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Small Town Throwdown exclusive interview: Host and comic Mo Mandel stands up for slandered towns

Comedian Mo Mandel has brought his wit and insight to Discovery for Small Town Throwdown, a new special that will spice up Discovery’s usual lineup when it airs this Wednesday.

Small Town Throwdown will serve as revenge for small town residents whose towns were slandered by listicles or clickbait articles. The show will peel away the snark and take a deep look at what makes each place special.

In the first episode, Mandel heads to Appleton, Wisconsin, labeled the “Drunkest Town in America.” But one man’s drunkest town is another’s beloved community, and Appleton’s many pubs perfectly exemplify the communal tippling place where folks visit and keep in touch.

Small Town Throwdown is a perfect fit for Mandel’s wit and natural affability. He heads out to explore the places that were slandered online and shows how awesome and special each place actually is.

Think of it as subversive chamber of commerce PR, where Mandel is our guide to hidden America.

About Mo Mandel

Mo Mandel
Comic Mo Mandel gives Small Town America a chance to sing their praises on Small Town Throwdown. Pic credit: Discovery

Mo Mandel is a staple of late night TV seen on Conan, Chelsea Lately, and Comedy Knockout. He also stars in a podcast, The Full Release, with his fiance, Dr. Ashley Winter.

Mandel’s parents hailed from The Big Apple, but he’s a small town kid. Born and raised in the tiny town of Boonville, California, Mo has empathy for anyone who feels they live in the “middle of nowhere.” His hometown roots and comic’s gaze inspired the idea of showing what makes each nook and cranny of the USA fascinating and special.

In the Discovery special, Mo will travel to some of America’s most notorious and misunderstood towns to give them a chance to stand up for themselves and defend their reputations. First up is Appleton, Wisconsin, which was labeled “The Drunkest Town in America.”

Mo is even going one step further to put an end to the online bashing by writing a new article about each town in USA Today.

Exclusive interview with Mo Mandel

Monsters & Critics has an exclusive chat with Mandel about the overlooked little towns that are unique treasures for their residents.

Monsters & Critics:  We watched your first episode and loved the Small Town discovery premise. Did you come up in comedy first and stand up and then morph into acting and producing? What was the progression of your career?

Mo Mandel: Well, I actually started out wanting to be a novelist and I went to college and then I hit this point right at the end of college. I realized no one ever wants to read short stories and novels, and so you work forever. No one reads anything.

Whereas if you do stand up comedy, you can write something and force people to listen to it that night.

So I started thinking, huh, maybe I should start doing stand up. And that became my love…after doing that for the last 15 years and throughout the whole time I’ve been writing as well.

That has really been my two focuses, stand up and writing.  And now producing and acting was sort of something that once I got down to LA, I kind of realized maybe I had a little bit of a knack at, and I was getting a lot of opportunities, so that I also started pursuing that too.

M&C: You are so prescient. Your first episode, set in Appleton, Wisconsin, the “drunkest small town” in America and I don’t know if you’ve been following the news but Wisconsin, all the bars are running, screw COVID, and I really think that they need to somehow tie your premiere into Wisconsin’s open for business.

Mo Mandel: That’s incredible I didn’t even know that! Look. There is no doubt that certain places, yes, it’s freaking cold here and without a doubt. [Looks online] Oh, here we go. Yeah. Wisconsin court ruling crowds liberate those who sit in bars…God, that’s amazing. We’re definitely going to have to jump on this.

M&C: In Wisconsin there’s a lot of Norwegians who can drink. They say the English can drink, but Norwegians, there’s no shame in their game.

Mo Mandel: Well because for the Norwegians, that there’s about six months of darkness that you got to get through, right. And booze has gotta be your best medicine for getting through professional night. Right?

M&C: Hats off to you by the way, for stripping down into your skivvies and jumping in that cold water, your Appleton polar plunge.

Mo Mandel: Thank you. That was intense. I mean, we shot this episode early, I guess mid-January and that polar plunge, what you’re describing was in the Fox river, which I think is like just about as cold as water could be and not instantly kill you.

I wondered many times during the filming of that,  it was brutal, absolutely brutal, but… you do kind of feel sort of liberated from any exhaustion you might’ve ever had. It is like an instant shot of espresso, right?

M&C:  Well, there’s science that proves what you are saying to be true. They’re saying aerobic activity in that cold, it’s actually quite good for you. It reduces inflammation naturally.

Mo Mandel:  Yes. I was complaining to the guy who I was about to jump in the water with, this gentleman that was nice enough to kind of introduce me to polar plunging out there, Matt.

He said that this was just like cryotherapy, which Tony Robbins and athletes do. I agree, and this was the cheaper, natural version of that. So I had to kind of trust his logic.

And there is something you have got to wonder…A town like Appleton, which is known for drinking and they got this thing they do out in Wisconsin called the polar plunge which sounds like an activity that a guy who had been drinking invented on accident, right?

Fell in the river, and was like, ‘Hey now’…that’s how it started. There’s got to be a connection. That’s all I’m saying.

M&C: Why pay three, four or $5,000 for a sh***y apartment in New York when you can have a great house in a safer small town and, and have a nice life? Your show is comedy but maybe it is obfuscating the kernel of truth is that small town America is worth looking at again, why do we all have to cram into large cities?

Mo Mandel: You got it 100% I mean, both of my parents are from New York City and they moved and raised us in a tiny town called Boonville, California. And when I was going up it had 700 people, maybe now 2000 if it’s that big, which is probably not even at this point.

They still live in the house I was physically born in, and I had a wonderful childhood. I loved growing up there and that’s sort of how I got the idea for this show. Which is that people laugh at the town Boonville and know other small towns.

The truth is a lot of times life is way better there, and these towns that I visited this episode and the other towns we’re going to visit hopefully in future episodes is the truth is, maybe people say, ‘Oh, that’s the smelliest town in America. That’s the dumbest town in America. That’s a town with the ugliest people.’

There are articles all over the internet. a real article that someone wrote about Sacramento and well, I thought, why don’t you go there and find out what’s actually going on?

The great thing about Small Town Throwdown is that we’re going to give the town a chance to speak for themselves. We let them tell their own story and just sort of hopefully provide a platform and a vehicle for them to sort of clear the air and highlight what’s actually great about them.

One of the things I’m really excited about – because it kind of combined to my original love of writing – is that I’m going to get to write articles in USA Today for each town we go to.

I get to reset the narrative. This is what has been said [about a specific town] in clickbait land. Well, here is what I’m saying.

Here’s this guy, he’s actually dove in the river, he has actually been in the town and this is what it’s actually like, or at least from what I was able to ascertain at my time spent there.

I think that’s kind of cool, it has this nice justice quality to it that I don’t think a lot of times comedic TV is able to do.

M&C: Tell us about some of the places that you visit that really struck you.

Mo Mandel:  The network had us make like a sizzle and there’s like so many things you have to kind of prove yourself along the way until a network really believes in the concept enough to of take it to the stage and put it on the air.

The sizzle we did was in Coalinga. California of course. Right? It’s known as the smelliest town in America. It’s bad. But here is the thing. I would bet you have to let me know if I’m right or not. You’ve never been there. I bet you’ve driven by it on the freeway.

M&C: You sold me, because I used to call it Cow-shwitz. Every time I drove by it, those poor cows standing in the mud.

Mo Mandel: But the mayor was telling us we met with him – by the way every town we go to we pretty much try to meet with the mayor… and this is so great about Coalinga, the mayor of Coalinga is also the town barber.

When I was watching him give a haircut, I was also interviewing him and he said that feedlot isn’t technically in Coalinga, yet Coalinga gets saddled with the stink because of that feedlot.

I kind of like the faint smell of cow, it wasn’t overwhelming. It kind of reminded me where I was. I’ll tell you, it makes me a lot better to smell a little bit of cow in the background and to be in a completely nameless city where all you do is see a billion malls everywhere and you have no idea where you are.

Then you, then you’re pretty much just living in some sort of prefabricated community, which isn’t fun. I’d rather go to a town with some warts that really lets me know that it’s a real place,

M&C: Well I think you’re onto something with the show in a big way. And the premise is bigger than the comedy. I think it’s really a celebration of what is special about each little corner of America and what makes us funny and what makes us weird and why there are Okie jokes and, Arkansas jokes, and example, I’m from Massachusetts, “Massholes”.

Mo Mandel: I mean it’s like every town you go to, there’s a town right next door that people think is just a bunch of hicks, right? Every, every Springfield has it. Shelbyville.

But a lot of the times the town that people are crashing through, they haven’t really spent any time there. Small Town Throwdown is comedic and that is the course of how I wanted to approach it, but at the same time I did not aim for it to be like The Daily Show where we’re trashing any of these places.

I want Small Town Throwdown to be more of like a celebration and kind of let them sort of highlight themselves.

I hope I’m right. It’s the kind of television that people want right now. Something that’s sort of a little bit uplifting, a little bit like positive in the light of the apocalypse that we’re all living through.

M&C: Switching gears. Spotify, if they were smart, should pay for your wedding and if they were smart they’d make an advert with that Instagram video of your proposal. Tell me about your smart lady love there, urologist and sexpert Dr. Ashley Winter…

Mo Mandel: Right! And that’s what the song is when I proposed and we were filming, and then the Spotify went to four different commercials in a row because I was too cheap to buy the premium package.

I agree. That is the perfect commercial. I wish somebody could get it to Spotify.

My lady love is a urologist and sexual medicine specialist who basically works on men’s penises 90% of the time… she saw me do stand up and when I was in Portland and liked what she saw, I suppose. And we’ve been doing a long distance relationship between LA and Portland over the last two and a half years.

And now during quarantine, I’ve actually lived here with her for the last two months [which] is the longest we’ve ever been together. And we haven’t driven each other too crazy. So we’re still planning on getting married in September, assuming anyone can come to the wedding.

M&C: I love how you’ve combined your skill sets too, and you’ve got her worked into your world and taking the stigma out of talking about what’s wrong with my wiener chat

Mo Mandel: Yes! We do this podcast together called The Full Release. Similar to Love Line, and she happens to be just hilarious herself and totally a kook.

So far we have done a hundred episodes of it now. It is something that I think people really enjoyed, and they can call in, ask their questions and [laughs] it’s very, it’s very different for me.

I didn’t know anything about that world, but it’s fascinating. And it always reminds you just how brilliant she is because she obviously knows a lot more than I do… who just kind of generally knows how to make jokes about things.

She actually knows things.

Small Town Throwdown premieres Wednesday, May 20 at 10 p.m. ET,on Discovery Channel.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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