If “X” marks the spot for Howie Mandel in his new role as a judge on America’s Got Talent, he sees it as a bizarrely humbling experience.
“When we hit the buzzer, we have those giant X’s with our names that hang above the stage,” Mandel said. “Well, those are shipped all over (for the auditions) in these giant crates.
“My first day, I saw the giant crates in the back. They’d already set up the stage and before I actually saw Piers (Morgan), I saw this giant crate with his name on it. Then further down the hall I saw the next giant crate with Sharon Osbourne’s name on it.
“Then I saw the third crate and it says Brandy on it, and it’s crossed off, and then it says David (Hasselhoff), and it’s crossed off, and then handwritten in a Sharpie it said Howie. It just kind of said it all.”
Mandel’s insecurity notwithstanding, he seems to have settled in quite nicely alongside fellow judges Morgan and Osbourne for the fifth season of America’s Got Talent, which debuts Tuesday, June 1 on NBC and Citytv.
Mandel, a veteran Canadian comedian and actor who in recent years has been a game-show staple as the host of Deal or no Deal, has been a fan of America’s Got Talent since the first season.
“I’ve been doing this job (judging) in my underpants from my couch without getting paid,” Mandel said. “So to be invited to the party is great.”
For anyone who has followed Mandel’s career, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that he thinks he has more of an affinity for the really insane acts on America’s Got Talent than the other judges do.
“Throughout the years I’ve been a fan of people like Andy Kaufman, and it’s still questionable whether he was in total control of what he was doing,” Mandel said. “Or Tiny Tim, or Professor Irwin Corey, those kinds of characters.
“You know, Tiny Tim was not necessarily the best musician or have the best voice, but there certainly was a place for him in the entertainment world. How do you describe somebody like Tiny Tim? Is he insane? I love that kind of entertainment.
“Those aren’t the only people I like. But there are a lot of characters that come up (as contestants) and the first question I have is, ‘Are you serious?’ I won’t make fun of you, but you are a funny character, and you have to embrace that. If you embrace that and you own it, then it does have entertainment value.”
As the new David Hasselhoff, Mandel said he’s getting along well with Morgan and Osbourne, although Mandel and Morgan seem to enjoy “winding each other up,” as Mandel put it.
“(During the audition phase) we have to sometimes look at over 100 acts in a day,” Mandel said. “Piers would go, ‘Oh, my God, it’s 2 in the morning.’ And I’d go, ‘But look at our job. In another hour we have to go back down to the stage and a guy is going to load gunpowder into his underpants and blow his genitals up.’
“Just enjoy it, you know? What an amazing job. It’s ridiculous that we get paid for this.”