Howie Mandel. Credit: Andrei Duman

He’s a comedy legend, an iconic game-show host, and the voice behind some of your favorite characters: He’s Howie Mandel.

While Mandel has been entertaining audiences for more than four decades, he’s best known these days for hosting Deal or No Deal and being an America’s Got Talent judge. However, Mandel got his start as a standup comic—and he’s coming to The Show at Agua Caliente on Saturday, March 19.

Mandel, during a recent phone interview, described what it was like to return to live comedy after what was “beyond a little break.”

“I’ve been doing this for 45 years, and before COVID, the longest I was not onstage was maybe three weeks,” Mandel said. “Now it’s been years, and I’m just starting to get back out. It is so weird, and wonderful, and exciting, and just what the doctor ordered.

“It’s so weird to not be in front of people live. During COVID, you do all these shows on Zoom, and in parking lots where people are honking instead of laughing. It’s just great to have people in the room, and I look at it like this giant party—and I’m just trying my darndest to be the center of attention.”

Mandel has been open about his struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. With COVID still a threat, I was curious about how Mandel was dealing with it all.

“Well, I’m uncomfortable, but the truth of the matter is, the best medicine for me is distraction,” he expressed. “There’s nothing more distracting than to stand in front of a large group of people and try to entertain. At the moment, when I think about the fact that we’ll be in a big room with a lot of people, that’s uncomfortable—but it has always been uncomfortable. Now, it’s more uncomfortable than it has ever been, but discomfort and fear have always been the fuel to whatever it is that I’m talking about. I just need distraction to be happy, and I can’t imagine anything more distracting in my mind than to be in front of people after somebody says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Howie Mandel.’

“I love thrill rides. It’s been years since I’ve been on one, but even now, to this day, I love a roller coaster. The scarier it is, the faster it is, the closer to dying you believe you’ve come, the more I want to get on again and again and again. This is like a mental roller coaster, an evening of standup comedy—and I love that. That’s the thrill ride.”

Mandel will be joined by fellow comedian/actor Jon Lovitz at The Show.

“I feel lucky whenever I get to work with him,” Mandel said. “He’s hysterical, even when you talk to him for five minutes on the phone. To be there with a friend who is absolutely hilarious, it’s just an evening of comedy. They say laughter is the best medicine, so allow us to be your pharmacists for the night.”

The pandemic allowed Mandel to experiment with new avenues in entertainment. In early 2021, he started Howie Mandel Does Stuff, a weekly podcast with daughter Jackelyn Shultz.

“My daughter is just as neurotic as me,” said Mandel. “The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, and I don’t say that with pride; I say that as a fact. We would spend hours each afternoon on the phone together, talking and goofing around, challenging each other, calling friends of mine that are also in the business, and doing prank calls. My wife walked in one day and said, ‘Well, what is this for?’ I go, ‘I don’t even understand the question. What is this? This is just what we’re doing.’ She said, ‘Well, you should record it and put it out there,’ and that became Howie Mandel Does Stuff. She’d say, ‘What are you doing in there?’ ‘We’re just doing stuff. I’m talking to Jackie, and we’re making ridiculous calls and challenges, and doing things, and just talking about what’s in the news’—and so that became the podcast. We just finished recording Heidi Klum, and this week we have Theo Von. These are friends, and we all just sit around together and have a really good time. It’s turned into a podcast, which is continuously growing and wacky and weird and fun.

“Regardless of where you know me from, standup comedy is my favorite and where I can be the loosest, and everything else is fun mode.” Howie mandel

“Most of everything I do, I can’t believe is a job. With standup, everything I ever got in trouble for, yelled at for, expelled for, is what I get paid for. I feel that way about everything I do, like the podcast, like AGT. I was watching that show even before I was asked to be a judge on it. Everything that I did on the couch with my family, in my underwear, and said about everything, is what they’re paying me for—and giving me a pair of pants for.”

Mandel is known for wearing many different hats—as a comic, a host, an actor, a podcaster, and so on. When I asked him about that, he responded: “That’s kind of everybody in their life.

“Whether you go to the office, and you’ve got to be in that mode for whatever it is you do, and then you go home, and you’ve got to be the parent, or you’ve got to be an advocate for something because you’re going to a meeting—for everything we do in life, we all have these different modes,” Mandel said. “I want to do standup comedy. Regardless of where you know me from, standup comedy is my favorite and where I can be the loosest, and everything else is fun mode. Whether that’s the judge, the host, just standing in a booth talking like a goofball and doing Bobby’s World—it doesn’t matter what it is; I love it; and I feel very blessed that I get to do all these different things.”

The pandemic also helped birth Howie Mandel: But, Enough About Me, a documentary focusing on Mandel.

“I felt very blessed that somebody said, ‘Hey, we want to do a documentary on your career and your life,’” said Mandel. “As luck would have it, COVID hit, so they had to finish it in the midst of COVID—and what better way to document the life of a well-known germaphobe than in the midst of a pandemic? It was serendipitous for the filmmakers, but tough for me. I feel honored that it was done.

“There’s a very different feeling from just living it to talking about it, but having been in therapy for years now, and being in the public eye for as long as I have, I’m used to talking about it, and used to sharing. It was sometimes emotional, sometimes weird. Sometimes it’s funny. Every possible emotion that any human being can have, I went through being a part of this documentary.”

Mandel is intent on keeping busy as the world fully re-opens.

“Whatever comes my way, I just don’t say no; I could never say no,” Mandel said. “I do the podcast once a week. We’re starting a new season of AGT. I just finished taping part of the season for Canada’s Got Talent. I also just finished taping a new game show, which will be out in April or May on Netflix, called Bullsh*t The Game Show, which I am so excited about, and we gave away more money than I ever did on Deal or No Deal. I’m always doing something.”

Mandel said he’s grateful to have his standup comedy career.

“Just to see somebody who comes in and sits down, and now they’re laughing, and they leave the room in a better mood than when they walked in—just watching this happen is a long way from that dare in 1977 to get up onstage and try to make people laugh with no aspiration to be in show business or to be in entertainment at all,” Mandel said. “Now here I am, at this age, 45 years later, still doing it and enjoying it. Being invited to the party is a blessing.”

Howie Mandel, with special guest Jon Lovitz, will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 19, at The Show at Agua Caliente, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $40 to $75. For tickets or more information, call 800-514-3849, or visit aguacalientecasinos.com.

Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

One reply on “How He Does It: Howie Mandel Returns to Live Standup Comedy, Despite Pandemic-Caused Discomfort”

Comments are closed.