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August 31, 2015

The TV Squad Interview: Howie Mandel

by Joel Keller, posted Apr 4th 2006 10:52AM
Howie Mandel of Deal or No DealLike many stand-up comedians, Howie Mandel likes to be the center of attention. But as host of NBC's Deal or No Deal, the sometimes-manic comedian is showing another side of himself; the one that lets the game be the star. In the show, the 50 year-old host is using his improvisational as well has his dramatic acting skills to keep the simple game -- where a contestant picks cases with money amounts in them, hoping the amounts are smaller than the amount in the case he or she possesses -- going while helping build tension and drama at the same time.

It's been a winning formula; since it's debut in December as a special one-week strip of shows, Deal's ratings have steadily increased. It started a Monday and Friday run in February, which has been scoring well. NBC has even aired a third weekly episode from time to time; the episode that aired two Wednesdays ago ended up being the twelfth-most watched show of the week. So obviously Howie's doing something right.

Howie called me on Monday, March 27, from Los Angeles. Even though it was 11:30 AM at the time he called (2:30 my time), he was dead tired. Still, we had an entertaining conversation where I found out about fainting contestants, how Howie was pitched the Deal job over pastrami, and how he deals with the show's mean old banker.

Joel Keller: OK, so now we're recording...

Howie Mandel: I'm gonna turn on an alarm clock... I'm not fully awake.

JK: At 11:30 in the morning?

HM: Oh, I've been working for hours. I'm just not fully awake.

JK: So what have you been up to?

HM: I was doing some post (production) on Deal and then I've been doing interviews.

JK: Very nice.  Who are some of the people you've been talking to?

HM: Today? Uh... this guy Eric interviewed me... he's not with any publication or anything; he was just doing interviews and I was happy to give him my time.

JK: (Laughing) So, he just asked and you said yes?

HM: He wrote it down on a little piece of paper.  I don't know if anyone's going to read it, but he has really nice penmanship, and I appreciate that.

JK: You're just generous, aren't you?

HM: I'm a giver. (laughs)

JK: I was very glad to hear you were willing to talk...

HM: Of course I'm willing to talk; I just told you I talked to a guy with a pad. You have a web site.

JK: This is true. Hey, at least we're owned by AOL...

HM: Yeah, I've heard of them. I don't know where. I Googled them... I'll try to figure out who they are.

JK: So, what kind of post-production do you have to do with Deal or No Deal?

HM: If I mumbled a line, then I have to go say it clearer.

JK: I noticed that there's less of that looping than there was from the first week (in late December). Because I was watching that first week and I noticed you had to do a lot of that...

HM: Now I know how to do it. I talk loud and I talk clearer, and it was just me. They didn't really change anything, there was nothing changed. But there was a lot of that looping; I know, people mentioned that. But now there isn't; there's hardly any, if any. One or two little lines here and there. But that's just because I'm not clear. And I was clear to the contestant, but just not maybe the home audience. They'll hear me say "ayyaafewmorecases to open", and then they'd call me in and say, "Well, you said 'nyah cases to open.' You've got to say 'three more cases to open.'" So that's the kind of stuff I'll do.

JK: I just figured that you were dubbing those lines in just because they needed you to explain the game more. I'm a game show fanatic, and I've always noticed on the first week of any show, the host over-explains the rules so everyone gets it. So I thought they'd just have you explain the game a lot that first week, and then it would go by the wayside as everyone gets used things.

HM: Well it is less, but the truth of the matter is, it's not so much for you or the home viewer. This game, for some odd reason -- the tension, the excitement, the thrill, (cuckles) the meaning behind whatever this could possibly do to any one of these contestants' lives, has an effect on these people. Like nine out of ten of the men that have been on have been brought to tears. If you look at them closely they're always crying. 

And people are tense, they're hyperventilating, they get heart palpitations, they want to faint. I mean, it's just so exciting, because I guess the less skill, the less trivia the less stunts... You know, it's all up to them, just saying "OK, I'll take it." And they kinda don't know when, and if you gamble you end up losing.

The problem is, and every contestant says the same thing: "Oh my god, it feels like I'm in a dream... I can't focus... What do I do?" So it's (the over-explaining) for them. And I'm continually telling them, "All right, Dave, you have three more cases to open. Keep the big ones on the board and the (offer) will go up." They really forget where they are and what they're supposed to be doing from moment to moment.

JK: So you're just trying to get them to think clearly?

HM: I'm trying to get them to think clearly, and maybe I compensate for them not thinking clearly. And also... you know... There's no skill to this game; that's why seven year-olds and seventy year-olds are watching it, and screaming at the TV. And I watched it in Italian and was at the edge of my seat screaming at the TV, not understanding a word they said, because I didn't agree with... I mean, the guy was saying no -- I know "no" -- the guy was saying no to a lot of lira.  You know? 

So the only way that I can be clear... "I just want you to understand the other side of where we are right now in the game. OK, you have $260,000 offered to you, you understand that, right?" You know (chuckles), that's what I have to say. "Now if you say no to this, you have to open three more cases. There's only two huge amounts on the board. three cases and two huge amounts on the board." You know, I'm not allowed to sway you and tell you what to do, but I have to be clear. And standing a foot and a half from some of these people, it's not clear (to them). Not because they're stupid; I just think that whatever this moment or this tension or this thrill of this game does, just.... discombobulates people.

JK: Well, one thing I noticed you do, and I don't know if you do this on your own or the producers tell you to do this, is you do things like bring out the contestant's seven-year old daughter to say "Daddy, take the deal!" And when I watch it, I think "Boy, that Howie's a mother..." You know?  Is that you doing that?

HM: You know, it's in the moment and it could be me, or maybe I notice it, or a producer. Obviously, each game, each contestant probably takes up to two hours. You're watching a game that minimally includes two contestants, right, in any given show. So you're watching four hours of television that's cut down. If it doesn't work out well for that little kid we bring in, I'll go anywhere. And that's one of the reasons I took the show, because there are no boundaries, you know? And it isn't gambling; I'm not bringing kids... I think sometimes it's clearer to even a five year-old on the outside than you standing right there -- and when I say you, it's you or me.

Maybe if I was in that position -- it's so much easier; there's nothing at stake for me, you know -- but maybe in that position in that moment with all that excitement, and these people haven't been on television before, I would kind of lose it and not be clear.

JK:  Like you said the men start dissolving, and I've seen the women dissolve into a puddle too.

HM: We've had to stop shows because people don't feel well, because they get sick. I'll go, "We'll be back right after this," and they'll look at me and go (sounding sick) "Aaah, is there any way you can get somebody with a cold pad, a compress, is there any way I could just get some water?" "What's wrong?" "I don't know, I don't know. "  And people are dizzy. They've left it on (the finished show) a couple of times, they say "My heart is going," they feel heart palpitations and they want to pass out.

And really, it's real clear, you know, it's real clear to you at home. And you know what? All these people say the same thing; they've been watching the show each and every night that it's on, they watched the last contestants. They're not going to make those mistakes. It's real clear to them how to play. And then I'd like to see you get your ass up there on that spot and play it as clearly and as confidently and as calmly as you think you're going to.

JK: So I'm sure everybody's who's talked to you has asked same question: "Doesn't it drive you nuts when somebody turns down the hundreds of thousands of dollars being offered to them, even though the odds are against them?"

HM: Well, absolutely. And the truth is, that's the hardest part of my job. The hardest part of my job is not -- as a father, as a husband, as a human being -- not to slap somebody and go "You moron, I just offered you a quarter of a million dollars!  You said you can't pay the rent, you don't know where the next meal for your family's coming from, you're in debt for 20 years... Take the money, and look at the odds." But I'm not allowed to say that, so what I try to do is make it as clear as possible. 

But I also understand that they're not making those bad decisions because they're stupid, it's that kind of... there is something about... even the way's show's set up: you're standing in the round, and you're surrounded by hundreds of strangers, screaming at the top of their lungs. I mean everybody in that room; the decibel level is just deafening. All the hot models -- there's a wall of hot models there that looks surreal. And the lights; there's like 300 lights, like laser lights in all different colors veering around the room. Your family members seem like they're three-and-a-half miles from you, yelling instructions at your face. Your family and friends who are maybe being beamed in via satellite live... I mean, it's just so surreal and so out there.  It's just so hard to say, "Can I just have a moment of quiet here? Let me just think about what's happening and look at the board."

JK: Do the producers recruit contestants that are risk takers?

HM: I don't know they want risk taker as much as somebody that we would want as an audience to root for and needs it (the money). You'll never see on our show a celebrity playing for charity.

JK: Which is what killed off Millionaire, actually...

HM: It kills off any game show because all of a sudden if you know... These are real people -- this is you and me playing the game, you know? I understand the situations as parents, I understand the situations as mortgage holders, I understand the situations of just getting out of college and being twenty years in debt. I understand that they have to get a bathroom fixed... You know, everybody understands that. 

So when they're being offered 20 thousand dollars... or 30 thousand dollars, we've offered that to people and they've said, "You know, that's more than I make a year as a rancher," "That's more than I'm making as the mayor," you know? And they're turning that down! It's got to mean a lot for them to take it and it's gotta mean a huge amount for them to say no to it. That's what they (the producers) are looking for. If you're making six figures a year, and you're comfortable, you're probably not what we're looking for.

JK: How'd you get hooked up with these guys? Because you'd never done a game show before...

HM: Didn't want to. Got phoned for this, and I said "Absolutely not." The connotation of being a game show host -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- it was not something where I saw my career going. And I said, flatly, no. Didn't even hear an explanation of the game. In fact, I hung up the phone, my manager called back and said, "Let me just explain the game."

You've got to realize, coming out of left field and not knowing what this was, the explanation didn't sound good because there was no game. He goes "There's 26 hot Maxim swimsuit models holding cases of money and a person just picks a case of money."  And I said I will absolutely, absolutely... watch this game. I won't do it... I won't host it but I'll watch it (chuckles). And I hung up again. And he called me back and said, "Listen, this guy Rob Smith from Endemol really wants you to do it. Can he just sit with you for an hour? That's all I'm asking, just sit with the guy for an hour." I said, OK, I'm going to a deli -- I live in Los Angeles and there's a deli in the valley called Jerry's Deli -- and I said "I'm going there for lunch; if he wants to meet me there I'm more than happy to have lunch with him."

And I'm sitting there eating my pastrami sandwich and this guy comes in. And I thought it was a joke; I thought I was being Punk'd.  He came in with this little -- it looked like an 8-year-old had done this construction arts and crafts project. He made this project board, which turned out to be the board of the game, and all these little cutouts of money amounts. And he set it up on my table -- he moved my sandwich (laughs) in the middle of this deli -- and he had a laptop, I guess where he could calculate the offers. And he started playing the game.

I was waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come around the corner to tell me I've been Punk'd. And I said, "This is a great game; I love the game" He gave me a tape from Italy, and I watched the tape and as I told you I was amazed by it.

And I said, "Why do you want me?" And he said, "Well, there are no boundaries in this game because there is no skill to this game. We want the host to have a veritable cornucopia of talents. Number one, you could interview the people, like you did in your daytime talk show. There's a live audience there, and we want the live feel; if the moment presents itself and you want to be funny and improvise in front of a live audience, go ahead and do that. If you want to be very dramatic and create more tension than there actually is and help move that along, then we'd love that, and that's what you did on St. Elsewhere. So everything that you've ever done in your career, that's what we want out of you."

JK: Did you buy all that?

HM: Well, you're talking to me.

JK: Well, you know how it is: "The comedy! The drama! The pathos!" So, I guess after you saw the game, you didn't think that the Endemol guy was overselling it?

HM: I watched the Italian guy; he'll be funny, he's actually a signer -- he's a pop singer -- he sang a little song. So I said "Ah, maybe I can do comedy." As I play the game, I realize the best is the tension, you know, if something is really funny, I'll answer to it. If it's not, I don't mind not doing comedy. If I want to interview the person and just have a conversation, I'll do that. So I'm playing all those things, you know? And at the same time I get to play the game, because I don't know what the answer is, I don't know how it's going to go so I'm just as surprised (as the contestants).

JK: I remember an episode a couple of weeks ago, there was an episode where a contestant was flailing around and she knocked off the telephone you use to get calls from the banker. What I thought was funny about it was that I saw the battery hanging out and I thought, "Hey, that phone is real..."

HM: It's real, and I'm really talking to the guy.

JK: Well, what is it? I mean when the guy...

HM: It is what it is. I mean, it may sound actor-y to you, but this is true: When they explained the game, they said, "OK, there's a banker and he'll call you and he'll give you the (money) offers." And I said, "What is this banker? What is it?" "No, we'll have a guy, he's a banker, and we won't show the audience who it is, and we want him to be our bad guy. We just think that's one element in our show that we'll want to play up... this real bad guy." I said, "Tell you what, if you really have a guy, and he's really the guy, then you have him call me and have him talk to me, and he can play his character... I don't wanna know who he is. I don't wanna meet him and I want him to be this mysterious guy."

And they've never introduced me to him. In one game, I ran up there and I looked at him and it's just this guy who I haven't met, who is the guy that I talk to and that's the one time I saw him. Don't know anything about him.

I sometimes share some of the tidbits that he's saying (on the phone), sometimes I don't; sometimes it's not for family fare. But he does taunt; he'll say "Let's get this idiot out here, we'll offer him this..."

JK: Really?  Because the impression that most people get is that it's all you doing that; he just calls up with a dollar offer and you make up the rest.

HM: No, he's real, and I'm sure he's been instructed to just be mean and "Get 'em out of here." He'll taunt them, and if I think the taunt is worthy of sharing, I'll share the taunt or I'll say nothing but the (offer).

JK: One time somebody did a little dance and the banker actually said he didn't like it.

HM: No, he didn't (like it); he'll say that: "What kind of stupid-ass dance was that? He hit me with a stupid-ass dance?"

It makes it real; I'm not acting there.  And it makes it fun for me too.

JK: One of these days you should do a Comedy Central version of Deal or No Deal, where you just say whatever the banker tells you over the phone.

HM: That's funny. That is a funny idea.

JK: Or an HBO version...

HM: It would have to be cable, because I'm telling ya, the things that are being whispered into my ear sometimes are ridiculous. I think he's trying to throw me too, not only the contestant.  He'll say something incredibly vile.

JK: Now I want to hear that, as maybe an alternative soundtrack or something. So were you surprised at all with... (Note: I was going to say "the popularity of the show," but Howie cut me off)

HM: Absolutely.  Surprised with everything.  Number one, surprised I took it. When I took it, I went "Oh my god, what did I do, I hope this is good." Then I taped the (first) five shows and then flew off to South America in December. Then my Blackberry started going off as it started airing, and it broke all the ratings. Every night we were on we were breaking new ground for that 8:00 spot.

JK: Especially for a slow week; it was the Christmas week.

HM: Yes, at that time, yes.  Especially Friday night, when the levels are way down anyway, to have that many millions, I think 14 million people on Friday night? No network, no show, at no time has ever done those kind of numbers in five years. Non-sports, non-Olympics. It was just amazing. And when I saw those numbers, I couldn't believe it; this is our show? When I landed back in Miami, every second person was coming up to me going "Deal or no deal?", and it's becoming the vernacular.

I looked last week at the USA Today, the cover of the business section, where they're talking about laying 33,000 people off GM. And GM is offering them a severance package to 126,000 people to get rid of 33,000... And they've got the cases on the front section of USA Today and it says "Deal or No Deal?", with the GM logo on the outside of our cases. I mean, it's part of the fabric of our vernacular.

JK: It's kind of the way -- not to bring up this comparison because it's really not the same game -- when Millionaire...

HM: It is a good comparison. That came out of nowhere; people were excited to be a part of it. This is much simpler, much broader an audience, just because after question number two -- on any game -- I was out if they asked something geography. No one's ever out of this game, you know? A seven year-old can play this game.

JK: Now you're on two, sometimes three days a week (they had the show on the last two Wednesdays to promote Heist). Are you afraid of the burnout factor?

HM: Afraid of that? I hope that doesn't happen. I don't think that'll happen. But if does happen, it's not the worst thing that can happen in someone's career, that you'll be on a show that's so successful that they burn the hell out of it. 

JK: It's a double-edged sword for you, because the more often they put the show on, the more often you work. But the more often they put it on, the greater the chances of it getting burned out.

HM: You know, everything has its day, and whether that day comes in two years or ten years, it has its day. I would like it to be around for ten years hopefully, but that fact that I got an opportunity to be a part of this is great.

JK: Do you want to do more stuff like "Hidden Howie" again (a hidden camera show that aired on Bravo last summer)?

HM: I don't know. I haven't had a moment -- since this Deal or No Deal has launched, I've been doing press and touring, but I'd love to do more in the future. Like Bobby's World; I'd love to launch Bobby again.

JK: I was going to ask you about that; during your standup, Bobby was one of my favorite characters.

HM: Right; and he became huge as a Saturday morning (cartoon), and it was syndicated in 65 countries, and now it's sitting on the back burner. And I've got more stories to tell, and that character is still alive. And with the advent in the theaters and the success of family films, I would like to do more, but that's all in the future.

JK: Like a movie?

HM: I'd like to do a movie, or even re-launch the series, that'd be fun.

JK: So when you do the standup act now, you obviously don't do the old stuff like the glove on the head or anything like that?

HM: No. And you know the thing about the standup now -- because Deal or No Deal is such a huge family form of entertainment -- don't bring the kids if you see I'm playing live in your area.

JK: I know you have the potential to be filthy because I saw The Aristocrats; you said the c-word about 50,000 times in the two mintues you were on. Were you surpised at how many people saw that movie?

HM: Absolutely. I'm surprised by the success of anything. I mean, ultimately, anything you do in this business has a 99% chance of not being seen by anybody. So the fact that something gets seen by some people is amazing in itself and the fact that a lot of people see something is even more spectacular.

JK: How did that get set up?

HM: Penn (Jillette) and Paul (Provenza) came over one day and said, "You know, we're doing this thing," and I had no idea what this was or where this was going. And, like they did with everybody, we just sat and I told a joke. And two years later, I hear, you know, it's being released at the film festival, and a couple of days later they (a studio) bought it. And then a month later, they're distributing it (laughs); it's out on DVD, it's huge.

JK: They just did it at your house?

HM: Yeah, that's my house. And I'm sitting on -- I have an edit bay at my house and I have the center booth from Caesar's Palace before they knocked it down to replace it with that theatre that Celine Dion plays in.  That's what I'm sitting in when you watch the movie.

JK: You look very lounge-y there. Weren't you wearing a smoking jacket in that scene?

HM: I always wear a smoking jacket and no pants.

JK: When you saw the movie, whose part did you like the best?

HM: Saget (laughs).

JK: I think that's everybody's favorite. (Note: At this point Howie had to run, but I tried to squeeze in a couple of more questions) You were on Stern on Friday, right? (Note: he was on the show a couple of days before we talked)

HM: Yes I was.

JK: I know during the interview, he brought in these two guys with high-pitched voices (High-Pitch Erik and Mark the Bagger) to yell at each other while you were sitting there. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to come close to competing with that today. So what's that experience like?

HM: First of all, the studio just blew me away.  I do radio all the time, and you can tell he's the king of the castle there. And he brings in his Wack Pack; I just feel like I'm on a field trip in the wrong class.

But it's fun, I had a good time on the show. It was great to hear he's a fan of the show (Deal).

JK: I was also going to ask you about this whole "no handshake" policy of yours...

HM: That's why I'm doing radio; that's why I'm doing telephone calls, it's just so much easier for me (laughs).

JK: Do people try to shake your hand or hug you on the show?

HM: All the time. But I don't; I'll give them the fist. I'll do the hug. I can't do it, the shaking hands. It's just my thing. I have OCD and I can't do it; I used to do it and it killed the whole rest of the day, and now I'm cool with it.

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Mr, truth

I like the show too, but not to sound insensitive, but he really needs to take some meds ot something to DEAL with his germ phobia. It makes for some very uncomfortable moments on the show ie: an 80 year old lady barely able to walk but obviously a huge fan goes to shake his hand and he offers her a "fist bump" (she was bewildered) and Donald Trump extends his hand and just gets completly embarassed

January 14 2008 at 9:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

you are so good

May 08 2007 at 11:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hi Howie:
I saw you on Ellen last week and you were talking about your OCD and how you manage in a hotel. I was wondering how you manage having the contestants touch and kiss you? I cringe each time they do thinking about how hard that must be for you.

April 10 2007 at 9:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It is a wonderful show. I love to see people win...And everyone is a winner on Deal or No Deal..It keeps me on the edge of my seat here at home..I do not get to do much, so watching this show is a really big Shoe..Well Howie,Banker,And of course the Ladies .I Richard Townsend thank you for the memories you are giving me....

January 22 2007 at 4:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


January 18 2007 at 12:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


November 21 2006 at 6:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

OMG when I first seen this show I was like what the hell is this. Then as I got further into it I was like this is great. I had heard of Howie before and I have a movie with him in it but didn't never really notice him that much. That had all changed. I am hooked and don't miss and episode, EVER. Howie is the one reason why I tune into the show. I can't stand it when they change the nights of it. Then I just have to wait a day longer to watch. Howie please keep up the good work and don't let the contestants get to you to much.


November 17 2006 at 12:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply



May 10 2006 at 8:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris McClelland

I would like to know why Howie always wears dark suits; why not something a little more flashy. However, please not the wedding dress he wore on his late night show a while back when he interviewed Dennis Rodman or the Little Bo Peep hoop dress I saw him in before. Yes, I have followed Howie's career and he is great!!

April 28 2006 at 7:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Happy Easter to one and all, any back to Howie Mandell. I have followed his career through his TV hospital stint, stand-up, movies and now back to the small screen. Howie is doing a great job as the host of Deal or No Deal. With his bantering with the contestants and the banke I think he's got a great family show. Keep up the good work Howie, we love you in the Northwest.

April 16 2006 at 10:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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