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Mar 06

Billy Gardell, Reno Wilson CBS photo

With just four more episodes to shoot  for this season, “Mike & Molly” is heading towards its highly-anticipated wedding episode.  In fact, there might be two weddings in the offing, if Joyce and Vince (Swoosie Kurtz and Louis Mustillo) also tie the knot.  Considering that the TV landscape is littered with the bones of series that jumped the shark after the main characters wed, is there concern about “M&M’s” handling of wedded life?

Not according to Reno Wilson.  “I just think it opens up so many more stories,” he says.  “They’ve got to get a place to live — or are they going to be married and stay in the house with her mom?  What about children?  You know, there are so many storylines with people on the show, honestly, in my opinion, it’s just going to add to it.”

Besides, adds the man known as Carl McMillan to “M&M” watchers, “As Billy (Gardell) and I always say: ‘Just say them words.’  We have the best writers in television, and we trust them fully.”

Wilson and Gardell, in case you didn’t know, have a friendship that dates back six years, to their former “Heist” series, before they were cast as best friends on the Mark Roberts-created “Mike & Molly.”  In fact, Wilson tipped Gardell to the sitcom when it was in the works.  After reading the first 10 pages of the script, he phoned Gardell and said, “This is our show.”  They also played pals on an episode of “Las Vegas” as big winners.  In real life, “Our kids are growing up together.  We shot a little movie with our kids.  We hang out at each other’s houses every so often and have barbeques.”

Meanwhile, there’s Carl’s own romance, with Holly Robinson Peete’s character.  “I’m really happy that Carl has love in his life.  It’s the first time he’s encountered an actual woman he doesn’t have to blow up, who doesn’t have a nozzle,” Wilson jokes.  “I really like that through this relationship, they’re showing other pieces of Carl, some sensitive sides, and where that bravado and machismo came from, that kind of insecurity.”  He’s also loving working with Peete.  “She’s a force of nature, all the things she does.”

AND:  Wilson doesn’t know when “Bolden!” — in which he plays the young Louis Armstrong — will be making its way to screen.  The film is about jazz legend Buddy Bolden (Anthony Mackie), and boasts a cast including Wilson, Omar Gooding and Jackie Earle Haley.  Wilson, who grew up in a household full of musicians, and reveres Satchmo, feels that “I did some of the best work of my career” in the film that was made three years ago, and has yet to see the light of distribution.  “I was doing a one-man show about him when I got this movie, this opportunity to play this icon,” says the actor, who performed seven songs for the film directed by Dan Pritzker.  “I try not to think about it too much.”

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Jan 27

“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.”

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Aug 03

Swoosie Kurtz

For Swoosie Kurtz, landing on CBS’s forthcoming “Mike & Molly” represents “a whole new time for me and a new road.  It’s not just that I’m in a new television show.”

The Emmy and Tony-winning actress will be seen as the mother of Molly (Melissa McCarthy) in the comedy about a young couple (McCarthy and Billy Gardell) who meet in an Overeaters Anonymous group and fall in love.  Her second daughter (Katy Mixon) is a wild girl with a fondness for pot.

“This is an entirely different character from any I’ve ever played – this woman you picture with a beer bottle attached to her hand, sitting on a crate at the bowling alley, talking to the guys.  She’s loving, she’s insensitive, she’s an oblivious enabling mother.  You know that she has something to do with the fact that both daughters have issues they’re dealing with.  I’m not sure what it is,” notes Swoosie.  She does know, “It’s been indicated to me that they have some really fun stuff for me to do.”

The actress had never before crossed paths with series hit maker Chuck Lorre (“Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory”), who is executive producing “Mike & Molly” with Mark Roberts.  So she was thrilled when she was contacted by him, and particularly flattered to be cast even before the show’s title stars.

Swoosie’s own mother, author Margo Kurtz, is about to turn 95, she lets us know, and is still doing well.  “She and my dad are the most amazing people I’ve ever known.  They were the opposite of this mother — supportive, always cheering me on and telling me how great I was, how special, all the things I was doing right.  I was beyond blessed,” she says.  “I don’t know how people make it with parents who are always undermining them.   It reminds me of a friend of mine who was the lead in a play back East.  She’d worked so hard and she’d gotten amazing reviews.  Her mother came to see the play.  Then she comes backstage and says, ‘Ugh!  Why are you wearing those shoes?’  It just hit me in the stomach.’”

Swoosie’s late father, legendary WWII aviator Col. Frank Kurtz, also provided her with a life-long gift of fitness.  “He was on three Olympic diving teams as a high platform diver and he was always an athlete,” she says of her Bronze Medal-winning parent.  “He exercised every day long before it was trendy to exercise.  That definitely rubbed off.”

Billy Gardell, Melissa McCarthy CBS photo

HOW SWEET IT IS:  Comic Billy Gardell, who made a real splash at the Television Critics Association press tour “Mike & Molly”” panel last week, tells us he was hugely gratified when his series producers invoked “The Honeymooners” as a style inspiration for the show.  Gardell unabashedly declares, “That’s my man, right there:  Jackie Gleason.  My dad turned me on to ‘The Honeymooners’ when I was about 11, 12 years old and I watched all his movies.  When he walked into a room, he lit it up, and watching him, you felt like you were hanging out with a dear friend.  That’s what I always wanted.”

Gardell claims Gleason as “my idol as far as television goes.  For standup, it was always George Carlin and Richard Pryor.  I picked three people I can never live up to.  I thought, if I could get close, that’s pretty rare air.”

The show marks a huge lifestyle change for Gardell.  I’ve been doing standup for 20 years and I honor that, because it’s given me every opportunity in my life.  But boy, will it be nice to drive home to my own apartment every day.  And maybe when I go back out on the road now, it will be bigger, nicer venues.”

Married – his wife is a tax accountant – with a seven-year-old son, Gardell says his boy is excited about “Mike & Molly.”  Not so much about the show, but the fact “Daddy’s going to be home.”

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