"The only thing that’s a grind is the travel. I don’t like the travel but I love to do it, from the time somebody says, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Howie Mandel,' it’s a pleasure."
– Howie Mandel
Guy MacPherson: Howie, how are you?
Howie Mandel: I’m good. What’s up?
GM: You’re coming up, that’s what’s up.
HM: Coming home.
GM: I know. But come on, you’re from Ontario. That’s different.
GM: Isn’t it?
HM: Well, I guess the people in Vancouver don’t appreciate us Ontarioans, but I feel as soon as I cross the border, I feel like I’m in Canada, I’m Canadian, I feel like I’m coming home. If you won’t accept me as your own, I’m still happy to be there.
GM: I accept you, Howie.
HM: Thank you.
GM: How long have you been in the States?
HM: When did I move to the States? Uh… ’78.
HM: But I still have a home in Ontario – I know that bothers you – so I keep a home in Canada.
GM: So you still feel Canadian?
HM: Yeah. I mean, if you were to have touched me in ’78 and touch me now, I feel exactly the same way.
GM: But you won’t let me touch you.
HM: Well, that’s why I’m calling you rather than sitting beside you.
GM: Do you feel the reception you get in Canada, as a local boy made good, different than in the States or is it pretty much the same everywhere?
HM: It’s pretty much the same except in Canada, like this phone call, you told me I’m not a local person. So you’re not accepting me!
GM: It’s a very big country, Howie.
HM: I know. But no, I feel more comfortable in Canada just because that’s where I started and that’s where I’m from. But I think audiences are just as accepting everywhere.
GM: You started as a Yuks comic, right?
HM: That’s correct.
GM: It was impressive who came from there around that time. Who did you start out with?
HM: Jim Carrey. He was there the same time I was there. Norm MacDonald was after us. When I came out and worked in Vancouver, I used to go to the Punchline in Vancouver and I would work on stage with Ryan Stiles.
GM: He was great as a stand-up.
HM: Yeah. So a lot of people came out of Canada at the same time.
GM: They’re having a Punchlines reunion show coming up.
HM: Again, I wasn’t invited.
GM: I’ll pass that along.
HM: Thank you.
GM: At the time working in Canada, did you know it was a special scene?
HM: Oh, definitely. That was a time when comedy was booming all over the world. I didn’t know that it would be a career but I did know that I was involved in something special and if it never blossoms past just playing these clubs in Canada and whatever, I still would have been happy. I loved my time on stage. I still do it. I do 200 live dates a year regardless of what else I’m doing, whether it’s America’s Got Talent or Deal or No Deal or whatever. I still continue to tour and that’s why I’m coming up there.
GM: Because you still love getting out there in front of a live audience?
HM: I love being out there and I love being live and in front of an audience, no holds barred. It’s just what I do.
GM: That’s what I hear from a lot of veteran stand-ups. In fact, Newhart told me years ago that if you have the ability to do stand-up, then you have the obligation to do it because not a lot of people can do it.
HM: Wow. I don’t feel obligated at all, but I feel privileged.
GM: And yet a couple weeks ago I had Gilbert Gottfried in my car and I asked him—
HM: Why was he in your car?
GM: Because I do a podcast and he was on it, then I gave him a ride back to his hotel.
GM: And I asked him if he still enjoys it or if it’s a grind and he goes, “It’s a grind.”
HM: (laughs) Well, for me it’s not. The only thing that’s a grind is the travel. I don’t like the travel but I love to do it, from the time somebody says, “Ladies and gentlemen, Howie Mandel,” it’s a pleasure.
GM: Were you always driven to succeed? You said maybe it might not have amounted to anything. Was it more happenstance or a concerted effort to succeed?
HM: Everything I’ve done in my career has been happenstance. The thing is that I’m open to opportunity, you know? I think a lot of people question why they should do something or what could possibly happen 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. So 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.
GM: I really liked St. Elsewhere. That was one of my favourite shows at the time.
HM: Thank you.
GM: And it was surprising knowing your act then that you would play this straight role and do it so well.
HM: I think they once said had they seen my act, they wouldn’t have hired me. They didn’t know me.
GM: Oh really?!
HM: No. I just went in and auditioned.
GM: Have you done much straight acting since?
HM: I did a bunch. Actually in Vancouver. I did an Outer Limits. Just straight dramatic acting? Um, I have done here and there but not a lot. My dance card’s pretty full.
GM: You’ve had a varied career, as you mentioned. You’ve gone from being just a regular guy, in our minds, anyway, to being this entity, Howie Mandel. Do you feel that or is that just something other people feel?
HM: I feel like a lot of opportunities have come my way and I’ve taken advantage of them all. And I’m certainly leveraging them in the sense that not only am I doing television and I’m doing all these things, but I… My background, before I started any of this, was business. And everything is business, whether it’s real estate or carpet or what it is. So I produce. I manufacture the stuff that I’m in, aside from AGT. I make my own shows. I love what I do. I love to create. Not necessarily just for me.
GM: Did you have a falling out with Yuk Yuk’s?
HM: No, why? Why would you think that?
GM: I’m trying to remember if Norm MacDonald told me that once. That’s why I wanted to ask you directly.
HM: No, I don’t think I have.
GM: I saw you here a few years ago. That opening loop you play before the show was hilarious.
HM: Thank you. Maybe I’ll bring it again. I haven’t used it in a while but it’s even funnier if people know what it is. It just makes them angry.
GM: Totally. At first they’re laughing. There’s this whole range of emotion, to pissed off, to laughing.
HM: I would imagine most of the audience is different but if a couple people know it, it’s like their inside joke. Maybe I’ll bring it. I haven’t used it in a while.
GM: You travel with an opener, right?
HM: Yeah. John Mendoza.
GM: You’ve been working with him for a while.
GM: Some people have asked me to ask you about you shaving your head and I don’t know why. As a bald guy myself, I just figured you were losing your hair. But they thought maybe that’s part of your phobia of touching.
HM: It is. I did it originally for a part in a movie and then it felt clean. It’s my germophobia. I just like it. It’s low-maintenance, it’s clean, so I keep it off. And now it’s white so I don’t even want to grow it back.
GM: I hear you. You say you do 200 shows a year. Are you constantly bringing in new material?
HM: Yeah. A lot of it is improv. If you saw me a couple years ago, a lot of it is improvised and audience interaction. I look for each night and each thing to be a little bit different than the show before so it keeps each of them fresh and fun for me.
GM: I guess a grind at your level of success would be people wanting to hear things that maybe you’re tired of doing.
GM: How do you combat that? Or do you just give them what they want?
HM: I obviously after 30 years have an arsenal of things like the baby voiced Bobby and all these things and 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. Obviously I can call upon that arsenal and do whatever I need to do, but I hope to do something that I’ve never done before. That’s always more fun.
GM: I don’t want to cut us off before you cut me off, but I heard you had another interview right after this.
HM: I do. I gotta run. They’re waving at me right now.