For six years, Billy Gardell answered to “Mike,” as in Officer Mike Biggs, the character he played on the CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly” alongside Melissa McCarthy as Molly.
Earlier this year, Gardell went by Colonel, starring in the CMT miniseries “Sun Records” as Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager.
But before he was the Colonel, and before he was Mike, the actor was Billy Gardell, stand-up comedian.
Gardell squeezed in stand-up gigs during breaks in filming, but with both shows wrapped, he’s returning to his roots full time, working on a new stand-up special and stopping by the Spokane Comedy Club on Friday and Saturday.
Gardell, who grew up watching Johnny Carson with his grandmother and “The Honeymooners” with his father, and listening to George Carlin and Richard Pryor, knew he wanted to be a stand-up comedian when he was 9 years old.
“It just took to me,” he said. “Performing and making people laugh seemed like a really great job.”
He did plays and talent shows in high school, but it wasn’t until he accepted a bet he – literally – couldn’t afford to lose that he performed at his first open mic night.
One show was all it took to hook Gardell. He got a job at the comedy club so he could be there legally (He was, unbeknownst to the club’s staff, only 17 the first time he performed. “I snuck in,” he said. “I was a pretty big kid.”), straightening the chairs and vacuuming at the end of the night.
He eventually answered the phones and began hosting open mic nights. From there, he hit the road as an opening act.
Though he has years of television and movie experience to draw from, Gardell keeps his bits about acting to a minimum, instead focusing on his personal life with his family.
At his four Spokane shows, audiences can expect to hear material from Gardell’s upcoming special, which he estimates is about 50 percent done.
“It takes me a good two years to write a good special,” he said. “I go slow, but I’m pretty meticulous.”
With a special on the way and more tour dates in the fall, Gardell will always hold on to his roots as a stand-up comedian.
But, with diverse roles like do-gooder Mike Biggs and the charismatically conniving Colonel Tom Parker under his belt, he’s also excited to see what might come his way with next year’s television pilot season.
“Acting helps you act out your set ups on stand-up, and I think stand-up helps have a crisp delivery in acting,” he said. “The more you do both, the more they help each other.”
Gardell wouldn’t say no to another comedic role, but he also enjoyed stretching his acting chops on the dramatic “Sun Records.”
“I just love to do the work and I love both sides of the work,” he said. “It’s about seeing what is available when.”
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