Howie Mandel, talkshow host. There’s an oxymoron for you. Indeed, based on the first three days of “The Howie Mandel Show,” it’s difficult to shake the impression that the goofball comedian picked the lock to Johnny Carson’s old Studio One hangout, flipped on the lights and, while no one was paying attention , recruited a few camera operators and tried to go national. Somehow, the feed keeps getting picked up off the satellite.
It isn’t simply that Mandel’s shtick is so cloying in general. When placed in a chair behind a desk, his irritation factor rises exponentially, to the point where the audience is left searching for ways to cut off his oxygen supply.Firstly, there is the impulsiveness that finds Mandel yammering in a ceaseless stream of consciousness about nothing, backed by an ever-present toothsome grin. He doesn’t merely laugh at his own jokes; he has discovered a way to laugh even at his own laugh, due in part perhaps to a certain nervousness at being a stranger in this strange land.
The daytime chatfest kicks off with Mandel performing a sit-down monologue of sorts. “I never had a band before!” he exulted on Monday’s opening show, pointing to Steve Goldstein and the Studio One Band. “I only had a CD player!” That’s about as good as it gets.
With an adolescent’s excitability, Mandel was met on his debut by Jay Leno with flowers and chocolates in a “surprise” visit that seemed to say, “Just stay out of latenight, buster.”
First out on the official guest roster was Jennifer Aniston, who handed Mandel a silver pencil holder. The host was so grateful that Aniston would grace his show without a thing to pitch that, after briefly detouring to take ill-advised potshots at 95-year-old Bob Hope, he inquired, “So, Jennifer, do you ever get people, like, stalking you, following you into the supermarket and stuff like that?”
This is Mandel’s idea of a probing question. It didn’t occur to him to ask Aniston directly about her apparent new significant other, Brad Pitt.
A remote in which Mandel played a valet parking attendant who informed people that their cars had been taken out on joyrides went nowhere. Arsenio Hall also dropped by to dispense host wisdom. The guys, obvious friends, at least had a nice rapport.
By Wednesday’s show, Mandel had settled in a little bit better, which is to say he had more authoritative command of his softball questions while chatting up the likable Clint Black.
But it was telling that midway through Mandel’s first week, the best the bookers could do was Jacqueline Obradors (the seductress from “Six Days, Seven Nights”) and the curator of the Pasadena Cake Museum. That, and a segment in which he asked an audience member for household tips, rewarding her with a package of paper towels. I am not making this up.
On Thursday, Yogi Rameesh was scheduled to drop by to teach Mandel yoga.
In truth, there are times when Mandel is almost likable. But with “The Howie Mandel Show,” he has unfortunately found a form that takes all his goofy qualities and dresses them up in clashing plaids. An offbeat doctor on “St. Elsewhere” is one thing. The next Johnny is something else.