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Howie Mandel Keeps the Laughs Coming

America's Got Talent Host performs in Gaslamp Quarter

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In recent years comedian Howie Mandel has once again become a household name as the host of popular game shows Deal or No Deal, America’s Got Talent and his own prank show Howie Do It. But it was his unique and outrageous stand-up comedy act in the 1980s that helped establish him in the entertainment industry as he appeared on The Tonight Show and HBO while also landed a reoccurring role on the popular TV drama, St. Elsewhere. Recently in 2009, Mandel published his autobiography, Here’s The Deal Don’t Touch Me, which chronicled his ongoing struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and ADHD and also touched upon his early years in stand-up comedy.

Although constantly touring the country, Mandel has been hard at work hosting NBC’s talent show, America’s Got Talent and will soon be unveiling his latest project, Mobbed. Based on the trending concept of Flash Mobs, Mandel describes the show as a cross between a hidden camera and day time talk show where unsuspecting people are surprised with a musical dance number while the cameras catch their unscripted reactions.

SanDiego.com was fortunate to speak with Mandel while on vacation in Canada and discussed his early years in Hollywood as a young stand-up comedian in the 1980s, and what fans can look forward to seeing with Mobbed.

What do you remember about the first time you ever did stand-up comedy?
Howie Mandel: It was on a dare. It was the mid seventies and I went to a nightclub called Yuk Yuk's. The mid seventies was the beginning of this comedy boom, it was the same time when The Comedy Store came to be in L.A., The Improv in New York and Comic Strip Live. I went as a patron, saw the show and host said, ‘If anybody wants to try their hand at this come out on Monday night amateur night.’ And all my friends at the table went, ‘You gotta do it.’ So I did it, one thing leads to another and I’m coming to San Diego.

Have you ever performed at The Comedy Store in La Jolla?
WM: Yeah, I did La Jolla in line 79’, 78’; I played in La Jolla and stayed at the comedy condo. One of my first paid gigs ever was at The La Jolla Comedy Store.

Is it true that you came out to Los Angeles and did a set at The Hollywood Comedy Store while on vacation?
HW: Right. I did stand-up here in Canada just on a lark. Disco was very big and I didn’t like going dancing and I wasn’t into sports, so for me it wasn’t like something I was going to do for a living. When I found it, I would go up onstage with a bunch of other like minded people; we could hang around and laugh and make other people laugh. It was like getting together for a poker game or some one on one basketball. That was what I going to do. I certainly never saw it as a living. I’m so far from Hollywood and so far from anything I could ever dream of pursuing. I never pursued it in school and didn’t think I was really talented at it. Then I went out to California for vacation, and I went to The Comedy Store because I did Yuk Yuk’s, and again, on a dare got up; and that was the Mecca. Mike Binder, who was a comedian at the time and is know a well known director, he was also a comic that I knew because he played at Yuk Yuk’s, he had George Foster there who was a producer of a comedy Game Show called Make Me Laugh. He saw me that night and hired me; it was a great story to tell about my vacation. That I went and did this comedy game show. Then I went back to Canada and continued working, not as a comic; I mean I did stand-up but that’s not how I was making a living. I was in the carpet business, and I started getting calls and I would do the Mike Douglas Show, the Merv Griffin Show, and I went, ‘Are you kidding? Maybe there’s a living in this.’ It found me, I didn’t find it.

When did you decide to finally move out to Los Angeles?
HM: I had no idea about anything. I had no concept about the business. The offers that I was getting was to do little appearances on TV shows, which to me was a lot of money for me. At the time it was like $250 to do the Merv Griffin Show. So I would go do the Merv Griffin Show, I’d do a little of my act and then sit down on the panel and talk to him and he’d go, ‘Thank you’ and they’d give me $250. In my mind I thought, ‘If I did this full time can you imagine how much money I make.’ I didn’t know that you can’t go and do Merv Griffin every day, or three time a day. It wasn’t what I had thought.

When you arrived in Los Angeles, had the dust already settled from the strike?
HM: When I came there full time no, it was in the midst of the strike.

What was that experience like for you coming into this big scenario as a young comic coming in from Canada?
HM: At that time I didn’t really understand what was going on. I was just happy to be getting time at The Comedy Store. I saw them outside; I was there for a couple of days when that kid Steve Lubetkin jumped off the Hyatt. I had no idea what was going on, I really didn’t understand. Mitzi had me come on and I did the spots. The truth of the matter is, I was so out of the fray and nobody knew me and nobody knew who I was, I wasn't even from this country. I didn’t really understand what the issues were. So even though I was in the midst of it, I wasn’t really part of it. I wasn’t aware of what was going on. Ignorance is bliss. 

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