Director and executive producer Barry Avrich was right in the middle of making HOWIE MANDEL: BUT, ENOUGH ABOUT ME when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
In addition to being a legendary Canadian comedian and TV personality, Mandel, of course, is a well-known germaphobe. So this was going to be a problem, right?
“If it were anyone from Batman to James Bond, then production would have stopped – but for Howie, this was just another day of, ‘Welcome to my world,’ ” said Avrich, whose fascinating and revealing CTV Feature Documentary debuts Monday at 9 p.m. ET (and is streaming Tuesday on Crave).
“It was me that was asking for the pivot, not Howie,” Avrich continued. “I said, ‘What if I were to send a crew in hazmat suits, literally, and shoot you?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ We exercised production protocols that we invented, because the industry hadn’t even come up with them yet – this was April. But he said okay, and I directed him via Zoom. He was so open to just getting it done. And even when it comes to telling the same stories, if I needed 100 takes, he just gets it. He was a pleasure.”
Avrich has a mountain of experience making acclaimed documentaries, but he was determined that HOWIE MANDEL: BUT, ENOUGH ABOUT ME would do more than an average doc about a comedian, given Mandel’s life-long struggles with mental illness.
“I’ve seen a lot of comedy bios, and of course many comedians suffer from depression and periods of darkness, but the ‘why’ is never really explored,” Avrich said. “They’re obviously career-driven, and life-driven, sometimes they’re chemical-driven. But I wanted to really understand what Howie has dealt with his whole life, and how he tries to work through it. And also the casualties that he has suffered, including almost losing his marriage at one point, when his family had to say to him, you know, we’re not going to live in your world, you had better figure out how to live in ours, or we’re out of here.”
HOWIE MANDEL: BUT, ENOUGH ABOUT ME follows Mandel’s path from an odd Toronto kid who got up on stage at a comedy club on a dare from a buddy, to the heights of the entertainment business. But Avrich was particularly struck by Mandel’s admission in the doc that at one point in his life, around the year 2000, he was so discouraged that he was close to walking away from show business for good.
“Most people don’t know that there was a stage in his career, not that long ago, where he just decided not to do it any more,” Avrich said. “Nobody was really ringing his bell, and it was really bad. We’ve seen comedians come and go in the industry. And he somehow digs his way out. But it was a very, very dark time. So I wanted people to see a different side of him. I mean, people know the germ side of him, the germaphobe. They don’t know the mental illness side, and the fact that he’s medicated 24 hours a day, and how he deals with it.”
In HOWIE MANDEL: BUT, ENOUGH ABOUT ME, Avrich succeeds brilliantly in getting Mandel to talk openly about the highest highs and lowest lows.
“When I build out a documentary, I do almost a military wall of index cards, hundreds of them in terms of what I want to cover, it’s like a Rubik’s Cube in terms of structure,” Avrich said. “But I knew I had to deal with the down moments in his life, and all of this with the backdrop of him being on the road, because he does so many days. He still refuses to say no to anybody who wants to book him, whether it’s for a benefit or a paid gig. And you realize that for him, it has nothing to do with money. It’s all about staying distracted and not going down a dark hole. He has to keep moving and not spend time thinking about things.”
Avrich also admitted that, a lot of the time, hanging out with Howie Mandel is just plain fun.
“I love working with him, I love his energy, he doesn’t sleep, I don’t sleep,” Avrich said. “I remember walking with him in Santa Monica, and he would, you know, go into a hardware store trying to buy fish. I mean, it’s just constant, and I love that about him.”
By Bill Harris ~ Special to The Lede