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Memphis Flyer Catch Him If You Can

Howie Mandel's no longer a stand-up guy

By Mary Helen Randall

OCTOBER 13, 1997:  Howie Mandel is trading in his rubber glove for a coffee mug.

After nearly 20 years on the stand-up circuit, Mandel is joining the ranks of Regis and Kathie Lee and Leeza Gibbons with his own morning talk show.

"This is your last chance to see me for a while," says Mandel of his October 9th Sheraton Casino appearance. "It [the talk show] gives me the capability to do everything I've ever wanted to do. I'll have a live audience, get to meet everyone I want to meet and talk to them about things that I am interested in. I'm performing in all different venues, but in one arena," Mandel says of this new venture, which begins production in January and is set to air in June.

Although a morning talk show is new to Mandel, television certainly is not. Mandel spent six years as Dr. Wayne Fiscus on NBC's award-winning drama St. Elsewhere. "St. Elsewhere was a great opportunity for me. It is something that I am proud to have been a part of," he says. "Last year I did the season premiere of The Outer Limits, so I still get my dramatic acting jollies from time to time." In addition to his dramatic work, Mandel is the creator of two animated shows for children, Bobby's World and Ernest.

Besides providing the voices of Bobby, Bobby's father, and other characters, Mandel is involved in every facet of Bobby's World as its executive producer, and he says that the show works because the story lines are drawn from real life.

"Everything that happens on the show is something that happened in my life or in the other writers' lives. My kids are sorely disappointed when they watch the show and don't recognize the plot," he says. Not to take all the credit, Mandel says his children are handsomely rewarded for their creative efforts in room and board.

The success of Bobby's World, which is in its eighth season on Fox and appears in syndication six days a week in 65 countries, prompted Mandel to begin yet another animated series called Ernest.

Like Bobby, Ernest is also a character brought to life from Mandel's stand-up routine. Ernest is one of Santa's elves in search of gainful employment in the "off-season." Together with two of his friends, Ernest finds himself in one sticky situation after another.

"It's my homage to the Three Stooges," says Mandel. "Here's three totally inept guys running around trying to be plumbers or whatever, and failing miserably."

Mandel's series of educational CD-Roms has also done well. The discs are distributed by 7th Level, and include Lil' Howie's Great Math Adventure and Tuneland, just to name two. The series has won 36 awards and critical acclaim.

"We took the national curriculum on reading, writing, and math, and then came up with games and scripts that intertwined with the mandated curriculum. The kids are being entertained while subliminally learning the lessons," he explains.

In addition to his animated shows, HBO specials, and CD-Roms, Mandel still has found time to perform approximately 200 dates a year, making him one of the most successful, if not busiest, comedy stars today.

Mandel brings his "One Woman Show" to the Sheraton Casino Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

What can audience members expect from Mandel this time around? Even he doesn't know.

"I have no idea what to expect because each show is different," he explains. Although improvisation can be a risky venture, Mandel says his show wouldn't work any other way.

"It's a lot scarier for me to try and do a set show 200 times," Mandel says. "Of course, I know from experience what tends to work with an audience, but if I did the same thing every time I would get bored, and that would be reflected in my performance."

Will he miss the stand-up shows once his tour is completed in January? Well, yes and no.

"There's no bigger thrill in the world than to be standing on stage and see all the people out there. My attitude toward it is `Hey, it's the world's biggest party, and I'm the center of attention!' The thrill of performing is the greatest part of my job."

But, then again, he says, "I have been on the road for a long time. I have a wife and three children, and the talk show will be a wonderful opportunity for me to stay in one place and be with them."

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