Howie Mandel has been a judge on “America’s Got Talent” for so long that it’s easy to forget he’s got some talent of his own. The former “St. Elsewhere” star will show off his stand-up chops Sept. 28 for a Twin Cities benefit. He’s also front and center in Wednesday’s season finale of “America’s Got Talent.” Mandel, 57, spoke by phone from his Los Angeles office about his relationship with Howard Stern, his dramatic ambitions and if he’ll ever put another latex glove over his head:
Q: How would you compare the chemistry between the new set of judges — Heidi Klum and Melanie Brown were added — this year on “America’s Got Talent”?
A: I’ve been there four years now. There was great chemistry back then, and it’s been more of the same this year. We come from four different schools of thought, but we’re four strong-willed, passionate people who can respectfully disagree.
Q: Why do you think people are so fascinated by your relationship with Howard Stern?
A: I love Howard. I think we’re good friends who love a good argument. We have different tastes, and we’re more than happy to air our laundry in front of the world. Not only is that better TV, but that’s who we are.
Q: So much of your act appears improvised. Is it?
A: I look for things to go wrong. I look to go off script. If somebody yells something out or there’s a technical glitch, I make it part of the show.
Q: That would seem to take a lot of confidence.
A: I don’t know if confidence is the right word. I take comfort in discomfort. It’s like a roller-coaster ride. You’re looking for the one that brings you closer to death. I don’t want a nice, easy ride with the breeze blowing in my hair. That would be really boring. Fear is a great tool for me.
Q: “St. Elsewhere” featured a number of future stars including Denzel Washington, Mark Harmon and you. So why isn’t there a decent DVD collection?
A: I’ve got nothing to do with that. We recently had a reunion shoot for Entertainment Weekly, and it was great seeing everyone again. I’m not sure a DVD set is the next step. DVDs have kind of fallen by the wayside. I just pulled my eight-track player out of my car.
Q: That show gave you the chance to show off some dramatic chops. Any interest in exploring those again?
A: I would in a heartbeat, but I’m going to follow this path rather than blaze a trail. The one thing I’ll always do is stand-up. It’s my primal scream at the end of the day. There are no lines to recite, no commercials to throw to. It’s loose and it’s free. I don’t edit myself, so don’t bring the kids to my live shows.
Q: In addition to being on the air, you’ve become a fairly successful producer. Was that always the plan?
A: My background is actually in retail and business. I started off selling carpet — and I’m color blind. The applause back then was a signature on the contract. Collaborating with 200 people and watching your funny idea come to life is fascinating to me. It’s actually the exact opposite of stand-up. I like working both ends of the spectrum. It keeps everything fresh.
Q: You got a lot of attention early in your career for putting a latex glove over your head and blowing it up. Any chance you’ll do that bit when you’re in Minneapolis?
A: I haven’t done it in years. But I would. I’m not sure that’s a brilliant piece of comedy. As a long-standing member of the germaphobe community, I had a glove in my pocket and during an awkward moment of silence, I pulled it over my head and acted like a 2-year-old. It became a signature bit. Life is just moment to moment, and I’ve been lucky enough to have these weird, wonderful things happen.