When he isn’t cracking wise on standup stages throughout the country, Howie Mandel is spending time in countless living rooms as a judge on the hit show America’s Got Talent. After news broke that Mandel would be returning to host the TV phenomenon Deal or No Deal, both longtime fans and Mandel himself were equally enthralled.
“It’s bigger and better than it ever was,” says Mandel of Deal, which debuted in 2003 and went off the air in 2009. “I don’t know if it’s the time and the environment we are in, but the audience just went crazy for it. The emotions were so much stronger than I remember them being. People were screaming; they were flat-out on the floor sometimes; they were crying; they were laughing — it was just wonderfully crazy and inspiring watching people’s lives change forever.”
Mandel wrapped filming 30 episodes of Deal in Orlando this summer, after CNBC decided to pick up the show originally cancelled by NBC. Deal or No Deal is now slated to premiere on December 5. Mandel fought for the show throughout its absence, steadily seeking ways to bring Deal back to life. When asked why, Mandel points to the enormous personal effect of the show.
“Nothing that I’ve done in my 40 years [in show business] has changed my life or my career more than Deal or No Deal,” says Mandel. “It’s the one thing I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to be a game-show host. But becoming a game-show host on that particular show changed my view of humanity, my view of show business, and I think it informed everything else I do. I don’t think I would have gotten AGT if I wasn’t on Deal or No Deal.”
Mandel is referring to America’s Got Talent, a reality competition show that has remained widely popular for nearly 13 years and has drawn as many as 16 million viewers to a single episode. “It’s the last bastion of variety television,” says Mandel, a judge on the program. “Television was a takeoff on vaudeville and, at one time, almost everyone did a variety hour. The big one from when I was a kid was The Ed Sullivan Show. Now, the last bastion of anything like that, where people can see a variety of acts and where it is like a circus right in their living room every day, is AGT.”
Photo by Michael Miller
“Throughout everything I have ever done in my career…I am always a standup.”
Mandel chalks up the show’s success to its astonishing array of acts. “If you don’t like what you are watching, wait two minutes, and you will be seeing something totally different, whether it’s a little girl singing or a guy hanging three stories up, lighting himself on fire over crocodiles,” he says with a laugh. In fact, Tao Porchon Lynch, the 100-year-old Westchester yogi featured on page 106, recently appeared as a contestant on the show and received rave reviews from Mandel for her dancing act.
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Mandel, who has long suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, hopes his TV notoriety can also help spark dialogue on mental illness. “Mental health has always been my soapbox. It is part of my life,” he says. “From the minute I open my eyes, life is a bit of struggle, and I don’t think I am alone. I am an advocate for removing the stigma from even being able to talk about — let alone get help and do whatever it takes to fight — this battle that’s worth fighting.”
Another way local audiences can get their fill of the acclaimed comic is his upcoming standup show on October 18, at The Tarrytown Music Hall. Mandel, who has won accolades for stints on long-running shows like St. Elsewhere and voice work on movies such as Gremlins, feels standup both informs and is utterly different from his hosting, judging, and acting work.
“Even I don’t know what to expect,” says Mandel of his standup routine. “We talk about Deal or No Deal, and we talk about AGT, and those are good family-friendly shows, but I wouldn’t bring kids to my live show. It is the one situation in which there are no commercials, no editing, no marks to hit or lines to recite; it is just pure comedy.”
It also provides an opportunity for Mandel to interact with the fans who have made him the entertainer he is today. “I do most of my television work from a bubble in LA or New York but not in the middle of the country, with real people,” shares Mandel. “Through comedy and standup, you see people’s reactions and get a sense of what people relate to, who they are, and you can then come back and be an informed host or writer or producer.”
He also remains deeply passionate about the role standup plays in his life. “That is my beginning; those are my roots, and that is what I do. Throughout everything I have ever done in my career — whether it be acting or voiceover or hosting or judging — I am always a standup,” explains Mandel. “It is just freedom. It is my primal scream at the end of the day.”