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'My first real foray into show business was my bar mitzvah'

Howie Mandel on why he should always listen to his wife

On top again with an invigorated career, the Jewish Canadian comic is currently headlining two wildly successful shows on NBC

Judge Howie Mandel attends the 'America's Got Talent' pre-show red-carpet arrivals at Radio City Music Hall on Tuesday, July 23, 2013, in New York. (photo credit: AP/Evan Agostini/Invision)
Judge Howie Mandel attends the 'America's Got Talent' pre-show red-carpet arrivals at Radio City Music Hall on Tuesday, July 23, 2013, in New York. (photo credit: AP/Evan Agostini/Invision)

TORONTO — Talk about your irony. Howie Mandel, recognized around the planet these days as the former host of the insanely popular game show, “Deal or No Deal,” and currently as one of the judges, alongside Heidi Klum, former Spice Girl Mel B., and Howard Stern on NBC’s even more ridiculously beloved “America’s Got Talent,” never dreamed that he would be known as a game show host.

In fact, the thought of such an occupation may have been more of a recurring nightmare for the Toronto-born, 57-year-old funny man.

“When ‘Deal or No Deal’ was offered to me, I said no,” says Mandel in a telephone interview promoting his upcoming return to Toronto as the featured performer at United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto’s August 19 campaign launch. “In fact, I kept saying no until my wife, Terry, told me to stop being such an idiot and take the deal.”

Truth be told, game shows and their perfectly coiffed, mannequin-like hosts had long been fodder for comedians everywhere, and Mandel was no different.

“As a comic, I didn’t want to be a game show host,” explains Mandel, who began his stand-up comedy at Toronto’s Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club in the late 1970s. “Up until around 2005 or so, and not since Groucho Marx was the first comic to host a game show with ‘This Is Your Life,’ had a comic done so. I mean we’re those guys making fun of them in our acts. I actually thought doing ‘Deal or No Deal’ would be a nail in my coffin, but as it turned out, I was 100 percent wrong, as I often am, and it turned out to be the best thing.”

Howie Mandel will be coming home for a performance in Toronto on August 19. (photo credit: courtesy)
Howie Mandel will be coming home for a performance in Toronto on August 19. (photo credit: Courtesy)

And his decision to take on a game show opened the floodgates for other comics.

“After that show, a lot of other comics were offered game shows, where they flourished. And it’s not like I paved the way for them, because, to be honest, I didn’t even know what I was doing. And my entire career has been that way. When I became a comic, I never dreamed that I would become an actor and appear on ‘St. Elsewhere.’ And, from there, I never imagined being a game show host. And I certainly never imagined being a judge on ‘America’s Got Talent,’ in fact, I didn’t know judging was even a real job.”

Mandel is quick to credit his parents for much of his success; parents he said, who weren’t typical in the often dark world of a comic.

“A lot of comics I have spoken to talk about having been raised in a rough environment, often without a real stable home life,” he says. “But my parents have always been incredibly supportive. They showed up at Yuk Yuk’s for my second-ever performance, and, even though I was terrible, they were nothing but supportive.”

And, one can safely assume that any marriage lasting more than three decades comes with its share of challenges, especially in scandal-laden Hollywood. But Mandel, who recently celebrated his 34th anniversary with wife, Terry, knows he’s lucky — not only career-wise, but in love.

‘I look at every performance as a party where I’m just trying to be the center of attention’

“I’m really lucky to have met Terry all those years ago because not only is she beautiful on the outside, but on the inside as well,” he says. “I’m lucky because she puts up with me. If you ask her why our marriage has survived all these years, she’ll tell you it’s because of the 200 live stand-up gigs I still perform every year. In fact, Terry would like to personally thank UJA for inviting me to perform and for getting me away from her for a couple of days. To be honest, she likes me to go away whenever possible.”

As for his return to the Great White North, and playing in front of an anticipated sold-out audience comprised of Canadian Jews, Mandel can’t wait.

“Any time I have the opportunity to come home, I’m thrilled,” he enthuses, his manic energy radiating through the telephone line. “And, as a Jew from Toronto, and who still maintains a home in Toronto, it’s a great opportunity. I look at every performance as a party where I’m just trying to be the center of attention. So, to be invited to perform in front of my peers and fellow Jews is a real blessing. It’s like coming home to a Seder for over a thousand of my friends. It’s going to be great, and I’m sure there will be plenty of delicious Seder food.”

While on the topic of Jewish rituals, Mandel says that his first live performance took place when he was just eight days old.

“My bris was my first live show in front of an audience,” he says. “Unfortunately, however, the performance was cut short.”

Oy!

“Actually, when I think about it, my first real foray into show business was my bar mitzvah,” he continues, “and my first act was my Haftorah which, I will admit today, I didn’t write. I’m ashamed to say that it was lifted from other people’s writing, despite the fact that I’m well aware that the first rule of show business is never to do somebody else’s material.”

‘My bris was my first live show in front of an audience. Unfortunately, however, the performance was cut short’

As excited as Mandel is to return to a Toronto stage and his roots in stand-up comedy, when the talk turns to a recent visit to Israel, the funny man becomes suddenly serious.

“I am so proud of my heritage, of where I come from, and who I am,” he explains. “When I went to Israel a few years ago, there was a feeling, as soon as I landed, that, this was where you’re supposed to be. Still, I felt bad because we wandered 40 years to get there, but I just took a flight, so I feel like I cheated. But Israel stands for so much more than just Judaism; it makes me even prouder to be a Jew.

“Israel is this little pit bull surrounded by her enemies, and yet, it is strong enough to not only hold its own, but to flourish. It epitomizes what North America and much of the world should be, in terms of democracy and freedom. It’s so far ahead socially, economically, as a leader in technology and so much more. If you haven’t been there — whether you’re a Jew or a gentile, you should go. It’s just a great place to be.”

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