Howie Mandel has his game face on.
His head, too.
The former curly-haired king of hi-jinks has in years past gone straight to the chrome-dome look, which gleams nicely on his game show "Deal or No Deal," now ensconced in its second season on NBC.
Thanks for the deal, Mandel says of his good luck just a day before turkeys are celebrated, but his show is honored for being anything but.
The comic whose "deal or no deal" mantra has meant millions for minions of the show -- not to mention his own wallet -- is not one to wallow in success like a misunderstood artist deigning to deal in game shows.
Are you kidding? asks the kidder. The show enriches his life, if it depletes his understanding of what makes a mensch a mensch.
"It has surprised me in absolutely every way," says the manic Mandel of the insight the show may have given him into the human psyche. Psyched! "I have no idea how humans work now. I thought I had a handle on it before the show."
Not now, he says. After all, why would a contestant with a debt in the tens of thousands pass an opportunity to win a guaranteed 100 Gs?
Gees, wows Mandel. "I don't understand when you offer somebody ... I interview them, and they say they've never owned a home, they have three children to put through college, and they're in debt. And I say, 'I'd like to offer you a quarter of a million dollars' and adamantly they go, 'No deal.' "
The show's been a good deal for the network, bolstering its ratings and leading to a decision to place other contest/reality shows in next season's 8 p.m. slots. Cheaper by the dozen?
Talk is cheap, as Mandel mints his money these days squeezing 25 hours into a 24-hour clock. There's the game show, his continuing Vegas gigs -- and viva Las Vegas, where he's one of the more popular nightclub draws -- TV appearances and a gaggle of gag-related schtick that helps keep Mr. and Mrs. Mandel -- and family -- in the green.
Want to make him feel green? Just try shaking hands with the classic obsessive-compulsive. After all, even if he wanted to grab some contestants and say, "What is wrong with you?" he's not about to; his OCD sees to that. "I can't shake hands; I'm not going to shake people," he quips.
Getting a good shake these days from so much attention, Mandel is going from game face to gelt face; he's got that holiday feeling for a new network project he's narrating. The one-time voice of "Bobby's World" is going global these days. But everyone's favorite former intern ("St. Elsewhere") before Monica Lewinsky, is temporarily trading in the rubber glove cap he has used in his act, placing his Yiddishe kup ... under a Santa's cap?
In the grand tradition of Jews with jingle balls -- Irving Berlin composing "White Christmas" and Mel Torme roasting those chestnuts on an open fire -- here's Howie Mandel on how he got involved as narrator of "The Great American Christmas."
Couldn't get a deal on a Chanukah bush? Don't ambush him, he reasons; watch for yourself and see that ho-ho-oys aren't that far apart in great greetings.
"We all want to go home and be accepted for who we are," says Mandel of the special's special message as it examines people from all over giving off an all-over warmth as they're celebrating the holiday.
It's not his holy day nor will Nov. 28, the broadcast's date on USA cable, be a silent night for ratings given the topic and Mandel's proven mandate to draw people in.
But he may be more used to drawing Stars of David than North Stars of Bethlehem.
"Traditionally, 29 to 30 of us get together wherever I am" working during holiday season, says Mandel of his Chanukah celebration each year.
He remembers those cold Canadian days years ago when he couldn't chill out as readily at the holiday season. "I never felt cheated, but jealous," laughs Mandel of the callow Howie the Hebrew, who at times felt entangled in tinsel way before he conquered Tinseltown. "I mean you go to a mall, you see Santa Claus there, the tree, everyone has lights, there are [Christmas] movies -- and I'm sitting home with a dreidel!"
Well, at least his feet aren't made out of clay, but that's only his comical spin on the subject. And Howie can be hilarious. If the former Canadian carpet salesman now shags audiences' attention, it is obviously the kind of respect that his in-laws can burn a rug to.
Which was not always the case.
There were those holidays with a hole in their merriment. Sure, he's a longtime success, and is accepted as a major macher, but ... "I wanted my in-laws to feel comfortable that I could take care of their daughter, but they weren't thrilled that their daughter was being supported by a man who put a rubber glove on his head."
If the shoe ... cap ... fits; he wound up making a smash with that bit as part of his comedy schtick. But didn't his in-laws consider that a step up from his being a carpet salesman? He laughs. "Obviously, you don't have children."
But Mandel has a heart for the holiday. When the aforementioned crowd of thirtysomething gets together, it's always the oil of Maccabee that greases their joy to the world. "No matter where I am," says the Jewish young Nick of network TV with eggnog and latkes on his mind, and the knight before Chanukah as his earned appellation, "I bring a menorah to celebrate every night."