BY: Lynn Elber
AP Television Writer
LOS ANGELES – Howie Mandel contends there’s a Tiny Tim-sized void in entertainment today, and he aims to fill it as a judge on ‘America’s Got Talent.’
Joining the NBC show this season is allowing the 54-year-old comedian to exercise his taste, which he cheerfully acknowledges embraces the good, the bad and the weird.
“As much as I love seeing somebody undiscovered and unique, there’s something to be said for the insanity and the train wreck. I’m mesmerized by something I don’t understand because it looks like it’s bad,” he said. “I’m just as taken by that as I am brilliance.”
‘America’s Got Talent,’ in its fifth season, is hosted by Nick Cannon and includes Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan on the judging panel with Mandel. The show airs 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday and Wednesday.
In the early going, Mandel’s been charmed by the likes of an impersonator who’s billed as “the man of 100 voices” — all of which, he said, “sound exactly the same.”
Like Ted Mack’s ‘The Original Amateur Hour,’ a show Mandel recalls attending as a child, he appreciates that ‘America’s Got Talent’ throws “a wide net, whether dancer, singer, magician.”
Unconventional acts deserve a place in show business, too, he contends.
“There’s a void right now for entertaining insanity,” Mandel said, citing such examples as comedian Professor Irwin Corey and Tiny Tim, the high-voiced ukulele player who was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson’s ‘Tonight Show‘ in the 1960s and ’70s.
The chance to discover such performers, as well as the more traditionally talented, make his new gig “a dream come true for me.” He’s got a lot to contribute to aspiring performers, Mandel said.
“After 30 years of marketing myself, and figuring out how to get people to the club or to the screen or the theater, I think I have some input. If you can surprise me — and you can — I’m a good audience,” he said.
Mandel has had an impressively varied career, from standup comedian to dramatic actor (‘St. Elsewhere‘) to game-show host on ‘Deal or No Deal.’ He’d like to tackle film or scripted TV roles, but turns a bit shy when asked to name names.
It’s all more than he envisioned when he left behind suburban Toronto to “try to make a living putting a rubber glove on my head,” he said, referring to an early career bit of absurdity in which he turned such gloves into rooster coxcombs.
Anyone who’s willing to throw caution to the wind to pursue their show business dream and makes a living at it deserves respect, Mandel said.
“It’s a beautiful thing. And that’s why I celebrate it and don’t make fun of somebody like Tiny Tim,” he said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed