Howie Mandel’s successful stab at just about anything he’s ever tried—standup comedy, acting, game show host, talk show host, voice acting, cartoon creator, executive producer and talent judge on TV’s popular “America’s Got Talent”—is more of a surprise to Mandel than anybody else. Even after almost 40 years, Mandel can’t believe all that he’s accomplished and achieved considering there was never any inclination as to came next.
The Canadian-born Mandel wasn’t exactly a model student growing up. He regularly got in trouble for things like using funny voices in class or impersonating a member of the school board and signing a construction contract to make an addition to his high school. From an education standpoint, Mandel wasn’t voted most likely to do anything with his life. His playful observations and intelligence was much bigger than any one classroom could contain.
He didn’t really have a game plan for the future either. He had no idea what his life would bring. If anybody learned to roll with whatever punches the universe had in store for him it was Mandel. He seemed to find success in life doing all the things that were frowned upon when he was growing up. Along his path of going wherever the cosmic wind blew him, he discovered a love for comedy.
After leaving school, tried his hand as a standup comedian at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto and by September 1978, Mandel had a week-long booking as the featured act, billed as “a wild and crazy borderline psychotic,” a shtick that served him quite well. His double entendre lines and self-created silly props were clever and fun. His repertoire included placing a latex glove over his head and inflating it by blowing through his nose, the fingers of the glove extending above his head like a cockscomb. When the audience reacted uproariously to that and similar antics, his trademark response was to extend his arms palms up, look incredulous, and say, “what?”
On a trip to Los Angeles, Mandel performed a set at The Comedy Store, which resulted in his becoming a regular performer there. A producer for the comedic game show “Make Me Laugh” saw him and booked Mandel for several appearances during the show’s run in 1979. He was booked to open for David Letterman at shows in the summer that same year. CBC-TV’s head of variety programming saw his performance in October and signed him for a TV special.
His most popular standup segment was his voicing the character of “Little Bobby,” often performed on his comedy specials and on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” Mandel is also known for his frequent appearances as a comedian and his hidden camera segments on Carson’s show.
The ’80s and ’90s were particularly busy times for Mandel.
He came to national attention in the US during a six-year run on “St. Elsewhere,” starting in 1982. He also did movies,such as the voice of Gizmo in the 1984′s Gremlins and its 1990 sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch. In 1986, he starred in A Fine Mess alongside Ted Danson.
He performed his standup comedy act in several cities (the Watusi Tour), which was followed by his Watusi music video in 1987.
He starred on the 1987 comedy film Walk Like a Man. He was also “Maurice” in the 1989 movie Little Monsters.
He was the creator and executive producer of the Emmy-nominated children’s animated series “Bobby’s World” (1990–1998), to which he supplied the voices of the title character and his father. “Bobby’s World” ran for eight seasons on Fox and was later syndicated.
In April 2004, he was selected as number 82 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest stand up comedians of all time.
Along the way, Mandel became the host of the NBC game show “Deal or No Deal,” as well as the show’s daytime and Canadian-English counterparts. During the fifth season of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” Mandel became a judge, replacing David Hasselhoff and continues with the reality talent contest now in its 11th season.
Mandel has mysophobia (an irrational fear of germs) to the point that he does not shake hands with anyone, including contestants on “Deal or No Deal,” unless he is wearing latex gloves; to that end, he prefers to do “fist bumps” instead.
We talked with Mandel about his humor, his career and the show he brings to Laughlin. Here’s his take…
How do you juggle your live shows with “America’s Got Talent,” hosting game shows, comedy specials, and guest roles, with being a dad, etc?
Mandel: Probably not well, but I do it. I show up, I’m never late, and I’m having a good time. It doesn’t really seem like a lot, I mean, as a list, it’s a lot, but nothing takes an incredible amount of time.
You must be very organized?
Mandel: No, it just doesn’t take a lot of time. Any one of those things—you go visit a grandchild—them I see the most. If I’m on the road and have to go do a concert, it’s a couple of hours, you know? Most people go to work at 8 o’clock in the morning and come home at 8 o’clock at night, and they work really hard. I don’t.
The secret is I don’t do much. I really don’t, but I get paid very well for it. Everything I’ve ever been punished for, expelled for, hit for is what I seem to get paid for. I feel like I’m a lucky guy.
Any new projects in the works?
Mandel: I’m coming there. That’s a good project. Every night I show up on stage, right after someone says, “Ladies and gentlemen, Howie Mandel,” it’s a new project. I look at it like a giant party and I’m just trying to be the center of attention. If people are showing up because they see me on AGT, or remember “Deal Or No Deal,” don’t bring the kids.
We’re guessing of all the things you’ve accomplished in your life will standup always be your first love?
Mandel: It is. I love this because it’s the only thing of all the different things I do where there are no marks to hit, no lines to recite, no editing to do, you know? I can do anything and be anywhere. It’s my primal scream at the end of the day. It’s my favorite thing to do.
Did you ever think in your wildest dreams you’d add game show host to your resume?
Mandel: No, but neither did I have anything that’s on my resume. You know, I didn’t grow up thinking I’d be a comedian, I didn’t think I’d be a dramatic actor on “St. Elsewhere,” I didn’t think I’d have a Saturday morning cartoon, I didn’t think I’d be a game show host, I didn’t think I’d be producer or I didn’t think I’d direct. There is nothing I’m doing that is planned.
Plan or no plan?
Mandel: The chips fall where they may. I don’t blaze a trail, I just follow this path and I’m open to stepping through these opportunities and it’s worked out kind of fun. I never dreamed at this age and at this time and after all these years I would still be doing it or invited places or people would want to come and see me do it.
What’s the strangest thing you never thought you would do?
Mandel: Everything I do seems strange. This phone call seems strange. Who makes phone calls to strangers to talk about themselves. No but I’m saying, everything in this life seems strange, or whatever I’m doing at the moment seems strange. And once somebody says, “Ladies and gentlemen, Howie Mandel,” the curtain opens and I run out, it just seems strange. It just doesn’t seem normal, but I enjoy that. I enjoy the fear, and I enjoy that awkwardness, and I enjoy that weirdness of it all, but it’s nothing like AGT. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. My job on AGT seems strange to me, because there I’m not paid to perform, I’m paid to do what everybody else in America is doing alone at home in their underpants on their couch. It doesn’t really seem like a job. “Deal Or No Deal” was the strangest game show in the history of game shows. There was no skill, there was no trivia, there was nothing, and there I was. This weird voice that got me thrown out of school became a cartoon that’s in 65 countries. I have a production company, I sit in a room now, and I have an idea and a couple of months later, there are 150-200 people on a set building your idea and doing it. It’s all weird and strange. There’s nothing more strange than the other—they’re all strange.
Normal is highly overrated.
Mandel: I don’t know what that is. No two things are alike. Your normal wouldn’t be my normal. I learned the older I get, the more aware of it I am. So strange means unfamiliar, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s strange, the connotation of it being weird or different. Different is good. If you can get up out of yourself and enjoy the moment it’s always different and it’s always weird, and it could be exciting enough all in your mind, what you make of it. I live kind of an exciting, fun, weird, wacky life.
You’re living a dream any way you look at it.
Mandel: I’m living a life that seems like a dream I’m having.
Of all your accomplishments, is there one you are most proud or?
Mandel: Oh, my children. I know that sounds like nauseam you hear all the time, but it really is. That kind of stuff puts everything else you’ve ever concerned about, worried about into perspective, and that’s the most important thing. They’re really good people, and they’re really smart people and they’re better people than I could ever hope to be, and I’m really proud of that—and very little to do with it. I spent most of my time on the road, but I chose a good wife and mother for them.
Talk about the show you’re bringing to Laughlin this time?
Mandel: The point is that anything could happen at any time. I don’t really plan, and that’s the fun, it’s my primal scream at the end of the day, so I look at it like a giant party and I’m just trying to be the center of attention. Well, the audience, if you’ve ever attended any of my live shows, has a tendency to speak up and interact and be a part of it—and try to be the main attraction—and that makes it fun for me. Anytime obviously after 40 years in the business, I have a plethora of material and things to draw from but I love to be taken off that beaten path with whatever’s happening at that moment at that time in that room.
Is there a line between interaction and heckling?
Mandel: I don’t know what heckling is. They’re still just being part of it. People do shout out things. I’m happy to have that too. There is no rule and I don’t want there to be a straight line. I want it to feel different—and I want it to feel weird and I want it to feel strange. And I want it to feel like a night you’ve never had before and a concert you’ve never seen before.
Edgewater E Center
Saturday, March 18. 8 p.m.; doors open 6:30 p.m. (See Showtimes for tickets)