Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features

‘Mike & Molly’ star still savors time doing stand-up comedy

Melissa McCarthy, left, and Billy Gardell, right, and Reno Wilson are shown in “Mike & Molly.”
Melissa McCarthy, left, and Billy Gardell, right, and Reno Wilson are shown in “Mike & Molly.”

Long before Billy Gardell landed on the CBS hit sitcom “Mike & Molly,” he paid his comedy dues on the road, spending two decades playing comedy clubs and opening for performers such as George Carlin and Dennis Miller.

Or, has he put it: “It only took 23 years to be an overnight success.”

Now, with a successful television career carved out for himself, he still likes to get out on the road, performing his blue-collar comedy show in larger rooms. Tonight, he’ll take the stage at Northern Quest Resort and Casino.

Much like his character on “Mike & Molly” – the overweight and lovable cop Mike Biggs – Gardell stays true to his roots.

“I don’t like to make people uncomfortable in my comedy,” he said in a phone interview last week. “My comedy is a very working class.”

Basically, he said, his work centers on “being insane” when he was younger, figuring out he was going to die eventually, and “realizing that while I’m here I need to be a good father and a good husband, and the challenges that lie within that.”

He started working as a comedian in 1987, playing before crowds of a few dozen people. Now, he’ll fill a room with 2,000 fans. It’s a job he gladly goes back to whenever he gets a break from “Mike & Molly.”

“Whenever I have off time, I do standup,” he said. “I absolutely love it. It’s my favorite thing.”

Not that he’s eager to leave television behind to return to standup full time.

“I love my cast. I love going to work every day. I have the best job in the world,” he said.

Gardell began acting in 2000, with an appearance on “The King of Queens,” and a recurring role on “Judging Amy.” In 2003, he landed the role of Vincent Sticcareli on the short-lived but acclaimed FX show “Lucky,” alongside John Corbett (“Northern Exposure”) and Craig Robinson, who would go on to star in “The Office.”

“That was one of the greatest experiences I had in show business,” he said. “It was written by my friends Mark Cullen and Robb Cullen. They’re a couple of unique guys who have a weird, twisted look at life. … We were a year ahead of that poker craze that hit … otherwise I think our show would have been a phenomenal success. The quality of it holds up today.”

He’s found there are big differences between the two styles of comedy.

“Standup is all about battle. It’s about showing the audience you know what you’re talking about and getting them to go along on the journey with you,” he said. “Acting, I’ve learned, is all about letting them see what you’re thinking. Being more vulnerable.”

Don’t ask him to choose between the two.

“It’s because of the acting that the standup is so popular right now,” Gardell said. “It’s like having two children. You can’t have favorites.”