By Jim Roberts
Howie Mandel is well known for his TV work over the last 12 years—first as the host of “Deal Or No Deal” and then as a judge on “America’s Got Talent.” Viewers under the age of 40 may be surprised to learn that Mandel started out as a stand-up comic in Canada who was soon “discovered” in Los Angeles the late ’70s. Fans of all ages in Hampton Roads will have a chance to experience his comedy first-hand when he comes to the Ferguson Center for the Arts on Feb. 25. Here are excerpts from Mandel’s recent phone interview with Veer Magazine.
You’re coming to Newport News in a few weeks. Have you ever been to this part of Virginia before?
Probably. The thing is, for almost 40 years I’ve been touring. Up until about 10 years ago, I was doing 300 nights a year. Now I do 200 nights a year. It’s all a blur. I would imagine I have been there.
For people who know you mostly from TV and not necessarily from stand-up, what can they expect from your act?
Don’t bring the kids to my live act! I love stand-up. That’s where I always have maintained a presence beyond whatever else I was doing because for me, that’s my primal scream at the end of the day. That’s the one place where I don’t have to hit a mark, I don’t have to throw to a commercial, I don’t have to edit. Anything can happen; it’s very improvisational. Obviously, after almost 40 years in the business, I have a plethora of material, but I hope to be taken off of that path and react to whatever’s happening in the moment at that time that day. Expect the unexpected. I look at it like a giant party, and I’m just trying to be the center of attention.
Who were your influences when you first started?
When I first started, one of the most amazing things was every night, I went to the Comedy Store, and I watched Richard Pryor put together his set for ‘Live On The Sunset Strip.’ It was kind of like the behind-the-scenes of stand-up comedy. … To watch somebody actually work out material, and you watch someone as brave and uninhibited and as real as Richard Pryor was, that inspired me to just throw caution to the wind onstage. I’m nothing like Richard Pryor; I can’t even hope to be close to what he was, but what he stood for as far as just going for it, that’s my biggest comedy inspiration.
And who are the people who influence your work now?
The audience is my biggest influence. What’s happening in the moment, in that room, at that time is what kind of drives whatever it is we end up talking about or doing.
I saw a YouTube clip from 2015 where you talked about the possibility of Trump becoming president. Do you still talk about politics in your show?
No. Not really. I feel like the news and the world is kind of not fun. The time that people come and spend with me—I want people to just escape and have fun. Politics and religion are pretty serious, and I’m there to do comedy.
What makes Canadians so funny?
A lot of comedy does come out of Canada, and a lot of writers come out of Canada, and Second City came out of Canada. I think that it’s just a humility and self-awareness. I was always aware of how goofy things are and I am. I’ve gotten really comfortable with discomfort. Whether it’s for myself or for the world, I like to point that out or say it out loud. Everything I’ve ever been punished for or expelled for is what I seem to get paid for today.
Do you still do the Bobby voice in your shows?
If people yell it out and want me to do something, I could do it. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do, and there’s nothing I do do. We just have a really good time, and I’m there for them.
That must mean you keep a latex glove in your pocket—just in case.
That’s the only thing that I can’t do. I have a doctor’s note not to blow up and inflate a glove over my head because I perforated a sinus doing it. I’ve got to be the only guy in the world that has a doctor’s note not to put gloves on his head!
Tell me about your opening act, John Mendoza.
John Mendoza is a legend of his own. John was one of Johnny Carson’s favorite comedians. … He’s done countless Lettermans; he’s been on ‘Two And A Half Men.’ I’ve known him for years. He had his own sitcom on NBC. He’s a really funny guy.
Anything else you want us to know before you come to town?
Come see me. It’s better when there’s people there.
Howie Mandel will perform at 8 p.m. Feb. 25 at Christopher Newport University’s Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News. Ticket prices start at $38. For more information, visit: fergusoncenter.org.