Howie Mandel has been a standup comedian for more than 30 years, but he’s got the spirit of an improviser. Not only is a large chunk of his live act off-the-cuff, but he’s made a habit of accepting all offers.
That’s why you’ll see him hosting game shows (Deal or No Deal), performance competitions (America’s Got Talent), Saturday-morning cartoons (Bobby’s World), and talk shows (The Howie Mandel Show). Go back far enough and you might remember him in the dramatic role of Dr. Wayne Fiscus on St. Elsewhere. How does a former Yuk Yuk’s comedian known for doing silly voices and exploding rubber gloves over his head come to have such a varied professional life?
“Everything I’ve done in my career has been happenstance,” the Ontario native says by phone. “The thing is that I’m open to opportunity. I think a lot of people question why they should do something and I never have. I kind of threw caution to the wind. So when I got there to get up on-stage at Yuk Yuk’s, I did that. And when I got offered a job as an actor, I did that. And when I did Saturday morning or got offered to host a game show, I did that. And all these opportunities have worked out for me. It’s not that I was driven; it’s just that I didn’t thrive on the negative. There’s always a thousand reasons why not to do something.”
Luck may have played a large role in his success, but as the saying goes, you’ve got to be good to be lucky.
“I didn’t know it would be a career, but I did know that I was involved in something special, and if it never blossomed past just playing these clubs in Canada, I still would have been happy. I loved my time on-stage. I still do.”
Throughout all the other gigs, Mandel has maintained a 200-night stand with his first love, standup. He and long-time opener John Mendoza will tally another road notch when they play the Red Robinson Show Theatre. The travel can be wearisome, but once his name is called, the juices start flowing.
“A lot of it is improv and audience interaction,” he says. “I look for each night to be a little bit different than the show before, so it keeps each of them fresh and fun for me. Obviously, after 30 years, I have an arsenal of material, but I look for things to go wrong or differently, or for somebody to yell something out so it’s somewhat different or takes me off the beaten path. That’s always more fun.”
And he says it’s always just a bit more fun coming home. When you’ve been away as long as he has, anywhere in this enormous country is home.
“I guess the people in Vancouver don’t appreciate us Ontarians, but I feel as soon as I cross the border I’m coming home,” he says. “If you won’t accept me as your own, I’m still happy to be there.”
So does he still feel Canadian after all these years away?
“Yeah,” he says. “I mean, if you were to have touched me in ’78 and touch me now, I feel exactly the same way.”
Good luck with that. The famous germophobe, who suffers from OCD and ADHD and keeps his famous curly locks shaved because it feels clean, won’t let anyone touch him. As he puts it: “Well, that’s why I’m calling you rather than sitting beside you.”
Howie Mandel plays the Red Robinson Show Theatre on Friday (May 18).