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Howie Mandel's first book more than just germ fears

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Here's the Deal

Don't Touch Me

By Howie Mandel with Josh Young

Bantam, 220 pages, $30

Howie Mandel is famous as a wacky standup comic and host of a wildly successful game show.

Many also remember the Toronto native's dramatic work in the 1980s as Dr. Fiscus on the TV series St. Elsewhere.

His high entertaining memoir's subtitle, actually played up bigger than the main title on the cover, refers to another thing for which the Los Angeles-based Canuck is famous: Mandel is a "germophobe" with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

That's why, as Deal or No Deal viewers may have noticed, he greets people with a "fist bump" rather than a handshake.

From the first chapter, it's easy to comprehend how Mandel came to be so obsessed with germs.

His mother was always concerned about what nasty microbes visitors to the Mandel household might have left behind to infect baby Howie.

According to Mandel, she made a mental note of what portion of the baby's crib was touched and disinfected it once the visitors were gone.

How Mandel knows this is not explained.

He also reports that his grandmother was the sort of neat freak who leaves plastic coverings on sofas and waxes a concrete veranda.

But the clincher, what undoubtedly pushed young Howie over the edge and doomed him to a germ-obsessed existence to this day, has to be what happened to him on a family trip to Florida when he was still a wee child.

A sand fly laid eggs in him, and larvae grew visibly just under the skin of his legs.

A doctor used liquid nitrogen to kill some of the larvae while medical colleagues watched; Mrs. Mandel scrubbed out the rest over several sessions at home.

Finding things growing under his skin was understandably horrifying to young Howie, and their removal was painful.

Mandel relates that whenever he thinks about those unforgettable days, "it feels as if there are organisms trying to make their way under my skin."

But there's more than just germ fears in this, his first book.

He talks about how having a daytime talk show all but ruined his standup career.

He talks about how his penchant for practical jokes has strained relationships and embarrassed his family.

He talks about how persistence paid off for a skinny, feminine-looking boy trying to get a date with one of his high school's prettiest girls, to whom he has been married for more than 30 years.

He talks about how attention-deficit disorder and colour blindness have affected his life's work, and how he weathered a health scare earlier this year.

Notice that verb, talk, used in this review, because Here's the Deal is written in a conversational style befitting an author whose career has been all about getting onstage and speaking to audiences.

Anyone even slightly familiar with Mandel's standup comedy, which is maybe a notch above low-brow, won't be surprised to find that this book is not at all literary.

There are no $2 words or pretentious allusions in these pages, and that's a good thing as it makes for an easy and enjoyable read.

Mandel fans will enjoy this book the most, of course, but its appeal goes beyond that group.

Celebrity-watchers will eat up anecdotes from his interactions with the likes of Blake Edwards and Johnny Carson, and you needn't be familiar with OCD to appreciate a person's struggles with the mental-health issue.

For the right person, Here's the Deal would make a great holiday gift. With rubber gloves.

Winnipeg writer Mike Stimpson fears computer viruses more than biological bugs.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2009 H9

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