Howie Mandel returned to Britt Friday night and killed a crowd that made up in spirit what it lacked in numbers. How does a guy in jeans and sneaks with a shaved head and an earring manage to look every inch a star? It has to do with attitude and the light in the eyes.

Howie Mandel returned to Britt Friday night and killed a crowd that made up in spirit what it lacked in numbers. How does a guy in jeans and sneaks with a shaved head and an earring manage to look every inch a star? It has to do with attitude and the light in the eyes.

The comic/actor/TV star delivered a rambling, often improvisational, nearly 90-minute set that encompassed medical exams, parrots, hedgehogs, light bulbs and, yes, helium voice jokes.

The glove-blowing trick was nowhere to be seen.

Much of the punch of Mandel's act stems from a readiness to drop whatever he's talking about and go off on the audience. As he describes graphically an unlikely case of body hair leading to a weird experience at the doctor's office, somebody says the man was checking his "prostrate."

"Do you," Mandel snaps, "want to buy a vowel?"

You know how some of those Britt security people stand stage right looking at the audience like it's a thrash metal show and they're the muscle — looking at you all serious? — like the audience members are about to rush the stage? Mandel destroys those people. I cannot say in a family newspaper what he says about them. Then he destroys those who applaud him.

"Do I have a look on my face like I need a compliment? A simple ha ha will suffice."

It plays much funnier than it reads. He delivers this stuff with a grin of such manic openness that any hostility evaporates. But he lives on the edge. And if it all depends on fast-paced and improvisational interactions with the audience, it also depends on situations and comic tropes Mandel has seen a million times.

Mandel grew up in Canada and claims he got kicked out of school for doing what he's been paid big bucks to do basically ever since. He's probably best known these days for NBC's "Deal or No Deal." Before that he was known for his role as Dr. Wayne Fiscus on the Emmy-winning "St. Elsewhere" and for his work on "Bobby's World," which ran eight seasons and seems to have a half-life of forever in international syndication.

He's hosted the talk-fest "Howie Mandel Show" and done those hidden-camera bits on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" in addition to being a regular guest host on "Live with Regis and Kelly" — and doing maybe 200 stand-up concerts a year.

John Mendoza, who opened, is the un-Howie. His sardonic, low-key delivery contrasts with Mandel's frenetic chutzpah. Mandel basically eschews jokes, stringing together weird stories and constant interruptions, while Mendoza is a joke guy, set-up, punchline, boom, piling them one on top of another: water-skiing, closed captioning, softball, outsourcing.

He has some nuggets, like the blind skydiver with his screaming German Shepherd, and his ugly people routine, which begins, "Ugly people don't know they're ugly," and winds up with him telling his ugly buddy, "Go over and say hello" to an ugly woman at a party.

He does quite a bit of insult humor, no doubt to prepare audiences for Mandel. When Mandel is not harassing Britt security people, he goes after doctors, veterinarians, wine sippers, laid-back viewers and retired radio personalities Garth and Rosemary Harrington, who could be forgiven this morning for wishing they'd stayed out of the act. He reserved the sharpest barbs for those who had more than a word or two to say.

"The ad you read, did it say come on in and chat with Howie?"

"It's weird to see a girl named Velvet that far from a pole."

"I feel like I want to buy a ticket and come back and watch you."

Mandel does his Bobby voice from "Bobby's World," along with Skeeter and Gizmo, and shrugs that they all sound the same. This leads to helium-voice jokes, going to the emergency room and saying his voice won't come back.

Mandel's first love on TV was "Candid Camera," and it shows in the videos he plays of himself sneaking into a Supercuts to shampoo people and douse them in water and act like he's coughing up hairballs.

Mandel is one of those rare comics who can make it seem like, hell, forget the script, something special is happening. He goes far out there, then pushes some more. It is funny with a frison of danger and it sends people into the night on a warm high.