At one time, as part of a routine, in reaction to my wife Bozena, I’d take out a handkerchief, and start to cry. A visible flood of tears would shower the stage as I blubbered, gurgled, and blew my nose. The best reaction I ever got from the sponge-in-hank-crying-gag was from Howie Mandel, which took place when he brought his visiting Canadian relatives to the Magicopolis show. Prior to this, he’d been to our show a couple times, so I knew Howie as a fist-bumper as opposed to a hand-shaker, but was unaware at the time this was due to his now, well-known, germophobia.
I said “Call me sentimental, but I’d like you to have this…” then tossed Howie, who was seated in the first row with his family, the handkerchief with the sponge inside. It was obvious I hadn’t really blown my nose or cried in the rag, and it didn’t even touch him, it only landed on the floor near him.
Nevertheless, Howie jumped up, like he’d gotten an electric shock in the butt, and for a good ten seconds hopped around and was shaking with fear as if the hanky were a rattlesnake poised to attack or a rabid rat about to bite him. The crowd found this hysterical. A moment later he sat back down, and reacted normally throughout the remainder of the performance.
After the show, Howie’s aunt prodded him into revealing his OCD germophobe thing. Every time I see Howie, he gives me a new comedy idea for whatever I’m working on, and it’s always something that’s small and simple but powerful. People know him as a guy who swaggers around on TV, but offstage Howie is not an extrovert, but has a beguiling humility that sneaks up and grabs you by the throat. Bozena and I like him.