He launched his career by taking the stage at Yuk Yuk's in Toronto, with "no intention of ever pursuing" comedy, acting or anything in entertainment, Mandel says. "In the mid-'70s, stand-up became the new disco, and people were being discovered on
'The Tonight Show' like
Freddie Prinze, and
Robin Williams was blasting off. Comedy clubs sprouted up all over."
Mandel, engaged to be married and working in retail, had his life mapped out, but once onstage he found he could make people laugh. Soon after, he found himself at a Los Angeles comedy club on amateur night and took the mic. After he did his shtick, a man approached and asked if he was interested in television.
PICS: 'America's Got Talent' Season 7
"I wasn't," Mandel tells
. "I went back to Canada, in the carpet business. I did
'The Mike Douglas Show'
wanted me to be her opening act. I didn't even have an act."
That jumps ahead, as Mandel tends to do. The point here is he seized the moment.
"The one running constant I have is I have continuously said yes to things that sound ridiculous," Mandel says.
Mandel was talking while walking into a hotel in Niagara Falls for a performance that night. It's one of 200 live dates he plays each year.
"It keeps me in touch with what people are responding to," he says.
That helps him on "America's Got Talent," on which he says, "we try to be instructive, not just critical, and I think that is helpful."
Birth date: Nov. 29, 1955
Key to a 32-year marriage: "If you asked my wife, it would be the very fact that I am walking into a casino in Niagara Falls," Mandel says. "That I travel a lot, it is her bliss."
"Muppet Babies" (voice of Skeeter),
"St. Elsewhere" (Dr. Wayne Fiscus),
"Bobby's World" (Bobby Generic),
"Mobbed," "Howie Do It"
How to relax: "I can't take downtime," Mandel says. "Then I will watch YouTube and watch TV on the Internet. I can't be quiet. If I am quiet, I go inside my own head. There isn't enough medication."
Favorite books: "
'Into Thin Air,' Jon Krakauer's first big seller. I was fascinated that people would push themselves that hard to reach a milestone in life (climbing Mount Everest). Everything I do, even comedically, I am fascinated by people, people performing, putting themselves under duress, and I think that the journey - I judge it by finding a path - those books inspire me."
Favorite movies: "I am a big
Mel Brooks fan. I like all Mel Brooks movies. I like comedies. I need to be distracted.
'Princess Bride.' I like light. Woody Allen, from
'Take the Money and Run,' 'Midnight in Paris,' 'Match Point.' "
Favorite music: "I love everything Motown, from
Temptations to the
Diana Ross, and
Earth, Wind & Fire. My favorite album is
'The Dark Side of the Moon.' Everything