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Managing well in a funny business

In his days as a post-game host on Buffalo Bills radio broadcasts, he was known by the pseudonym Michael O'Shea.

But since leaving his native Western New York about 21 years ago, Howard Lapides has made quite a name for himself in Hollywood as a manager of such stars as Jimmy Kimmel, Norm MacDonald, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Carson Daly, Adam Carolla, Tom Green and reality show host Mark Wahlberg.

The Kenmore native also has been a producer on several comedy and reality shows that featured his clients, as well as the Green movie, "Freddy Got Fingered."

Lapides took the O'Shea name in his early days in radio on WSYL when the station gave him a choice between O'Shea and Roger Christian.

"I said, 'Being a Jew, Christian would be pushing it,' so I took O'Shea," recalled Lapides over breakfast in Pasadena, Calif.

Of course, a Jewish talent manager can use his real name in Hollywood. "Good to go," said Lapides. "You're all set."

A classmate of Jay Leno's at Emerson College, Lapides started working in the entertainment business locally when he owned the Yuk Yuk's Comedy Clubs in Buffalo and Rochester. That led to a 10-year stint in Canada looking for talented comedians.

"It got me close to the comics, and I started managing," said Lapides. He quickly discovered he couldn't manage people out of Buffalo and moved to Los Angeles after a divorce.

"I started the business with a piano bench and call waiting," said Lapides. "My radio stuff came in handy. I'd just use fake voices when I answered the phone and kept passing the calls to me. I'd answer the call with another voice to make it sound like the company was bigger."

He said he now grosses seven figures before expenses, though 2009 has been a down year.

"I'd love to make that money in Buffalo," cracked Lapides. "I'd live on Middlesex or Nottingham."

Of course, the period of the late 1980s and early 1990s was good for comedians and their managers. Lapides' clients included Canadians Mike McDonald, Pat Bullard and Norm MacDonald.

"First client I let go," he said of Norm McDonald. Lapides explained that Norm wanted to become a writer and didn't want to do stand-up anymore. Lapides made a deal with Tom Arnold, then married to Roseanne Barr Arnold, who wanted to hire MacDonald for his wife's hit show, "Roseanne."

"Norm doesn't drive and he wasn't going to take a cab," said Lapides. "He wouldn't take the job. I said, 'You take the job or I'm done.' He didn't take the job . . . I'm a big fan of Norm, I'm a friend of Norm, I loved watching Norm's comedy. He was difficult."

Eventually, Lapides persuaded Arnold to make the deal and MacDonald came aboard and eventually headlined his own ABC show.

A manager's duties include talking to clients every day.

"The clients are the chairman of the board, the product, the research and development," explained Lapides. "I make sure all clocks run on time and also the agents -- who are the sales arm -- are doing their job.(and) the publicists and lawyers are doing their job."

These days, Lapides spends much of his time on the job managing the career of Dr. Drew Pinsky, who he signed many years ago when the doctor was on radio.

Dr. Drew has been the host of cable's "Loveline," "Celebrity Rehab," "Sober House" and this fall's VH-1 series, "Sex Rehab."

"I could see stand-up comedy was starting to drift down," said Lapides of signing Dr. Drew. "We were playing what I call 'The Sitcom Lottery.' You get a bunch of comics and hope they get a sitcom and make a lot of money. All of my manager friends that I started with have done that. They won the lottery. They are great workers and they found great comics."

Dr. Drew was Lapides' lottery win. He hasn't been as fortunate with Kimmel, Carolla, Wahlberg, Green and other clients who have left the fold. But he has no regrets.

"They come, they go," said Lapides. "It is part of the business. Jimmy left just before he got the ABC show."

He said he signed Kimmel after he had been fired from about 11 radio stations.

"Being a radio guy, that interested me," explained Lapides. "If he's getting fired, he's probably doing something more right than wrong. He was kind of a bad boy. . . His writing was superb, his comedy mind brilliant and his work ethic unbelievable.

"Jimmy and I made a lot of money together. Things pretty much ran out of gas. We were done with 'The Man Show,' which was very, very successful. I was one of the producers. I did very, very well with that. It is like the stock market, some times you sell early. He left, we settled."

He sold Tom Green to MTV after hearing him on a Canadian show. "He was on the cover of Rolling Stone in six weeks," said Lapides, who let Green go about six months ago.

That leaves more time for Dr. Drew, who has been successful on radio, cable TV and in publishing. He almost had a network TV job, too. He was the original host of "Moment of Truth," the Fox reality series in which couples destroyed their relationships by answering provocative questions.

In the middle of the pilot, Lapides went to the show's producers and asked "May we leave?"

"It just wasn't Drew," explained Lapides. "I didn't like it. You could see Drew was uncomfortable. It was so off-brand. . . It was sold to us differently. It was sold to us to help people through things. When we get there, it was a circus."

So Lapides offered another client to the producers. "They knew Drew was unhappy," said Lapides. "I had Wahlberg on the other side of town doing a pilot for a friend. Wahlberg is brilliant. The producer called him up, brought him in the same day."

Of course, the VH-1 shows that Dr. Drew hosts aren't exactly Shakespeare, but they're successful. The third season of "Celebrity Rehab" has finished filming.

Lapides explained that Dr. Drew agreed to host the upcoming "Sex Rehab" only if he could find a way for the series about sexual addictions to be beneficial for viewers and the non-celebrity patients.

"You have to understand that sexual addiction is no different than being strung out on heroin or booze," said Lapides. "It controls you."

He expects controversy.

"Absolutely," said Lapides. "What they talk about becomes pretty graphic. I've seen the first couple of cuts -- it is riveting. I think the show will be extremely popular and it will open people's eyes to something that they don't know about."

Lapides' life as a Hollywood manager has exceeded his expectations, even if the shows he has been involved in haven't been cultural high points.

"I look at my kids and they are in private school, and (I) go, 'It's a good show,' " said Lapides with a smile before turning serious. "I draw the line. I enjoy the work on the 'Rehab' shows because people are helped."

In other words, no regrets.

apergament@buffnews.com

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