If Howie Mandel has learned to accept anything over the course of his 63 years on planet Earth, it’s that few things in life are more dangerous than being left alone with your own thoughts. Keeping himself occupied at all times is, therefore, not just a sound financial decision, but a way to get through life.
It doesn’t take long for the veteran standup, game-show host, talent-show judge, Just For Laughs part owner, and father of three to acknowledge that he’d rather have numerous balls in the air than be sitting around on the couch.
The amiable and decidedly calm-sounding comedian calls the Straight from Denver, which has of course become a post-pot-prohibition mecca for those who live to light up. Casually mention that partaking in that particular pastime is usually followed by a paranoid bout of self-loathing, and Mandel is quick with a response.
“Standing in front of a mirror and asking myself ‘What’s wrong with you?’ isn’t something that I need pot for,” he says with a wry laugh. “That’s something I do almost every day without pot. That’s why I’m so medicated.”
That he’s able to see the humour in this speaks volumes about where he finds himself today. There’s a good reason that Mandel is one of the faces of Bell Canada’s high-profile mental-health initiative Let’s Talk. Easygoing as the comic appears on-stage and on TV, in private he famously wages a number of battles on different fronts, including ADHD, depression, anxiety, and OCD. Best-known is his germophobia—which makes something as simple as checking into a hotel room an elaborate procedure in which beds are stripped and clean towels laid on the floor to make pathways around the room.
After surprising himself by revealing his struggles during a 2006 Howard Stern interview, Mandel has made some kind of peace with his various issues.
“Right from when I open my eyes, things are a struggle, but I now know that I’m not alone,” he says. “And I’m helping remove the stigma of talking about it. Getting help is part of the battle.”
And for Mandel, so is making sure that he doesn’t have time to listen to the voices causing an endless cacophony in his mind.
For almost a decade, he’s been a regular judge on the Simon Cowell–created America’s Got Talent. This past December brought a reboot of Deal or No Deal to CNBC, Mandel once again holding down duties as the game show’s host.
Last month saw the premiere of his first standup special in two decades, with Howie Mandel Presents Howie Mandel at the Howie Mandel Comedy Club airing on Showtime.
Despite everything he’s accomplished during his five decades in show business (doing drama on the critically adored ’80s TV hit St. Elsewhere, hosting his own talk and sketch-comedy shows, dabbling in feature films, including Gremlins), standup remains his first love.
Such is his passion for the craft that he admits to being worried about where it’s headed. Mandel grew up on boundary-exploding revolutionaries like Richard Pryor. Today, in the wake of #MeToo and scandals like Louis C.K.’s masturbation debacle, pushing buttons has become dangerous.
Veteran Norm Macdonald discovered that last December, when he got a firestorm of blowback on social media after defending C.K., and then defending his defence by making a joke involving Down syndrome.
Clean as Mandel keeps his routines, he’s concerned about a new wave of PC police sanitizing comedy. Put forth that comics are rock stars who, once money is no longer a concern, are technically at liberty to bust down whatever limits they want to, he says: “No, hip-hop is where the new rock stars are. Hip-hop is the only place where you have artists pushing boundary lines and changing culture.”
Follow that up by suggesting Mandel is at a point in his life where he doesn’t have to worry about offending anyone, and he counters that’s not the case. The last thing he wants to do is something that will lead to him losing any gig like America’s Got Talent or Deal or No Deal.
“This isn’t about money,” he says. “It’s never been about money for me. It’s about keeping busy, so I’m not listening to all the noise in my head.”
JFL NorthWest presents Howie Mandel and Friends on Thursday (February 14) at the Orpheum.