Billy Gardell reflects on breaking into stand-up

Millions know Billy Gardell from starring as Officer Mike Biggs opposite Melissa McCarthy in the hit sitcom Mike & Molly, which ran for six seasons on CBS and continues to attract new audiences in syndication.

Gardell followed up that run with a successful dramatic turn as Colonel Tom Parker in the CMT series Sun Records and spent a season hosting Monopoly Millionaires’ Club, which earned him a daytime Emmy nomination for Best Game Show Host.

Through it all, Gardell has continued as a standup comic, the thing that got him started in the entertainment business and something he promises he will never stop.

On Feb. 17, Gardell will play the Ridgefield Playhouse.

Keith Loria: You started your career as a comic in 1988. What made you want to venture into comedy?

Billy Gardell: I understood from a very early age that laughter was an easy way through tough times. When I finally wanted to be a comedian, which was by age 9, I asked my grandmother if she thought I could do it, and she said yes, and I didn’t feel like I needed to ask anyone else.

KL: What finally got you up on the stage?

BG: Around 17, after watching all the HBO specials and watching comics excessively, I kept telling the guys I worked with at a warehouse that I was going to do stand-up, and they bet me $50 that I wouldn’t do an open mic night. And if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have been able to pay up, so I owe those guys.

KL: How did you break into television?

BG: My first guest appearance was a small part on King of Queens. I did a few things here and there. Then, Greg Garcia, creator of Yes, Dear, saw me and was kind enough to write me a part on the show and I guess I didn’t screw it up, because I was invited back about 30 times during the run of the show. To me, that was one of the best educations in television I could have had. That got me ready for what would eventually be Mike & Molly.

KL: During your run on Mike & Molly, did you give up stand-up for a while?

BG: No, I never stopped. I don’t believe you can keep doing it and come back and still have it. You lose something in the lack of repetitions that’s hard to get back. The less you get up on stage, the less you write and the more afraid about new stuff you are. You have to keep that confidence going by constantly being on stage. The repetition and polishing of a joke so it works everywhere is the key.

KL: What can those coming to the Ridgefield Playhouse expect from you at the show?

BG: Older comics will tell you it takes 10 years to find your voice, and it took me about 12, and about 15 where I could write well and what I knew I wanted to write about. My stuff has always been about what’s been going on in my life, and to me, that’s what unifies us a group anyway.

KL: Do you find people who come to the show mostly know you from Mike & Molly?

BG: I would say probably 75% of my audience is because of the success of that show. That has made me blessed enough to play theaters this big.

KL: Besides stand-up, what else has been keeping you busy?

BG: I just landed a part that I am really excited about. They’re doing a movie about the seventh game of the World Series with the Cubs and Indians, and I’m going to be playing the pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs — Chris Bosio. I just did a guest starring episode on Young Sheldon and I’m going to do another episode in February. Then I’ll be a free agent for the first time in eight years for the pilot season.

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