Hands off

| 08 Jul 2015 | 11:05

You may never get to shake Howie Mandel's hand, but if you're brave enough you can try heckling him for a response at his upcoming show in Morristown on July 16.

In fact, the judge of NBC's "America's Got Talent" encourages audience members to speak up at his shows.

"I don’t need a plan when I get on stage," Mandel said in a phone interview. "I have lots of material and things I can do. If something pulls me off that plan — a noise in room, a technical problem — that is gold for me. I don’t mind if people talk to me. I look at it as one giant party."

A dareMandel's successful career as a comedian, actor, television host and voice actor all started with a dare.

On April 15, 1977, the Canadian comedian was dared to hit the stage of Yuk Yuk's in Toronto, Canada.

"The first time someone dared me to get on stage, I felt like I made it," Mandel recalled. "I couldn’t wait to get back on stage. The benefits and notorieties of my career — that is exciting. But I love doing stand up comedy. I knew that first. Nothing is more exciting than to stand up in a full room of strangers waiting to hear what I have to say."

Since accepting that dare, Mandel continues to live by the motto of saying yes to everything.

"My secret to success is just doing it," Mandel said. "I had no aspirations to be in show business and my break was just saying OK. It's a good word for me — for my entire life. There are always a million reasons to say no."

Even before taking on that dare, Mandel had always been a character. A character that didn't fly with school officials since he was kicked out of three high schools. One time he was expelled for impersonating a member of the school board and signing a construction contract to make an addition to his school.

"It wasn’t called humor at the time, it was called behavior problems," Mandel said. "Now it's considered humor in the right context and on stage. Because people know what to expect. There is a time and a place for everything. Like coming up to New Jersey in theater, that is a time and a place for what I do."

When asked when Mandel realized he was funny, he jokingly said, "I think I will figure that out in another month or so."

"I feel lucky more than funny. I am who I am. I don’t analyze funny," Mandel said. "I think we all have this shared experience. We always feel uncomfortable and awkward and scared. And that drives comedy."

Mandel doesn't have any regrets but does wish he could've stayed in school.

"I deal with mental health issues — ADHD, depression, anxiety," Mandel said. "It's hard for me to sit and conform. Be in a classroom from 9 to 3. I wish I had the help I have now to allow me to go further. But I don’t regret anything, it is what it is."

Through his humor, Mandel learned to cope with his issues including mysophobia — his irrational fear of germs.

"Laughter for me is a way to mask pain, a bridge to mental health," Mandel said. "I am medicated and in therapy. And through the most painful moments I've always found solace in trying to illicit laughter."

Coming to NJThroughout his career, Mandel stays true to what made him successful. Stand-up.

He doesn't necessarily tour each year — instead over the last 35 years he continues to do at least 200 live shows a year. Maybe that is considered one giant, ongoing tour?

"Stand up is something I continually do," Mandel said. "Stand up is the root of everything I do. Stand up is the one time I don’t have to edit myself. It's when I feel most freeing. I should say if you come to the show, don’t bring kids, because I don’t edit myself. I started in the 70s and no matter what I do — "St. Elsewhere," "Deal or no Deal," "AGT" — I will always do stand up."