The ‘unintentional comedian’ closes out 2017 on Maui
“I’m constantly amazed that what I used to get expelled and punished for is what I do for a living,” said Howie Mandel.
Mandel will perform at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 30 at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s Castle Theater in Kahului. It was never his intention to become a comedian. I asked who influenced him to pursue comedy as a profession.
“I got into the business as a dare and was hired to work at The Comedy Store in the ’70s. I got to watch Richard Pryor assemble his entire act for ‘Live on the Sunset Strip’ every night and that inspired me not to worry about things being perfect. It’s about trying things and listening and looking for something unique to you,” he shared.
Mandel’s path to success was uncommon. With little experience under his belt, he quickly appeared on the 1979 syndicated comedy game show “Make Me Laugh,” followed by appearances on Mike Douglas’ and Merv Griffin’s talk shows.
“I hadn’t studied the business and I was still new to it all,” said Mandel. “I remember someone asking me, ‘What do you do?’ and I said I was a comedian. They asked if I had ever done Carson. That was the litmus test — not just for other comedians, but for the public to consider you as a comedian. Before that you were just a guy doing comedy.”
It was Joan Rivers that gave Mandel his big break with an invitation to appear on “The Tonight Show” while she was filling in for Johnny Carson as guest host.
“Johnny saw the show and ended up inviting me back 22 times. There were only three networks back then and after a comic got an appearance on Carson your life changed forever overnight.”
Mandel would go on to star in NBC’s hit medical drama and black comedy, “St. Elsewhere.” I asked if having a regular hit television gig was a significant aid for touring.
“Absolutely, especially today,” he said. “I’m amazed and flattered if someone I pass in the street knows who I am. Any given home has maybe 600 entertainment options and not just hundreds of cable channels, but online programming, Facebook, YouTube, video games — it’s endless. Having that TV notoriety helps you break through, like ‘St. Elsewhere,’ that’s what gets people into the clubs and the theaters to enjoy your show.”
Mandel has been touring for over 30 years with up to 200 concerts a year throughout the United States and his native Canada.
“It was one of my signature pieces and the audience would roar,” said Mandel when I asked him about blowing up a latex glove over his head with his nose.
After suffering an injury many years ago Mandel can no longer perform the memorable routine.
“One night at the end of my show it felt like I had been stabbed in the eye with a knife,” he explained. “The curtain came down and I was rushed to the hospital. The doctor said I had perforated a sinus and asked me how this happened. He asked if I had been flying and I said, ‘No.’ Then I said, ‘What if someone stretched a latex glove over their head and blew it up with their nose each and every night for several years, could that cause something like this?’ Then there was this very long pause and he said ‘Well, yeah, but why would anyone do that?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘that is how this happened,’ and I explained my act. He actually said ‘Well don’t do that.’ I think I’m the only person in history that has a doctor’s note for work saying I can’t do that anymore.”
For the past eight seasons, Mandel has served as a judge on the No. 1 television show, “America’s Got Talent,” and before that as host of the prime- time game show “Deal or No Deal.” I asked him to share his thoughts on the prime-time game show renaissance and why so many comedians have recently become game show hosts.
“The truth is when I was offered ‘Deal or No Deal’ I was considering quitting the business. The third time they called me to take the job my wife said, ‘You idiot, take the job.’ So I did, and I thought, ‘Worst case, I’ll put the nail in the coffin of my career,’ he said.
“My wife is always right. The ratings went through the roof. It was like a tsunami,” added Mandel. “I studied improv for years and I love working in the moment. It’s a good fit for comics to take over game shows.”
Years ago Mandel did a comedy special called “Howie From Maui.”
“But we shot it in Honolulu,” he said. “I love Maui and I look for any reason to go there.”
I asked if there was anything on his must-do list while visiting?
“Just do Maui — looking, breathing and relaxing,” he offered. “Doing the show is going to be a really good time, too, because it is a participatory show. I look to be taken off-the-path. If something goes wrong on stage, nothing could be more right. I’m at my most comfortable when on stage doing stand-up in front of an audience and it’s going to be a giant party. Anything can happen.”
King Kekaulike’s adapted version of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” is considerably different than the original novel and musical version. But a winning combination of fine performances and colorful costumes makes it the “cat’s meow” — to borrow some flapper slang.
Senior Nicole Fatherlee is “de-lovely” as Lorelei Lee (the role attributed to Marilyn Monroe). Fatherlee ably finds all the charm and winsomeness necessary for Lorelei (blonde moments included), without presenting her as a dingbat. Kaya Greene perfectly contrasts Fatherlee as Dorothy, the more levelheaded and jocular sidekick. Joey Moepono also excels as Daddy Lee, Lorelei’s frequently exasperated wealthy father.
Other performances of note include Troy Lau as Lorelei’s impressionable intended, Henry Spoffard III; Eva Richards as his mother, Mrs. Spoffard; and Mariko Yoshida as Miss Chapman, Spoffard’s bossy assistant who’s intent on exposing Lorelei as a gold-digger.
This campy jazz-age tale of two college-age girls traveling sans chaperone to Paris still rings remarkably in vogue and is a perfect vehicle for high school theater actresses.
n The King Kekaulike Dramaaticans concludes “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” adapted for the stage by Kristin Sergel. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday in the cafetorium at the King Kekaulike High School campus in Pukalani. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and are available at the door 30 minutes before the show.
ProArts Playhouse in Kihei continues “The Frog Prince,” written and directed by Derek Nakagawa.
* Performances are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. and noon Sundays, through Dec. 23. with an additional performance at 7 p.m. Dec. 22 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students 16 and under. For more information or to purchase tickets visit www.proartsmaui.com or call 463-6550.
ProArts also concludes its holiday offering, “My Three Angels,” by Bella and Samuel Spewack, based on the French play “La Cuisine des Anges” by Albert Husson.
* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets visit www.proartsmaui.com or call 463-6550.
Limited seating remains for Bill Maher’s seventh annual New Year’s Evening of Comedy. Maher will be ringing in the Maui New Year once again, and this year he will be joined by standup comedian Bob Saget and President Barack Obama-impersonator, Reggie Brown.
* Performance is at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 1 in the Castle Theater at the MACC. Tickets range from $79.50 to $99.50 (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469, or order online at www.mauiarts.org. This performance contains adult content and is not appropriate for children.