendo, whose vocal arsenal also includes actors Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, has a decidedly "What, me worry?" approach to his still-ascending career. He admitted that because he is hardly a "type-A" personality, it's hard for him to mourn the loss of a job that was so labor-intensive (writing and producing a weekly TV show called for regular 14-or-more-hour days).

"I'm getting really lazy," he admitted.

He may be getting lazy, but he is hardly getting the kind of ego that is part and parcel of the show business world. Even at this stage of his career, Caliendo schedules his interviews himself via e-mail, rather than have a retinue of "people" do it for him.

But, he said with tongue planted firmly in cheek, if things work out the way he'd like them to, and his career burns even hotter, the days of such cordial accessibility will be history.

"Hopefully," he said, "I'll become a bigger jerk!"

Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, 1 Borgata Way, 7 and 10 p.m., $40, 1-866-900-4849, www.theborgata.com.

Dining for (less) dollars

The first Atlantic City Restaurant Week kicks off Sunday, offering seven days' worth of culinary bargains.

Among the high-end gaming-hall eateries offering the region-wide $15.09 (per person) lunches and $33.09 dinners are Cuba Libre (Tropicana), Gallagher's (Resorts), Il Mulino New York (Taj Mahal), McCormick & Schmick (Harrah's) and Izakaya (Borgata).

Non-casino participants include Stephen Starr's Chelsea Prime, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Girasole Ristorante (which next month opens an outlet inside the Symphony House condos at Broad and Pine streets) and Knife & Fork Inn.

The program is the brainchild of Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority President Jeffrey Vassar and his vice president of marketing, Maureen Siman.

According to Vassar, even before the first order is taken, the event is an unqualified hit, at least from a participation standpoint.

"We were going to define success as 25 restaurants, and we have 74 signed up," he crowed during a Tuesday night preview bash at The Pool at Harrah's.

When asked if the two-years-in-the-planning Restaurant Week comes at a bad time, given Atlantic City's current financial woes, Vassar insisted just the opposite is true.

"I think the timing is propitious because the economy is bad," he reasoned. "Everything I'm hearing [suggests] the restaurants will be jammed during Restaurant Week, [especially] the smaller operations. And that is just fantastic."

For more info including a list of all participating restaurants, go to www.acrestaurant

week.com. *

Chuck Darrow has covered Atlantic City and the casino industry for more than 20 years. Read his blog at

http://go.philly.com/casinotes. Or e-mail him at darrowc@phillynews.com.