‘Mike and Molly’ star Billy Gardell living large
Here’s a true Hollywood story.
Aspiring comedian Billy Gardell moved to Southern California hoping to launch a successful career. After getting a few acting roles, he ran out of work. He decided after one final audition he would move back to his hometown, Pittsburgh, where he would join his radio pals at WDVE.
“It was the hail Mary, no doubt about it,” Gardell said.
He passed the audition for a television pilot, and “Mike and Molly” became a hit. The Monday night CBS program gets 13 million viewers a week, is broadcast in more than 30 countries and his co-star, Melissa McCarthy, won an Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Gardell plays Chicago police officer Mike Biggs, who is a mama’s boy with a few extra pounds. McCarthy is elementary school teacher Molly Flynn, who, like her husband would like to lose some weight.
The executive producer of “Mike and Molly” is Chuck Lorre, who also created “Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Grace Under Fire,” “Cybill,” and “Dharma & Greg.” During the post-show credits at the end of each episode, he leaves a written message called a vanity card. He was the subject of Charlie Sheen’s public vituperation after the actor was fired from “Two and a Half Men.”
Lake Tahoe Action spoke with Gardell before his appearance Saturday, March 10, in the MontBleu Theatre.
Q: Have you previously performed here?
A: This is my first time to Tahoe. You have to get on TV before they let you go from Reno to Tahoe.
Q: Do you consider yourself primarily an actor or a standup comic?
A: Standup is my first love.
Q: Has that helped make you a better actor?
A: It definitely lends to the acting side of things.
Q: But there is no audience for film.
A: We have a live audience for taping, but you can’t connect to them in the same way because you are facing a scene partner.
Q: Are Billy Gardell and Mike Biggs the same guy?
A: Mike’s a little nicer, if you ask my wife.
Q: Your co-star won an Emmy. That must mean job security.
A: She’s amazing. She really has put a whole new set of eyeballs on the show just on what she’s done. Our cast is tremendous. We’ve got the best people in television writing and producing and we have the best director in TV, so we’re like the Yankees.
Q: But I doubt you are a Yankees baseball fan.
A: I’m a Pirates fan but unfortunately we’re out of it by tax day.
Q: When do you get to see Chuck Lorre’s vanity card?
A: I have to watch the show, just like everybody else, to read it.
Q: Does Charlie Sheen ever stop by?
A: Not in a while.
Q: How far ahead are the episodes and how long does it take to shoot a show?
A: We are about four episodes ahead of what airs. It takes five days to do one show. We rehearse four of those days and on Wednesday we tape the show live.
Q: How has “Mike and Molly” helped your standup career?
A: There a thousand who come to see me now as opposed to 65 who got a coupon to get off the floor.
Q: You opened for George Carlin. Did he ever give advice?
A: He just said to keep at it and don’t ever stop working at it. That’s the deal. You’ve got to be really good at it. Don’t ever stop working at it. Don’t ever stop doing it.
Q: So you must constantly write.
A: I’ve got a notebook that follows me around pretty good.
Q: You had a pretty memorable scene with Billy Bob Thornton in “Bad Santa.” Was that from a script?
A: Billy Bob let me improv that scene with him. He was the reason I got that scene. He told the director, “I think this kid’s funny. Let’s try improv’ing with this.”
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects?
A: I’m starting to reach and stretch and hoping to get a break in something this summer. I’m pretty happy with where I’m at right now. Anything else is gravy.
Q: Has the success changed your lifestyle?
A: I’m living in my means. I got all my crazy (stuff) out of the way when I was in my 20s. Now I just want to make the house payment.