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Howie Mandel: ‘Richard Pryor Was My Biggest Comedy Influence’

Howie Mandel is an actor, a host and a judge, but first and foremost he is a comedian. The 62-year-old got his start in comedy back in the 1970’s when his friends dared him to go to on stage at an amateur night in Toronto. Inspired by the late Richard Pryor, Mandel has performed comedy all over the world and will be hosting the 3rd Annual Howie Mandel Stand-Up Gala tonight on the CW. The all-new comedy special will feature performances from household names like Cedric The Entertainer, Orny Adams and comedians looking to get discovered.

Mandel chatted with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith about the origins of his comedy career, what viewers can expect on the comedy special tonight and why performing on The Johnny Carson Show is the proudest moment of his career.

DJ Sixsmith: How did you get your start as a comedian?

Howie Mandel: It all started on a dare. In the mid 1970’s, there was this comedy boom and I wasn’t big into disco. I heard about this comedy club that opened up in Toronto called Yuk Yuk’s. I went there to see a show and as luck would have it, the host said there’s an amateur hour at midnight on Mondays. At that moment, the people I was sitting with said I should go on Monday. I said ok and as I do with most things, there was absolutely no thought and no preparation. I went on Monday, one thing leads to another and now I’m talking to a CBS reporter.

DS: Who were some of your favorite comedians when you were growing up?

HM: I loved comedy. The biggest influence that came over me was Richard Pryor. I watched him luckily each and every night at The Comedy Store putting together his “Live On The Sunset Strip” concert movie. I never watched somebody so fearless and so honest on stage. He came every night and worked it. He was great even when it was rough. When you think of Howie Mandel, you would think of no comparison to Richard Pryor, but that is the template I always use. I’m trying to have that same work ethic on stage and be fearless while trying to create something. In this day in age, it would’ve been interesting to see how he would’ve handled this cultural shift of being politically correct even in the world of comedy.

DS: Tonight is the 3rd annual Howie Mandel Stand-Up Gala. Why did you want to put this together?

HM: The Just For Laughs Festival is the iconic mecca of anything comedy. This is the 35th anniversary. Every year in July, the streets of Montreal, Canada are shut down and people and comedians from all over the world seem to gather in this one place. You can walk into any building and watch somebody you know, somebody iconic and a new young face who will be iconic. Every network and agent are also in town searching for the next star. People like Tim Allen and Roseanne Barr were discovered there. In years past, you could turn into a building and see Don Rickles doing a set, Rodney Dangerfield doing a set, Steve Martin doing a set and anybody who was anybody. It still is like that. This is the third time the CW has said, why don’t we record one of these galas. Tonight on the CW at 8pm EST, I host and get to do some stand up and there’s people like Cedric The Entertainer, Orny Adams and names you have never heard of. Some of the icons, which are surprises, will also be on the show tonight.

DS: What makes this year’s special different from the first two?

HM: This is the third time I’ve done it. They say that three is a charm. Tonight is 20% more charming than the last two have been.

DS: Finally, you’ve done a lot of cool things in your life. What is the proudest moment of your career?

HM: The proudest moment is doing The Johnny Carson Show. Comedy is always number one for me. Stand-up comedy regardless of all the different things that I do and host and judge, is what I love and continue to do. I ended up doing The Johnny Carson Show 22 times, which was the proudest moment.

Watch the 3rd Annual Howie Mandel Stand-Up Gala tonight at 8pm EST/PST on the CW.

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