Howie

It’s been 35 years since Howie Mandel first performed in Anchorage, and when he returns this

Sunday for a one

-

night show at Alaska Airlines Arena, it’s safe to assume things will be a little

more tame. Back in 1984, the comedian, actor, producer, talent sh

ow judge and host of NBC’s

wildly successful ‘Deal or No Deal’ made his Alaskan splash at PJ’s, a now

-

defunct bar of rather

ill

-

repute in Spenard. Fresh off the release of his first HBO special

a standard for having

made it in stand

-

up comedy at the time

It’s a show he remembers with vivid, even lurid, detail.

“My first time ever in Alaska

wow, I can’t believe how filthy it was. That was when the pipeline

was at its height and I had the best time,” Mandel recalled. “I had strippers opening for me, and

one of them said, ‘I’m gonna do something special.’ So she put gum in her mouth, split it in two,

put a piece on each breast, then stuck a match into each piece of gum, then hit the 8

-

track with

REO Speedwagon.”

Then things got downright dangerous.

“The mu

sic was blasting, they hit the switch to turn off all the lights and she lit the matches and

the crowd went crazy for these two little flames that lasted like 15 seconds until there was this

blood

-

curdling scream and they turned the lights on,” he said. “I

guess she didn’t think until the

matches burned down to the end and she was screaming, but that was Howie Mandel’s entre

into Anchorage.”

For this visit to Alaska, his first in five years, Mandel is bringing his wife along with his regular

opener, veteran

comic John Mendoza with hopes of seeing the Northern Lights topping his

sightseeing ambitions. Strip clubs are decidedly not included on the itinerary.

“I got into the business on a dare at a comedy club in the mid 70s and my act at the beginning

was brou

ght with fear and anxiety,” Mandel said. “I’m very improvisational in the moment

it’s

just a giant party and I’m the center of attention. I just go with the flow and I’ve always gone with

the flow, whether I’m somebody at PJ’s who had no idea how he got

there.”

Much of Mandel’s angst came from his struggles with attention deficit disorder as well as

obsessive

-

compulsive disorder manifest in germophobia, which in recent years has garnered

him a certain degree of additional fame, but early in his career acc

identally led to the bit that

would springboard him to success as stand

-

up comedy’s irascible wild child.

Because of his condition, which left him paralyzingly fearful about so much as shaking hands

with another person, Mandel would carry a latex glove in

his pocket. On stage one night, he

decided to put the glove over his head and inflate it with his nose. This became his signature bit.

“I really kept (the germaphobic) a secret. I was a child of the 50s and 60s and people didn’t

really talk about it,” Mand

el said. “The stigma lifted maybe 15 to 20 years ago, but back then

nobody questioned why I had a latex glove in the first place, let alone put it on my head. Now, in

a world of caring and a business where sharing is my currency, I’ll come out and talk abo

ut it

that night.”

Mandel said being able to turn his handicap into a comic advantage wasn’t any sort of catharsis.

“I wasn’t that introspective; I didn’t think about whether it was therapeutic,” Mandel said. “The

fact that I found comedy, though, became t

herapeutic because I always felt like a pariah, an

 
 
 
 

outcast. I was thrown out of school for behavioral problems mostly undiagnosed at the time. My

behavior was what I had been outcast for, but then it was what I started getting paid for.”

That recognition o

pened up new opportunities including a major role on the hit NBC series ‘St.

Elsewhere’, playing the immature and clownish Dr. Wayne Fiscus alongside stars

-

to

-

be Mark

Harmon and Denzel Washington. At the time, it was largely unheard of for stand

-

up comics

to

garner roles in dramatic series.

“The natural transition, as for most in my era, did was their own sitcoms, but as luck would have

it they had 13 episodes (contracted) for St. Elsewhere and they didn’t like the way it was coming

out. So they asked me, c

an you act? And they took me to the producers,” Mandel said. “They

gave me the part, and I was the replacement, but I did six years on that show.”

In those pre

-

Internet days, Mandel recalled, fans of St. Elsewhere didn’t know he was a stand

-

up comic and vi

ce

-

versa.

“At one show a woman said to my, my husband bets you’re Dr. Fiscus, but he’s not the same

guy who blows up the rubber glove. People who knew me from standup comedy didn’t know me

from St. Elsewhere and young parents who knew me from ‘Bobby’s Worl

d’, didn’t know I was

the same person from either of those.”

Along the way, Mandel voiced a number of animated characters, including the adorable Gizmo

in the 1984 smash ‘Gremlins’, a fact many of his fans to this day may not know.

But by the turn of the c

entury, Mandel’s career was beginning to run out of steam and by 2005

he was prepared to leave the business. That’s when a most unlikely opportunity arose and

provided Mandel with one of the great second acts in American life. NBC asked him to a host a

new

game show that was more of laboratory experiment than any sort of game, and after some

reticence about what he would even do as the show’s host, Mandel accepted the job, and 14

years later, ‘Deal or No Deal’ is still running strong.

“I was so scared; it w

as just an hour of just saying what? I mean, I’m not even reading trivia

questions; it’s just open case No. 1, No. 2, No. 3

what was I going to do?” Mandel said. “It

became that social experiment, so much so that people continually write in psychology

te

xtbooks chapters on ‘Deal or No Deal’, so for somebody who didn’t go to college to be in

textbooks, to be in Wall Street studies on risk vs. reward is unbelievable... I’m a guy who

doesn’t even have a GED.”

Mandel said he’ll never forget Karen, the first con

testant he guided through the briefcases. A

single mother in need of health insurance for her kids, who said ‘no deal’ to $35,000 only to walk

away with $5,000, which Mandel said in other interviews, she used on breast implants. Some

people in need walk aw

ay from even bigger sums with far less to show. It’s these sorts of heart

sinking financial disasters encountered by common people who can least afford them that give

‘Deal or No Deal’ a cultural gravitas other game shows lack. Mandel said he often tries t

o steer

contestants into making sound choices with the tone of his voice.

“Even though I’m a comedian I’m first a human being, a husband a father and I’m faced with

people making decisions that are hopefully changing their lives. I went into it with plans

to be

really funny and goofy, but I found that, you’d better just listen to me,” Mandel said, thinking

back to Karen’s scenario in particular. “She gets an offer of $35,000 I’ll make an intonation to

say, ‘take this’ and at the end of the game, I’m so emba

rrassed for anything to be broadcast. I

wasn’t funny; I wasn’t trying to be funny; I was empathetic. I care about these people leaving

with a good experience.”

 
 
 
 

In that moment, Mandel began to understand why they wanted a comedian hosting this often

cruel g

ame show.

“Because there is no skill, no trivia, anything can twist and turn in the moment,” he said. “It’s a

live audience so you have to have the tools to kind of keep control of whatever it is you’re

driving... watching these people’s emotions go from hig

h to crazy disappointment, it’s an

incredible drama and the intense moment is not only steering them through it, I’m learning it like

the audience is

I’m on the edge of my seat. I’ve learned a lot as somebody whose job It is to

drive that 90 minutes, to

do what I need to do to be comfortable and respond in the way people

need me to respond

all of those skills go into hosting that show.”

The show has also helped Mandel identify with people not in the cushy Hollywood life he’s

existed the better part of t

he last 30 years.

“My biggest fascination in everything I do, and always has been has been listening

Candid

Camera was my favorite show as a kid, where rather than a joke, you’re watching to see how

people react to awkward and uncomfortable situations

that’s the fuel that drives me each and

every day; I realize I’m not alone in this pool of discomfort,” Mandel said. “That’s why I love

going to standup

ladies and gentlemen, Howie Mandel outside the bubble of L.A. or New

York and see what people relate

to. The game taught me that when you wipe away the

expectation of rhythmic joke and laughter, how these people are and how they react to stress,

you get to the stories of where they are at in life.”

The rules and expectations for what is acceptable in comedy have changed considerably since

Mandel got started. In recent years they’ve changed so fast and the consequences for going out

of bounds have become so severe that even an old pro like Mandel has

trepidation about going

on stage, thanks especially to the rise of social media.

“Not only on stage as a comedian, but in life there was a time where if you said something that

crossed a line, even if you weren’t a comedian, you could say, ‘I was just joki

ng’ and it was OK.

But now you can’t just joke. Even as a professional comedian, with technology, anybody in your

solar system is able to record you to test whatever it is they heard, without any context

it’s

very dangerous. It’s talking without a net no

w,” Mandel said. “I’m more uncomfortable now than I

ever was. I even worry about doing interviews like this; how something I said will be interpreted.

Can it be construed as something that crosses a line? There was a time when I didn’t worry

about that.”

T

ickets are still available but going fast for Sunday night’s show at the Alaska Airlines Arena on

the campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Mandel says, that even if you’re not familiar with his work as a comedian

or with the

numerous other lives

he’s lived in four decades of showbiz

Sunday’s show is worth your

while.

“Every night is somewhat different and I know everybody’s in their life and there’s so many

things happening, but if you wanna just escape for a couple of hours and don’t want anyt

hing

but a good time, show up,” Mandel said. “My time on stage is an escape from real life, and they

say laughter is the best medicine, so let me be your pharmacist.”

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