Brownstein Mandels join forces to promote mental health


    The bad news is that Howie Mandel is 16 minutes late for our phone interview. The good news is that the comedian/reality-show star is 16 minutes late.

    Say what?

    Mandel is forever stating that one of the few positive side effects of his obsessive compulsion disorder (OCD) is it ensures he is always prompt. So, is this tardiness an indication that the effects of his OCD are lessening?

    “No, no, no. I wish that were the case,” Mandel says in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. “I’m 16 minutes late, because my son Alex was dealing with the police at my front door. Let Alex explain.”

    So what did you do, Alex?

    “I just call it work,” says Alex Mandel over the speakerphone. “The police wanted to talk to me about one of the videos I did on YouTube. They were concerned that I thought it was OK to throw water balloons at unsuspecting people.”

    “Alex is trying to convince me this is his job,” Howie, 60, cuts in.

    “There is definitely a gap between what me and my father think constitutes real work,” Alex, 27, interjects.

    Fact is that Alex is a video blogger – vlogger – star whose YouTube contributions have garnered millions of hits. No matter, he, too, shares some of his dad’s issues when it comes to OCD. The apple doesn’t fall far from this tree.

    Father and son team

    Both father and son will be talking seriously as well as occasionally joking about their family trying to deal with issues relating to OCD and as well as Howie’s ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) when they take to the stage on Thursday night at Centre Mont-Royal. The event is billed as Family Matters, an awareness/fundraiser to benefit AMI-Québec (Action on Mental Illness). This marks the first time the father/son tandem will be appearing together on stage. CJAD host Aaron Rand will be moderating and posing questions.

    Five years ago, Howie Mandel was at the same venue speaking candidly about his condition for another AMI-Québec benefit. It came on the heels of the release of Mandel’s rather candid bestseller, Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me. Turns out that Howard Hughes had little over the Toronto-born wit on the germaphobia front – which triggered both their OCD conditions. 

    “My OCD is not any better than it’s ever been,” says Howie, who was last in Montreal hosting a Just for Laughs gala in July. “But I am under control and I’m medicated. I’m fine and I’m functioning. On the other hand, my son has to deal with other issues in which the police appear to be involved. We don’t see eye to eye on this.”

    “But the hope is that one day we will,” Alex counters. “I have OCD as well, which has to do with the way I was nurtured. I’m also a germaphobe – I don’t even share stuff with my own family or touch doorknobs. This has allowed me to become more sympathetic to my father’s condition. I used to get annoyed when I was younger. But you have to learn to put up with that. Now I realize that this is something he doesn’t necessarily control. Our conditions don’t get better – it’s just a matter of us learning to cope.”

    “The reason I agreed to do this event was because we’re going to talk about mental health as far as it pertains to a family and relationships,” says Howie, who has two other children with his wife, Terry – to whom he has been married for 36 years. “Hopefully, it will open up a dialogue, which unfortunately still has a stigma which doesn’t need to be there. I truly believe that mental health is the key to world peace.”

    Family pride

    Family feuding aside, Howie concedes he is impressed that his offspring has found his own path.

    “All of his little idiosyncrasies, which are kind of like mine, have made work for him. He is quite successful in his own right. But me being from another generation, I’m kind of slow to the party, when it comes to video blogging, tossing water balloons at strangers from high above and the police.

    “Of course, because of my son’s industry, our family has been barred from dining together in certain malls – thanks to his vlog about suddenly stopping escalators in malls.”

    In his defense, Alex points out that he wasn’t being malicious with the escalator stunt. “I was just teaching people how to magically stop an escalator – by digging their heels into the bottom step.”  

    It’s a living, according to father and son. Alex is able to monetize his YouTube pranks by getting sponsors. For good reason. The escalator video has had over 5 million hits, while the water balloon bit has nearly 1 million. To date, he has shot over 700 vlogs.

    “When I was 27, I was just getting on St. Elsewhere (the TV series) and he is making far more money than I was at the time,” the proud papa says.

    “Alex is more than funny – he’s really smart. It’s beyond my scope. I was always looking to be hired and to fill whatever the need was. But he’s actually programming a channel and he understands the analytics of who his audience is. And a brand will pay him a fortune for a mention.”

    Howie hasn’t fared so badly himself.

    After making a name for himself on the Canadian and U.S. standup circuit, he uprooted to Hollywood and almost immediately landed film parts and, shortly thereafter, a starring role in the acclaimed TV drama St. Elsewhere, playing — of all things — a doctor. He created the award-winning kiddie cartoon series Bobby’s World. He proved skeptics wrong again by striking gold in the TV game show Deal or No Deal, for which he received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Reality/ Competition Host and a Daytime Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Game Show Host for the syndicated version of the series.

    He returns as a judge next May for his seventh season on NBC’s hit reality-competition series, America’s Got Talent. And he is producing a comedy-game show, with Craig Robinson, which will air in January on Spike TV.

    “No matter where I’ve been, what life has really taught me is that we all have a cross to bear,” Howie says. “You don’t have to have OCD, depression or anxiety to recognize the importance of mental health. We are all affected and we all need to find the coping skills to be the most productive, happy people we can be.”


    Howie and Alex Mandel are featured in Family Matters, an awareness/fundraising benefit for AMI-Québec, Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Centre Mont-Royal, 2200 Mansfield St. The show is being moderated by Aaron Rand. For ticket prices, reservations and information about the pre-show cocktail reception, call 514-486-1448.