Howie Mandel brought his conversational style of standup comedy to the stage of the Lesher Center Friday night.
The television game show and talent show star picked out audience members, asked pointed questions and brought forward items that yielded yucks in unexpected ways. Mandel picked on people but in a good-natured way. There was an occasional wrong turn, but it usually worked through the agency of Mandel's comedic timing.
"I don't edit myself," he said, but it seemed to me that that was exactly what he was doing.
A woman in the front row was texting her adult son, who was getting ready to board a plane from LA to the Bay Area. A woman in the back didn't know the name of her friend's pet fish. A doctor named Carla — who will never again respond when someone calls out "is there a doctor in the house?"— gave grudging consultation about Mandel's body hair issues.
Sometimes the result was audience members shouting answers back and forth. "This is like a joke on me," Mandel said from the stage. "I feel like I'm up here interrupting you people."
Even Mandel's issues have issues. It seemed to this observer, follically challenged himself, that there was an undue proportion of men with shaved heads — like Mandel — in the audience. The warmup comedian, John Mendoza, even remarked upon "a Howie lookalike festival" in one of the front rows.
Mandel riffed upon his own foibles — he's a germaphobe and a claustrophobe.
Mandel riffed on Walnut Creek. Earlier in the day he had strolled around town and one resident stopped him to ask, "Are you in town?"
"Is this a hologram?" Mandel asked the audience. "I'm Tupac."
He made jokes and then turned around and dissected the humor. Several times, he got laughs with "That's not funny" or "That was not a joke" — there was a bit about how he learned to do funny, high-pitched voices when he was choking on a piece of cake at a birthday party when he was 11 in Canada.
Sometimes the self-examination gets tired. Toward the end he said, "It's different tonight … I actually finished five to six minutes ago. I just didn't leave." And in fact that's just the way it seemed to this audience member. The line just let the air out of the audience.
The show was a benefit for Northern California HomeAid, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Pleasanton, which works with the construction industry to build dignified housing where homeless families and individuals can rebuild their lives. Home Aid is close to opening a new temporary shelter in Concord for family members, including children in crisis.
At the Mandel show at the Lesher, top auction bidders had the incentive of quality time backstage with Mandel after the show. One can just imagine the conversations there. I couldn't help but wonder if Carla made it backstage.