“Mike & Molly” star Billy Gardell shows off his standup chops with his own Comedy Central special Feb. 5, a show he tells us was 20 years in the making. That’s 20 years as in acquiring skills, 20 years of being out on the road, 20 years of collecting tales of comedy calamities.
“I’ve been chased in my car a couple of times. Police asked me to leave the county a couple of times. I’ve done my act when nobody was there, and when people were there and didn’t listen,” he recalls. “And then are the nights when you kill it.”
Gardell is still doing standup, but his gigs are far different with the success of his CBS series. “The same jokes are now $10 more,” he dead pans. “It’s a beautiful thing when you do standup all those years, to have a monster show. It puts you in front of a whole new audience.”
The personable funny man has been gratified, he says, to find fellow comics first to cheer him on. “We live in a world where if you win a contest you can be a celebrity. People are very supportive when they see a guy who has actually done the time out there making it. I’ve really felt that support from the standup community,” he tells us.
Most important, he now has a whole different kind of homelife — being able to remain in town with wife Patty, and their two-year-old son, Will. “I think my wife is regretting it, but the kid’s happy,” he jokes.
“No, we’re doing great. It’s nice, you know, to go to work and then be able to come home to my family. The boy loves it. We play army men and Legos, watch cartoons, go out to the car and check the oil — do things a dad and son should do.”
He’d love his TV alter ego to have such familial bliss — but not for at least a couple of years. “I would like to see it work out for Mike and Molly eventually, for them to have a big wedding and a baby. But first I want to see them struggle, because that’s where the real comedy is,” says Gardell.
The rotund comic, who last fall stood up to a magazine blogger who declared her aversion to watching fat people in love on TV, believes that “Mike & Molly’s” strength lies in its character’s flaws. “There’s not a bunch of beautiful people running around having things work out on our show,” he says, adding that such an everyday people’s sitcom hasn’t been around for awhile. “Not since ‘Roseanne.’ And it’s not just me and Melissa (McCarthy). Yeah, these are people who met at Overeaters Anonymous, and they have their issues, but there’s also the sister who is a hot mess (Katie Mixon), the best friend who gives bad advice (Reno Wilson) and the mother (Swoosie Kurtz), who has her own problems.”
Gardell says he is so happy, “I skip to work. I think that’s the difference between getting [success] in your 40s and your twenties. At my age, it’s like, ‘Wow! I got a job and free coffee, too!’ I’m so proud of the show. We’ve got three people who are over 40 with kids and spouses, and the attitude on the set is, ‘Hey, let’s be humble and thankful and work really hard. I try remind everybody, eventually this is all going to come to an end, so make the most of it while it’s here.”