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Q&A: Howie Mandel

Howie Mandel has proven to be as versatile an entertainer as there is in the business, but doing stand-up comedy is still what brings him the most joy.

G.K. Hizer
May 28, 2018

Over the course of four decades, Howie Mandel’s career has led him to success as a stand-up comedian, a television and movie actor, writer and creative director, voice-over talent, game show host and even as a judge on America’s Got Talent.

His fan base is drawn from a variety of age levels, as he initially drew attention for his role as Dr. Wayne Fiscus on St. Elsewhere in 1982, was one of the first VJs for Nickelodeon’s Pop Clips music video series, and was the creator, writer, and starring voice for the cartoon series Bobby’s World, as well as providing the voices for multiple characters in the Muppet Babies series.

Most recently, he’s been one of the longest tenured judges on America’s Got Talent.

Even so, he’s probably best known as the host for the long-running game show Deal or No Deal, which is scheduled for reboot this year with Mandel both hosting and executive producing.

Through it all, stand-up comedy has been the one constant throughout Mandel’s career, tying everything together.

Q. What drew you to stand-up comedy initially, and what keeps drawing you back?

A. I began with stand-up comedy, and it’s the one thing that’s been a constant throughout my career. I still do up to 200 dates a year, and I’ve always done stand-up.

I will say that if you’re fans of America’s Got Talent or Bobby’s World, this is not the show to bring the kids to. It’s not that I’m trying to be blue or raunchy, but if I say something, I say something. Doing stand-up is the one place where I have the autonomy to not have to edit myself or hit any marks. I’ve got 40 years of experience to draw from, but mostly I look at it as a giant party, and I’m trying to be the center of attention.

Q. Where do you find the inspiration and direction for your stand-up material?

A. It’s a little bit of everything, but mostly it’s just in the moment. I don’t really preplan anything. It’s mostly what’s going on right there and then. If there’s a technical glitch at the beginning, that’s where the night goes. If someone in the audience says or does something, that’s where the night goes. I really try to make each night and show something special and different and make the audience feel like they get something unique each time I perform.

Q. When you were originally approached to host Deal or No Deal, you initially turned it down. Why was that, and what eventually made you change your mind?

A. In 2005, when I originally got the offer, there were no other comedians doing game shows. I thought it would put the proverbial nails in the coffin for my career and I’d be done. Even the first year it was out, I was embarrassed by it, but then it exploded. By the second year, Fox grabbed Jeff Foxworthy to host Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader and Steve Harvey took every other game show possible.

What changed my mind? That was my wife. She asked, “Why aren’t you doing it? You think it will end your career? You do realize you’re standing here in our house; that’s where your career is right now.” To her credit, she was right. Now I’m proud of it. We’re even bringing it back this year.

When I heard they were thinking of bringing it back, I was chomping at the bit to do it again. It’s a simple concept and probably the most relatable to everyone who watches, and I’ve always enjoyed seeing how it can change people’s lives.

CNBC is taking a big swing with it, just like we did in 2005. They’ve committed to 30 shows with 26 contestants and a $1 million grand prize. It’s all being shot at Universal Studios in Orlando [Fla.] and will launch this fall. It’s exciting and I’m really looking forward to it.

Q.You've also been a judge on America's Got Talent.

A. Well, I’m still a judge on the show and the first episode for this season was May 29. As far as how it came about, I just got a call. I’ve never missed an episode. I was just like everyone else, watching it at home in my underwear, so when I got the call there wasn’t any question. I find it kind of odd that Deal stands out, because I think that’s the only thing I’ve ever turned down.

I don’t know if I really take anything away from America’s Got Talent, but I understand that, taking a page from Deal or No Deal, we’re potentially watching people’s hopes and dreams come true and watching lives get changed right in front of our eyes. Everyone has a dream, but not everyone has the courage or tries to follow that dream. I guess with AGT, it’s about how important and how relatable it is to see people following their dreams. Everyone on the show is following a dream.

Each season, more people get up and they raise the bar to do something crazier or goofier or better than the last season, so that’s been inspiring — seeing people follow their dreams.

Q. What else do you have in the works?

A.There’s a new show, Animals Doing Things, which will be on the National Geographic channel that I’ll be producing and doing the voice-over work for. There’s already an Instagram site that will give people an idea of what it’s about, but it’s been fun so far, so I’m looking forward to that as well.

Howie Mandel
The Joint: Tulsa | Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa
777 W. Cherokee St. | Catoosa
June 22: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend