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Howie Mandel, dressed for a book signing: Promoting his memoir in the midst of a flu pandemic is another cause for anxiety.Charles Sykes

Will the real Howie Mandel stand up? Whoa! Hold on - not all at once. People perceive the Toronto-bred comic in disparate ways. To some he is the zany absurdist with a rubber glove on his head. To others he is remembered as the soulful, wise-cracking emergency-room doctor on the eighties network hospital drama St. Elsewhere . Parents might recognize his nutty baby voice from the animated children's show Bobby's World .

Of course, Mandel was widely watched as the host of the cash-grabbing prime-time game show Deal or No Deal , and currently he's the star prankster of his own hidden-camera show Howie Do It .

But now he is an author, which may unite his splintered audience in seeing him the same way he does: as a very sick man - and that's without getting into his serious heart ailment, which resulted in a pair of corrective surgeries earlier this year. In his new biography Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me , Mandel lays it all out, defining himself as "an anxiety disorder."

"I've had a very fractured, weird career," the 54-year-old performer says from his home in Los Angeles, where he lives with his family and suffers from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. "It's very ADHD of me," Mandel says with a laugh, "my appeal being so distracted."

With the amount of press he's doing, the focus on the bald comic will be narrowed - he'll be the guy talking about his childhood, a highly awkward stage of his life that, as we learn in the first chapter of his book, involved a lactose-intolerant, colour-blind boy so unfocused that he'd forget to go to the bathroom, which resulted not only in his wetting his pants, but in his throwing himself into puddles to cover it up. He also had a fear of laundry hampers, his skin was a nesting ground for sand flies and he needed 100-per-cent attention.

The chapter is entitled Welcome to Me, and it is a doozy of a handshake. Oh yeah, I forgot - don't touch him.

"I have to do book signings in the heart of an international pandemic," Mandel says, incredulously. "One side of me sees the humour, the other side feels the terror. And as much as I'd like for you to buy the book and come out and meet me, I really don't want anyone to show up."

How his audience will see him now remains to be seen. It's not new news that Mandel is a full-fledged germaphobe, but he goes into it in the book with eye-popping frankness. "It's scary for me now," says the high-school dropout and former carpet salesmen. "This is the first time that I've dropped the veil of entertainment."

Dime-store psychology suggests all comics work from dark, neurotic places, but rarely is it as clearly laid out as in Mandel's fascinating 218-page read. "I spend a lot of my time tortured, in very dark places in my mind. I don't know if these stories will be entertaining, but they're obviously honest. That's a scary undertaking for me - I've never done that before."

Speaking to Mandel earlier this week, I began by asking a question that is usually banal, but in his case was loaded: "How are you?" He responded that he seemed to be okay, but he didn't know. "I'm not the expert," he said.

But Howie, you just wrote a book about yourself, didn't you? "Yes, but I go twice a week to a professional to find out how I am."

At the end of our talk, I again try to find out something his autobiography does not answer: Is he happy? Mandel pauses before answering. "I'm appreciative of everything I have and what I do. My whole goal in life is to maintain happiness. But, because of my issues, I'll be totally honest with you, it's hard to be happy. I try, and I get glimpses of happy, but I don't have a settled happiness."

In that respect, Mandel, the absurdist comedian terrorized by bizarre compulsions he deals with constantly, is not so unusual at all.

Howie Mandel appears Friday at 7 p.m., at Indigo Books and Music, Toronto Eaton Centre.

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