Saying Yes [Howie Mandel]

An incredible story of a career turnaround, giving Howie Mandel a second life as a TV personality.

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[00:00:00] swyx: This is the story of how, Howie Mandel booked Deal or No Deal, completely turning his career around, even though he originally didn't want the job in the first place.  

As a word of caution, there is some swearing, there's a lot of swearing in this story. So you've been warned.  

[00:00:13] Bobby Lee: You told me once though, too, is that, um, At first, when dealer knew no deal was presented to you, you didn't really initially jump on  

[00:00:20] Howie Mandel: it, jump on it. I said, fuck you to the person. I know I was at 2005. I T I told you this, my career in my mind was over, you know, I had, I had done, uh, St elsewhere and I had done Bobby's world in the nineties, and I did a lot of TV. 

And I did a lot of movies in the eighties. And by about 2004, I was getting jobs at comedy clubs, which were maybe twenty-five percent full when I got there. So there was no people in the audience. So the audience has waned in my, in my height. I was playing like 10,000 seats and 84 or 83 and doing the tonight show. 

But now. 60 people in the audience. And I was reading for parts for five lines and under, so I bead outside a casting office and then I get this call from my manager, says, you know, NBC wants you to do, uh, a game show and I went, fuck you. And if you remember. Uh, nobody remembers, but if you remember 2004, 2005, at that time, not one comedian ever since Groucho Marx had done a game show, Gracia marks, did you bet your life, which Leno is actually doing right now, but, but no comedian had done that. 

And in fact, you know, being the game show host was the punchline. You know, it was kind of a joke. It's just the guy in a suit who reads trivia question. I didn't want to be a game. So I said, fuck you, you know, Career is over and I'd like to leave and leave. No, I'm I, I deal in, uh, I've I've done. Okay. But I like real estate as much as I like show business. 

So I was doing real. I said, listen, as for money and business, I can do okay. I just don't need to be constantly humiliated, embarrassed, kicked in the nuts mentally every fucking day. This is a really hard thing. Even when you're doing well, even when you're doing well, because the better you do the harder the rejection feels because you feel like you got that self worthiness and how can he say no? 

You know, even up to like two months ago, I've, you know, as you talked about, I produce shows, I've even said to a network, you know, All hosts this one and they have said to me, well, we don't want you. So yeah. You know, which is funny, but it's also, it's a kick in the nuts. So w what I'm saying is I couldn't, I wasn't, I didn't have the success along with the kick of the nuts. 

So I just said, listen, I'll make money. I'll do it. I don't need to do this to myself every day. And if I do a game show, that's going to be the nail in the coffin of my career. Wow. You know, game show hosts. That's the last thing I want to do, or I'd be embarrassed in front. Comedy community or anybody in show business. 

The last thing he did, he did St. Elsewhere. He did movies. He created shows. And now he's saying, what is the capital of Arizona for six points? Yeah. You know, it wasn't something I thought was an in the cards for me. And, and so I said, no, then they call back a half hour later they go. I just want you to understand that they're going to do this game. 

It's not an afternoon game show. They're going to do it in primetime five nights. And no network has ever devoted five hours in one week of prime time television to a game which already exists in most of the world and it's kicking ass. Ah, so I said, I really don't want to do it. He calls me back half hour later and he's. 

Will you just talk to the guy? I go, I'll talk to the guy, but I don't even want to, you know, part of the humiliation is me driving and trying to find the place I don't like today. Anyway, uh, he comes in and he goes, let me just show you the game. And I thought I was being pranked. It's this guy, Rob Smith from Endemol. And he brought in, he had a cartoon, he had a cartoon, he had a, um, an art card, like a piece of paper, and he had drawn 26 squares. 

He didn't go to Kinko. He didn't spend, it looked like a special needs after school project. Yeah. And, and, and he, he puts these 2016. I'm going to show you something, pick a card and don't show me what it is. And I pick a card and I don't show him what it is, but he's got the, each card had the amount of money on it, like a million and what yeah, he goes now, do you think you got the million? 

I go, well, I got the soup and why do I think he goes, watch this open up six other cards and whatever's in those cards is not in York and I didn't really understand. I go. Is there any trivia? Is there any skill. I went home and I told my wife, this is the worst fucking day, an hour an hour. And they kept saying to me, you are perfect for this. 

We can't do this without you Howie. We see you as the perfect person for this game, which bothered me more because there's no fucking game. Maybe it's because I had no fucking careers. So a guy with no career doing no games. Perfect. So. I went home and my wife said to me, what did, I said, it's his game. 

They opened up cases in that and she goes, do it. And, and, um, she just said flat out do it. Yeah. Well, she said, I don't want you in the house. She said, just do it please. You just gotta, I was going down a really dark wormhole. I was just sitting there horribly and she goes, I don't care what it is. Just do some, you just need to do it. 

And, and so she talked me into doing it, which I thought was. Horrible idea, but I listened to her, like you listened to her. They seem to be a little smarter than we are. Um, and, and the thing is that, so I went there and I was devastated, you know, was because they were practicing it and it didn't make any sense to me. 

And then I said, oh, and this is fraud. So I called them back on Friday and I said, okay, I'll do it. And they went great. We told you, you're the perfect person for this. You're the guy that can do this. And I said, when do we tape? And he goes Monday and I go Monday, Monday, but what about the models you need 26 months? 

We got, yes, you've already cast all the models I go. What about a set built? How fucking far down the list was? I, I called them back. I was terrified that I said, okay. But my wife made me say, okay. 

So I called them a couple hours later and I said, can I, I don't know what to do. And I've never done a game show QBO. I live vulnerable and scared, but yes, I was even more heightened vulnerability and fear because we were about to start. And so I said, can I hear some comedy from my friends too? Right? 

Maybe we can write maybe if nothing else, if this game is a piece of shit, I'll be, maybe I'll be funny. Like, and I don't know what to do. And you're asking me to do five hours, so let's right. They said, okay. And two, my friends came over and we wrote jokes about cases and things and models and shit like that. 

And then I walked out that first day, that Monday I walk out and they said, welcome to deal or no deal. And the crowd is roaring and there's 12 cameras around and all these lanes. And I introduced the very first, uh, contestant, never forget. I did 500 shows. Karen. Wow. Ben, Karen van was the very first contestant and, uh, I met her. 

I said, tell me about yourself, Karen and Karen explained to me that she was a single mother and these were her three children sitting in the audience right there. And she's never owned a home and she doesn't have health insurance. She's not from here. So in Iowa, like middle America, And then I realized, oh my God, this person is, is real. 

This is real. And this is gonna th for her that's Karen van right there. And this picture makes so much sense to me, keep this picture up because I want to tell you, this is how she decided to dress for our episode. Right? So, and that was Karen van. That's the very first show I've been doing the show for 10 minutes. 

And then I realized she's a real person. And I, and I also realized she's never been on television before. So there was like a glaze over her as far as all the cameras and all the lights and all the people. So she really wasn't listening, you know? So the first offer was something like $10,000 and I thought she's done nothing. 

And in two minutes I just offered a $10,000 and with no. No deal. And here's a woman, there's a woman that just said she has three children. She doesn't have insurance. She doesn't have, and she's turning to. $10,000. Anyway, the point that I was making here is she said, no deal. And then. First and foremost, and this is what I love about you. You're a human being that's right. First 100. And, and as crazy as you are, you're a nice human being. And what happened to me there? Um, now I'm tooting my own horn. 

I'm very nice. No, no, no. But, but the thing was, I, by the way, this is a real person and I don't care about she was making some dumb decisions so that. Changed my cadence. And I didn't want to do jokes anymore because I felt that that was distracting her from making good decisions. And it also informed my cadence of how I did that show. 

I talked to her, like I talked to my five-year-old and I said, okay, the offer, listen to me is $60,000. Wow. Wow. Putting $60,000 more than you've made in three. Or do you open up another four cases? Karen listened to me $60,000. Wow. Or no deal, you know, and that I was talking to her, but that became my, my cadence. 

And it was just about making her understand how important this was amazing. The co it wasn't amazing cause it didn't work and she ended up leaving, but she ended up leaving that woman look at her, right there. Ended up leaving with $5,000. No, that's great. $5,000 is almost double what I'm getting today for this podcast. 

 So I did the show and I did none of the jokes and I just played that game with that cadence and I taped five episodes. And I went home so miserable, so depressed because I said for the first time I've done five hours of television and I did fucking nothing because  

[00:09:57] Bobby Lee: as a comedian, when you're doing  

[00:09:59] Howie Mandel: something, you're not getting laughs. 

Well, it wasn't funny. I wasn't doing lie lines like that were given to me from a script. I wasn't, it was the first time I was just Howie and I was just doing nothing. I just. Right, but that's not, you know, I went into this business to be a comedian, to be an actor, to be, to do something entertaining. And I did nothing. 

I didn't do anything witty. I didn't do anything funny. And when it was going to air, I got on a plane with my whole family and I made my way. We flew to someplace in the Caribbean where there wasn't TV. And I was in Tortola and I got a call on the morning after it aired. The first time Rob Smith called me and he goes, you're not gonna believe this. 

It went through the roof. And I went, what he goes, the ratings are unpressed. I go for what he goes, our show. And I just sat there. I didn't know what to say. Like thank you. I just hung up the phone. I thought something's wrong. The next day it aired the next day, it aired and Rob called me and said, it's even bigger on the second night. 

And it was bigger on the third night. And that at the end of the week, 100 million people had watched it on just goosebumps on the network, fucking goosebumps, 100 million people I got on a plane. I came back, I landed in Miami within 30 seconds of landing. The first person. Made eye contact with me when deal or no deal. 

And then every other person was doing it all. My goosebumps is bumps, man. It could be a rash. No, I just, yeah, she's coughing. You're breaking out. Honestly. This is giving me goosebumps, bro. So, and, and out of everything I've ever done. Everything from St. Elsewhere to movies, to Bobby's world, to AGBT to whatever I do. 

The biggest success I've ever had in my career was the alert, no deal, which gave me the groundwork for everything else. That's how I started my production company. So I started calling you, I renegotiated and I knew rather than more money, I said, put me on the lot. I was on universal for seven years and, and, and I started producing shows and getting shows on the air, but that was the one time. 

The one time when I went no fucking way, three times. And, uh, who nobody is more surprised and thrilled than I am. 

[00:12:03] Bobby Lee: Now when you were in the Miami airport and you're and people are coming up to, what was your wife like? Astounding.  

[00:12:10] Howie Mandel: Yeah. She knew she saw the show and she kept telling me, but I thought it was because she loved me. It was great. She goes, you got to see it. It's great. You're not inside it. I go, what is so great? 

I didn't do anything. Tell me one funny thing. She goes, no, no, no. It wasn't funny. It was great. I go, but what did I do? And she goes, she goes, it w it, it, the idea of that humanity and people like either gambling or taking it too far or changing their life forever. That's great. I go, but me talk about me. 

Why is that? Why is that it's embarrassing. Anybody could have been, there they go. No, you has the house. That's not true too, but that's the only you could have done that. Well, thank you. It would have been a completely different show if somebody else did it, somebody else did do it before me. They, you know, no, they did in a different country. 

No, here, the show went, they did six episodes at ABB. With a British host and then, uh, whoever took over ABC, it wasn't their show. So they never aired it. We took the, they took the ABC show and recast it and did it with the same executive producer. Scott St. John at NBC. But right before I was doing it, they gave me the tapes that they watched at ABC. 

And I said, I don't. Do this, I don't, I don't get it. That's incredible. You know, and they did it very differently. But what we did at NBC seemed to take off and do well. And I love, I love the show now, you know, and, and when that show took off, That was when they call Jeff Foxworthy and said, you should do smarter than a fifth grader. 

And that's when they called Bob Saget and said, you should do one versus a hundred. And that's when they called Louie Anderson and said, you should do family feud. And that's why Steve Harvey has a career. Every time they're going to do a game show. Now the first calls are always comics. That's amazing. 

[00:13:55] swyx: So the story we just heard covers a four-year arc. That was probably a pretty dark period for Howie from 2003 to 2007. Obviously dealer new deal did very well. And in 2010, how he replaced David Hasselhoff in America's got talent. And now he is one of the longest tenured judges on America's got talent and has revived his own superstar. Did.  

As for game shows and changing the genre in general, how he credits himself with turning around. The game show genre and injecting comedy and comedians. Uh, most notably now with Steve Harvey and family feud. 
2021 Swyx