Howie Mandel takes off

The manic comic, enjoying a break from his game show, hits the road

June 15, 2006|By SAM SESSA | SAM SESSA,SUN REPORTER

Howie Mandel knows the power of womanly persuasion.

When producers of the TV game show Deal or No Deal offered to make him the host, he turned them down twice.

"I didn't get it," Mandel said. Then his wife said, "You idiot, take this job," he recalls.

He did.

The show, where contestants pick briefcases containing sums of money from 1 cent to $1 million, attracted more than 18 million viewers an evening in its first season - a jackpot for NBC. Somehow, "I told you so," just doesn't quite say it.

"She was right," Mandel said. "I'm going to keep listening to her."

When not shooting new episodes, Mandel tours with his standup comedy act. He performs at the Lyric Opera House on Saturday. Mandel's show-business career started with standup, and even with the success of Deal or No Deal, live comedy is something he does constantly.

"It's my job," Mandel said. "It's probably the place I'm most comfortable."

But Mandel is quick to point out that while the whole family can watch Deal or No Deal, Howie Mandel live is for adults only. He's strict about this rule - when his kids were young, his live show was off-limits. It's still not kosher for his 15-year-old daughter to see him do his usual standup act, he said.

"I told them don't ever talk like me or use the language Daddy uses," Mandel said. "Unless, of course, it pays the mortgage."

Mandel said he loves to improv his live gigs. Each night goes in different directions and includes lots of audience interaction, he said.

"I like to be taken to places that I've never gone before and do things that I've never said before," Mandel said. "That makes it more fun and fresh for me. The more fun I'm having, the more fun the audience gets to have."

Through the '80s and '90s, most people knew Mandel for his comedy, high-pitched baby voice (remember the kid Bobby on the cartoon series Bobby's World?) and mop of wild hair. He's kept the first two, but shaved his head about six years ago for a movie role that never saw the light of day. His wife liked the new look, and he loved how much cleaner the smooth, bald scalp was, he said.

Mandel suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, a condition that he said has waxed and waned over the years.

"I have my own routines that make myself very comfortable," Mandel said. "I never touch the carpet in my [hotel] room. I don't shake hands. I'm basically hermetically sealed."

Instead, he gives Deal or No Deal contestants hugs and knuckle-taps. He also experiments with facial hair, growing soul patches, goatees and the like.

"Facial hair is always fun to play with and carve," he said.

He's entertaining the idea of growing new "face art" as he calls it, for each season of Deal or No Deal. He really enjoys hosting the show, but admits that if he were a contestant, he would probably melt under the pressure of picking the right briefcase. At tapings, people have heart palpitations, get sick and hyperventilate.

"It's pretty exciting," Mandel said.

Each round, the contestant picks a briefcase to discard, and the show's banker makes the player an offer outright. They can either take the banker's offer or keep whittling down the number of briefcases left, hoping for more money.

"I would probably just take the [banker's] first offer," Mandel said. "Eight dollars? Deal. I'll go home. Eight bucks for just showing up? Deal."

Unlike other game shows, it takes no skill to win Deal or No Deal. It's a game of chance anyone can play - an aspect Mandel revels in.

"There's no trivia, there's no stunts," Mandel said. "You can be a moron and change your life on our show. That's what I like about it.

Mandel said he'll ride the show as far as it will go, be it one more season or 10.

"I feel blessed, excited, thrilled and totally bowled over by the success of the show and I hope it lasts for many years to come," Mandel said. "I didn't see it coming - had no idea it would have this kind of effect, and I'll take it as long as I can get it."

Howie Mandel plays the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $47-$77. Call 410-547-SEAT or visit ticketmaster.com.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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