‘Talent’ familiar territory for Howie Mandel

When Howie Mandel became an “America’s Got Talent” judge, I wondered if he was seeing the other side of Las Vegas entertainment for the first time.

You can draw a clear line between headliner names such as Mandel and the working entertainers who populate shows sold by title, or all the impressionists, hypnotists and magicians scrapping to build their own name recognition.

Mandel has a 30-year presence in Las Vegas, a constant through all phases of his career. He always played here as a star, unless you count his 1980 flop-sweat debut as Diana Ross’s opening act at Caesars Palace.

When the comedian joined “Talent” in 2010, he turned out to be a simpatico judge for the journeyman comedians, acrobats and magicians of Las Vegas.

“I love seeing anybody put themselves out there. I always went to the lounges off the beaten path and off the Strip. I love those kind of acts,” he says. “I love anything from insanely brilliant to just insane. I love performers. Ultimately, Vegas is mecca.”

Mandel happens to be doing his stand-up at The Venetian next weekend, when this year’s “Talent” finalists play the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. (He didn’t plan it that way, “but if it seems like a brilliant move I will say I deliberately did it.”)

When our Vegas folks would be in front of the judges, I would wonder if Mandel had any prior awareness of them. He said he’s known comedian Geechy Guy, one of last summer’s contestants, for decades. “I knew he had a show in Las Vegas (“The Dirty Joke Show”). But today he’s more well-known because of our show than all the years he’s been doing stand-up.”

The fact that many contestants are working pros on the Strip is downplayed on TV. “It’s very funny, because I’ll get tweets throughout the episodes: ‘It’s not fair, I saw this guy in Las Vegas,’ ” Mandel says.

His reply: “We’re not an amateur show.”

“(Contestants) tell us they’ve been doing it for 30 years and they just haven’t broke. … This is their opportunity. This is a platform. Even if they don’t win, the smallest audience they get is like, 12 or 13 million people. Where can you get a showcase like that?”

This season’s winner, Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., isn’t guaranteed a bright future in Las Vegas after next weekend; that will be up to him and his managers. But Mandel believes he is at least starting out in the right place. “Being in Las Vegas is like being out there in the world,” he says.

“Las Vegas is America, it’s not traditionally, specifically just a Las Vegas audience. If you can market yourself there and do well there, you have a chance to do well everywhere.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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