"'Candid Camera' was my inspiration and that's the first time I actually ever saw anything on TV and was inspired as far as comedy is concerned," said Howie Mandel when talking about the inspiration for his new NBC series, "Howie Do It." Along with his son, Alex, the two Mandels took time out from pranking to share their thoughts on how not to act funny, Howie's OCD and how their relationship is often about trying one-up each other in the prank department.
Speaking about what he finds funny, Howie offered, "You know, I have never been one to be entertained so much by a joke or even by an act. But ['Candid Camera'] was the first time where something was really funny because it was real... I was in on this joke and I was watching real people in these awkward situations. And that sparked me so much and I never had any inkling or thought of even getting into show business but even as a kid everything I was ever expelled for, hit for, punished for is what this show is about."
While the core of "Howie Do It" is to create laughter at someone else's expense, Howie contends there is nothing negative or harmful about his intentions. "In this show nobody gets hurt. It's good family viewing. And it's just fun, relatable comedy where it gives you a very visceral reaction where you can go, 'Oh my God, I can't believe he believes that or she believes that. I can't believe they're going along with this.' Or, you know, you put yourself in that position. You decide, you know, I wouldn't do that but you would. And I know that I would. There is nothing that is being done that we do on the show that I can't see myself almost acting exactly like the mark reacts.'
While Howie may have worn disguises in the past with comedy sketches for "Regis and Kelly" or "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," he doesn't think going to elaborate lengths with a costume or disguise will add to the comedy on "Howie Do It." "You know, it's very, very little disguise," he explained. "I want it to seem as real as possible. And I'm not knocking anybody that does things with disguises on but that's not what the bit is about. Ultimately the mark -- and that's the person that we target in any of these predicaments -- is the star of the show like they were on 'Candid Camera.'" Howie said that wearing a costume can actually work against the prank because it can "pull focus or pull any attention by wearing, you know, a funny getup or a funny - it's just so out of context for these people that there may be somebody that looks a little like Howie Mandel or sounds a little bit like Howie Mandel but obviously in the middle of this restaurant it isn't Howie Mandel."
While setting up the mark during the prank, Howie mentioned how he and Alex (and the other actors in the show) must work at not laughing at what unfolds. "I think that's an issue, laughing. But, you know, we approach it as an actor. What happens is - and this is the most fun kind of television we do. We will get there and with all the actors and all of us set it up. We set the cameras and we run through it like you're going to rehearse a movie scene. And then we're, you know, four minutes away from mark arriving, three minutes away from the mark arriving, one minute away from the mark arriving. As soon as that clicks in, like I did on 'St. Elsewhere,' when you're acting you have to somehow -- this is going to sound a little - very Hollywood actor-ish -- but when I was pretending to be Fiscus in those moments I truly believed that I had a patient and I played it that way and I felt the urgency of getting whatever I needed to get out, whatever information I needed to do a task. When we're in the midst of these bits... the way to keep from laughing is not to go outside the bit and see how funny it is."
Turning to a more personal issue, Howie, who has always been very open about his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), gave an update on his condition. "Age doesn't [make the OCD] get better or worse. It has ebbs and flows [but] there are times when it is worse and times when it's not. And I never know what the trigger is going to be... I'm highly functioning; I'm doing well. And, you know, I'm happy at the moment and I'm supported by a great family and loved ones and I get help when I need it and I attend therapy and do whatever I need."
For Alex, however, his father's OCD is fair game when it comes to playing pranks on him. The Mandel offspring revealed that while growing up his father, "liked to embarrass me but that was because he knew I wasn't going to ever get mad because it was just something I grew up with. He always, in restaurants and stuff, whenever I make a comment he made sure the comment was known to the waiter and stuff like that just to kind of embarrass me but it was always fun like that. And I would try to get him back any way I can. Usually it was against his OCD because that was what I knew would always get him back. I find ways to get him back but it's always fun though. He's been doing it my whole life and I've been trying to get him back my whole life. It's fun though. It's like a big game."
With his career spanning from performing early stand-up in the late 70s to his current multitude of jobs, Howie voiced his thoughts on the changing television landscape. "I think that you can't knock change and change is good. And nothing in any realm of life stays the same, you know? And that goes for television too. The truth is there is a lot of scripted television and more than there has ever been... when I came out here to the business there was ABC, NBC and CBS... and now you have 600 channels going 24 hours. So, besides all the hours of programming that you see on the networks there are fully scripted one-hour procedural dramas on many of the cable stations owned by NBC Universal. So, ['Howie Do It'] is a new format... it's not that new but reality is a big part of television. And I'm thrilled to be part of it."
Primarily known for his comedy and hosting of the popular network and syndicated versions of "Deal Or No Deal," Howie responded to a question about missing the dramatic work he mastered on the acclaimed "St. Elsewhere" in the 80s. "You know what? I love to work and I work whenever I can. And for me acting is acting. And this is probably going to sound silly but in any one of these pieces in ['Howie Do It'] whatever technique I employed in 'St. Elsewhere' I employ in these. So, you know, it's the same technique and I just have to find the character and do the character. So I feel like in this show I'm acting."
With his career bouncing from stand-up to dramatic roles to animated voice work to game show host, does Howie have any regrets? "It's the few privileged people that get an opportunity to do what it is that they want to do and I feel very blessed. And people always say to me whether you're talking about my game show, 'does it bother you that people come up and say, 'Deal Or No Deal?' I'll be depressed when that stops. And I'm hoping that people come up to me all the time after January 9 and go, 'Howie Do It?' You know, if I could be recognized and noticed for having the time of life then I'm thrilled."
"Howie Do It" premieres Friday on NBC at 8:00/7:00c.