You don't have to tell Howie Mandel that comedy is hard. Eight years ago, the squeaky-voiced stand-up was doing his trademark shtick inflating a surgical glove with his nostrils when he felt a stabbing pain beneath his eyes. Later, at the hospital, Mandel got the shocking news: He had ruptured a sinus. ''It was very thick latex, so there was a lot of pressure like when you fly,'' he remembers. ''The doctor said, 'Get another job.'''
He has. And in multimedia, of all things. These days, Mandel is busy boosting The Great Word Adventure, an eye-popping kids' CD-ROM he narrates and helped develop. Like some other celebs whose careers have dipped lately (see Dana Plato, Joe Piscopo, Jimmie Walker), Mandel has found CD-ROMs a profitable niche a new version of direct-to-video.
How digitally savvy is he? ''I was totally computer illiterate and I still am today,'' he laughs. ''I can put in a CD-ROM, and it can tell me how to play the game. I don't think I need to know more.'' Luckily for Mandel, some programmer knows enough to turn the 39-year-old comedian's ideas into software. Mandel's Adventure the sequel to 1994's 100,000-selling Tuneland features seven word games, including a Space Invadersknockoff in which you zap nouns and verbs instead of aliens. Both discs are hosted by Lil' Howie, a pudgy, animated bear with a Beavis-worthy sense of humor.
Big Howie, meanwhile, can boast several other post-glove gigs. The former star of St. Elsewhere is now doing Bobby's World, a syndicated cartoon show in its sixth season, and Sunny Skies, a bathroom-humor-heavy sketch series on Showtime, as well as continuing stand-up dates. But he's the first to admit that his flaccid movie career has been painful. ''My childlike qualities sometimes lead me to jump into projects without thinking of the consequences,'' says Mandel, who lives with his wife and three kids in L.A.
In fact, he's still dealing with the consequences of Walk Like a Man, a 1987 comedy in which he plays a guy who thinks he's a dog. ''It gave me a bad back and I lost my front teeth,'' sighs the comedian. ''Christopher Lloyd, who played my brother, pulled a bone out of my mouth on the count of three... I thought they said the count of four.'' Comedy is hard.