Howie Mandel: The Real Deal

“I was the last one on board the idea train,” says Howie Mandel of the national phenomenon Deal or No Deal. “I thought I’d be the laughing stock. I thought it would be the last nail in the coffin for my career.”

Far from the case (no pun intended), for Deal or No Deal is ratings gold, and Mandel’s a big reason why. The 51-year-old comedian, who’s starred in several hit TV series (most notably St. Elsewhere and Bobby’s World), hosted his own talk show and still performs stand-up acts worldwide, gives us the inside scoop on the show, the banker, his struggles with his OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and more.

Is it difficult watching a contestant who gets greedy? How do you stop yourself from saying something?

Howie Mandel: That’s the hardest part for me. I come home devastated. I’m not allowed to say ‘Moron, take the money … Just take the $200,000 and go. …You told me you were in debt!… You told me you never owned a home!’ I do that when it airs. My wife and I sit on the couch and I can scream everything I wasn’t allowed to scream. I find it devastating. These are all families and real people, who have hardships, pressures and needs — and when luck doesn’t go their way, through no fault of their own, that’s hard to take.

It’s hard to take that banker as well; who is that guy?

[First] it’s all based on a mathematical equation, and he sits there with a laptop and he works out the odds. He really is the bad guy. I know who the guy is, but I don’t socialize with him or talk to him, and I don’t like him. He is really mean. I’d say 60 percent of what he says to me can’t be repeated on national television. He’s made it his goal to try and get those people out of there with as little as possible.

How are you doing with your OCD? (Mandel struggles with a form of mysophobia, which is a fear of germs.)

I’m out here. I’m functioning and I’m actually OK. It’s pretty cool, because I know there are a lot of people who suffer from it, and they’re not. My heart goes out to anybody who’s not and isn’t functioning. I’m surrounded by great people and great family and I seek help for it. I deal with some of it with a sense of humor, and some of [it] I just take care of.

But you touch people all the time on the show?

No. No. No. That’s such a small part of the deal. Shaking hands is my one, and it’s not that I never do it, but it’s a little bit of an issue. I can hug and I can touch. It doesn’t intellectually make any sense to other people, or even to myself, but it’s part of what I deal with.

When did this all start?

From the time I was a kid. I did the talk show and I shook hands, and I’ve shaken hands, but how it affects me and what it does to my mind is different, so if I don’t have to [I don’t]. … On this show, I’m more myself than I’ve ever been.

Even more so than your talk show?

Yeah, because I had to shake hands and they didn’t want to deal with that issue. This is me, and you’re seeing every side of me — from dramatic, hopefully at times funny, to a little bit flawed in the sense that I can’t shake hands. [Until now] I’ve never been able to just be me on television.

And viewers are liking Mandel just as they see him! Deal or No Deal airs on NBC Mondays and Thursdays.