A germophobic homeboy or a True North funnyman who just wants to make us laugh? Stephen Sussman meets Howie Mandel and gets to the punchline
I’m at the Four Seasons Hotel, waiting to meet Toronto-born supercomic Howie Mandel. I’m trying to remember all the roles, hilarious and otherwise, he’s played over his 30-year career. There’s the young doctor Wayne Fiscus on St. Elsewhere, a gig he tells me later he took because it was something different and new (ironically, the “doctor” had to become the patient, as just a few days after we met, Mandel was admitted to Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, citing chest pains. Thankfully, our cool comic was only dehydrated). There’s Bobby, the child incarnation of the young Howie and his friends on the animated Bobby’s World. There’s Howie the Regis and Jay Leno fill-in, Howie the confessed germaphobe, Howie the recipient of a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame last year and Howie, at 53, the slick and effervescent host of Deal or No Deal (now airing five nights a week).
Now, Howie has reinvented himself yet again. Yes, shaved head and all (better onto which to slip that plastic glove — a prop made infamous in his stand-up routines) and still happily married to his high-school sweetheart (going on 30 years), he’s gone back to his roots as Howie the Prankster on Howie Do It (Global). So, naturally, I’m curious to know just that: how he does it — all.
Stephen Sussman: What would you say is your favourite gig?
Howie Mandel: I can’t pick one. It’s been the opportunity to do it all. To never know what’s next is an exciting proposition. Especially if, like me, you think positively and know it’s going to be good.
SS: But being a talk-show host or the fabulous host on Deal or No Deal is a long way from stand-up.
HM: Actually, being the host on Deal or No Deal requires a lot of the same skills as doing stand-up. There’s no script. It’s me and the contestant. I have to make it all up as I go along, and I have to establish a rapport, much like with an audience at a comedy club.
SS: What makes you laugh?
HM: That hasn’t changed since I was in high school – I love pranks: the surprise it causes, that first reaction when something unbelievable is happening to someone else. Allen Funt and Candid Camera created some of the funniest shows. He built the prank into a comedic art form. That’s why I think people enjoy Howie Do It.
SS: Have any of your three kids inherited the comedy gene?
HM: My son Alex is on the team for Howie Do It. He’s still in college, but also interested in acting.
SS: Do you ever think about growing your hair again?
HM: I shaved it as a joke. I wanted to try something different and surprise my wife. She took one look and said, “Honey, that makes you look really sexy.” That, of course, made me think, “What? I wasn’t sexy before?”
SS: Any tips for continually re-inventing yourself?
HM: Be positive and proactive. Embrace change and allow opportunity to drive you. When I got the part on St. Elsewhere, I didn’t want to do it. I was a comedy guy. I lived by the laugh, but it turned out to be a great career move. It was another case of something different opening so many new doors.