Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Andy Nulman's inside scoop on Howie Mandel


While comic Howie Mandel (left) has performed in Montreal many times, he will be back here Wed. May 18 (7:30 p.m.) at the Centre Mont-Royal (2200 Mansfield) with a much different purpose in a benefit for AMI-Québec Action on Mental Illness. There is probably nobody in Montreal who knows Mandel better than Andy Nulman, the head of the Just For Laughs Festival.

Andy and I go way back to when we worked together at the former Sunday Express Newspaper, where he was the entertainment editor. He soon moved on to promoting events and as I recalled in a conversation with me the other day, Toronto native Mandel became one of his clients. “The first time Howie performed in Montreal was in 1983,” Nulman said. “ He was 23 years old at the time. I had actually met him three years earlier when I was working for the Sunday Express. I ended up meeting my wife Lynn via Howie. She was dating his brother Steve. I showed up to meet Howie, saw this cute girl. Steve went back to Toronto, I asked Lynn out on a date and well, we ended up getting married.”

While on a trip to Los Angeles in 1979, Mandel made a big splash on amateur night at the Comedy Store. Soon the neophyte funnyman was booking professional gigs both on stage and TV. In 1982 he was cast in a dramatic role on NBC's St. Elsewhere, and during the series' six seasons, he made a number of TV comedy specials and branched out onto the big screen in a string of comedies, including The Funny Farm and A Fine Mess. In the 1990s Mandel signed on to a variety of short-lived TV projects including a sitcom (Good Grief) and an eponymous daytime talk show, but it was his Emmy-nominated animated series Bobby's World, which ran for eight seasons, that had the most success.

Mandel also kept busy with live performances and regular talk-show appearances, including frequent hidden-camera segments on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno, but didn't take center stage again until 2005 when he became the host of NBC's Deal or No Deal. The wildly popular game show led to triple hosting duties for Mandel, who took the helm of the Canadian and syndicated versions as well. In late 2009, he released Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me, a memoir detailing his struggles with OCD and ADHD and how each has affected his career. A few months later, NBC announced that Mandel would take over David Hasselhoff's judging seat on the summer series America's Got Talent.

Off screen, Mandel plays the role of husband and father with his wife, Terry, and their three kids in Los Angeles. Nulman calls Mandel a role model for anyone dealing with mental illness. “Many say that mental illness is like a death sentence,” he says. “Yet here is a guy who has enjoyed success time and time again, despite dealing with a very serious problem.”

When Andy and Lynn (pictured) were asked to organize a fundraiser for AMI-Quebec they wanted to come up with an idea whereby the audience would have an entertaining evening, yet learn something about the issue at hand as well. Nulman called in a favor and asked Mandel if he would perform. “He is doing us a massive favor by coming to Montreal,” Nulman says. I asked Nulman whether he has ever shaken Mandel’s hand. “Yes I have,” he responded. “I also got kicked out of a room by him for sneezing. The fact is OCD and ADHD are mental illnesses. It is incredibly cruel to make fun of that. It is like asking a blind man if you can trip him or asking someone with a limp if they’d liked to go for a jog. What we want to do with this evening on May 18 is destigmatize mental illness.”

The format for the evening will be a question and answer format, with noted French language television journalist Stefan Bureau interviewing Mandel. Nulman said that this will be a very interesting format for those on hand. Mandel has in fact done it before at other venues. AMI-Québec is a non-profit, registered Canadian charity located in Montreal. Its mission is to help families manage the impact of mental illness through support, education, guidance and advocacy.

By promoting understanding in communities at large, AMI works to dispel the stigma still surrounding mental illness. Family caregivers need help in many ways to provide their ill relative with effective care giving and to protect their own well-being. AMI-Québec unites families with similar problems, allowing them to share their concerns and take comfort in mutual support.Tickets for the event are $300 (with an invitation to a pre-show cocktail) and $175 (general admission). To purchase seats contact AMI-Quebec at 514- 486-1448, info@amiquebec.org or log on to www.amiquebec.org.

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