The McCallum Theatre played host to the irreverent funny man Howie Mandell last Saturday night and he did not disappoint. Best known for his role as a game show host (Deal Or No Deal) and judge on America’s Got Talent – where his sense of humor and antics are quite tame and PG-rated --- he drew a near-sold-out family audience (including a large number of children and teens) who likely did not suspect an R-rated comedy show. Despite a few parents cringing in their seats with second thoughts about NOT getting a babysitters, Howie was a huge hit with the crowd and left them laughing all the way to their cars and beyond after his near 90 minute set.
Without giving anything away, Mandell started the show with a hilarious bit involving a nostalgic video clip from The Lawrence Welk Show that perfectly engaged, and in some cases enraged, the audience and helped prepare them for all that was to follow. Warm up comic John Mendoza scored quite a few laughs and, if not completely memorable, was a good lead in for Mandell.
Mandell got a slow start with the audience, garnering polite laughter for some of his standard “let’s start the show” jokes and stories, but then he kicked it into high gear doing what he does best – letting the show take on a life of its own by playing off the audience. And the McCallum audience was not shy about participating. They were quite vocal and Mandell played it for all it was worth. His timing is impeccable and his sense of recall – bringing back a funny line two or three times during the set for an even bigger laugh – is a “well oiled” technique in his bag of comic tricks. His repartee with the audience actually comes off a bit mean-spirited at times, making fun of those who dare to banter with him, but the audience eats it up – like feeding a Daniel to the lions. Most of his biggest laughs are at the expense of others and, although not my cup of tea, had the McCallum audience mesmerized – in the palm of his hand – begging for more.
He also incorporated some very clever, guerilla “candid camera” style video clips he had produced for his own pleasure, some of which have appeared on television in various incarnations. He stayed on stage with the McCallum crowd for what he purported to be “ten percent more” than his standard act and genuinely seemed to be having a good time. The standing ovation proved he was not alone in that feeling.
The McCallum Theatre is the perfect venue for stand-up. Somehow, even though this is large venue, it can exude the ambience and intimacy of a much smaller Comedy Club. The theatre is celebrating its 25th anniversary and Howie Mandell was a welcome addition to the lineup which will feature everything from Rock Of Ages and West Side Story to Yo Yo Ma and Chris Botti to Michael Feinstein and The Manhatten Transfer over the next seven months. For more information on The McCallum Theatre, visit www.mcallumtheatre.com.