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Child Actor : The TV World of Howie Mandel is Filled With Kids, Sea Monkeys and Summer Vacations

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Howie Mandel has said he has the attention span of a gnat.

He’s right.

On a recent languid afternoon, Mandel was sitting behind the desk of his sterile office at Film Roman, the company that produces Mandel’s Saturday morning kids’ series, “Bobby’s World.” He was discussing his latest comedy special “Howie Mandel: Howie Spent Our Summer,” premiering Saturday on Showtime. Suddenly, he grabbed a book on how to make small wooden boxes off his desk and stuck it in front of his visitor’s face.

“Have you read this?”

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Sorry, no.

“I just picked it up and I can’t put it down,” said Mandel, who played Dr. Wayne Fiscus for six seasons on NBC’s “St. Elsewhere.”

“I saw this book and I thought, ‘I don’t have any wooden boxes.’ You can’t find one small wooden box in this office.”

He then grabbed a book on the fine art of housecleaning. “It’s new and c ompletely revised,” he said with his impish grin. “That’s why I picked this one up. I get these books from truck stops at 4 in the morning while on the bus tours.”

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Or, as in the case of the book on wooden boxes, from seeing an ad on television. “I watch all of those infomercials. The reason I am sitting behind this desk is because I am using a Thigh Master.”

So what type of behavior would you expect from a guy who puts a rubber glove over his head and blows it up through his nose?

Actually, Mandel, 35, was more subdued in person than his outrageous, freewheeling stand-up personae.

Mandel is justifiably proud of ‘Bobby’s World,” which will be going into its third season on Fox this fall. The top-rated series, which looks at the world through the eyes of a 5-year-old boy, is based on a character Mandel has done for years in his stand-up act.

“Bobby does everything you did as you grew up,” he said, pointing to a cutout of Bobby resting on the leather couch. “He is probably the first reality-based cartoon in existence and that has been the success of it. We are the first Saturday morning cartoon to give birth. We just did a show on death. It is an exciting process.”

This Christmas, Bobby will have his first prime-time special, “The Twelve Smells of Christmas.”

“You will get a card and scratch it and smell what Bobby is living,” Mandel said. “Isn’t that everybody’s dream?”

Mandel’s newest Saturday morning show, “The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys,” will premiere in the fall on CBS.

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“The idea came when my daughter (7-year-old Jackie) wanted sea monkeys,” he said. “All of her friends had them. And I had them as a child. I said, ‘This is great. This could be bigger than the Ninja Turtles.’ ”

He teamed up with the Claymation specialists Chiodo Brothers, who created Large Marge for “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” The series will be a combination of live action and Claymation. Mandel, who appears in the opening sequence of “Bobby’s World,” also will be starring in “Sea Monkeys.”

“That is going to be a great show,” Mandel said. “It isn’t going to be opposite ‘Bobby’s World,’ so you can watch both of them.”

The Toronto-born high school dropout and former carpet salesman said he got his comic inspiration from watching cartoons as a youngster. “In fact,” he said, “on my report card in the eighth grade it said, ‘Howie is smarter than the average bear,’ which is the level I always have strived for. I think it is always good to be smarter than the average bear. I live cartoons.”

Mandel’s two children, Jackie and Al, 2, watch “Bobby’s World” but don’t think it’s a big deal.

“When you grow up with someone who does that (voice) they just assume that is what everybody else does. (They think) this is just the way Dad talks sometimes,” he said in Bobby’s squeaky little voice.

“Isn’t it weird for me being somebody’s dad? I think it is.”

Having children, Mandel said, is like having two more friends, “except they are probably the only friends I worry about the fact they might not have eaten yet today.”

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When he’s not working on “Bobby’s World” or “Sea Monkeys,” Mandel is touring the country doing his comedy routine. He shot “Howie Spent Our Summer” during last year’s three-month summer tour. The one-hour special combines concert footage with behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

Mandel loves summer gigs. “It’s a great opportunity to play outside and get bigger audiences,” he said enthusiastically. “It’s a great time to see America. A lot of my touring I do for fun more than just a job. I get paid to do what a lot of Americans save up for and look forward to. It is like a challenge that I conquer. There are 3,000 or 10,000 or 15,000 strangers sitting out there and they are waiting for you to do something. I get such an adrenaline rush.”

“Howie Mandel: Howie Spent Our Summer” airs Saturday at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

“Bobby’s World” airs Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on Fox. Repeats of “St. Elsewhere” air weekdays at 9 a.m. on KADY and 2 p.m. on KDOC and Sundays at 6 p.m. on KTTY.


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