Billy Gardell has been a working comedian for 25 years but it wasn’t until he was cast in the CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly” that his star began to shine.
The sitcom is built around two plus-size characters who meet at a Overeaters Anonymous meeting and fall for each other. The third season premieres Sept. 24. Before filming begins, Gardell is on a stand-up tour that will bring him to the Emerald Queen Casino tonight.
Calling from “a house I can’t believe I own” in Southern California, Gardell, 42, talked about what audiences can expect during his stand-up, working with co-star Melissa McCarthy and his struggles with his weight.
Gardell will have only a few days to relax after his Tacoma appearance before he begins filming “Mike & Molly” on Wednesday. He couldn’t offer any hints about the new season even if he wanted to, he said. “They don’t even tell us, man. We get our script on Thursday and that’s the first time we get to see it.”
Series creator Mark Roberts likes to keep the cast focused only on one week at a time, Gardell said. “He keeps it very organic. No crazy timelines. The first kiss, the first date, the first this, the first that. We want to keep it on a real-time schedule.”
At his show tonight, don’t expect to see a newbie TV star trying his hand at standup. Gardell’s been on the boards since 1987.
“That’s my first love,” he said of standup. “She’s the one that brought me to the dance.”
But do expect a lot of cross over from his TV show. “My comedy translates across the board with ‘Mike & Molly,’” he said.
Gardell plays a cop and McCarthy is a teacher on the show that mirrors Gardell’s blue-collar upbringing.
“I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh. (The standup show is) about being insane when you’re younger and trying to step into the responsibility of being a father and husband,” he said.
Gardell and his wife, Patty, have a son, Will.
“It goes from being in your 20s and going, ‘Let’s do another shot!’ to being in your 40s and saying, ‘How much sodium is in that?’” Gardell said of his show.
Just a few years ago, Gardell was practically begging producers for TV work just to get health insurance for his family. He had a recurring role as a goofy deputy on “My Name is Earl.”
Now, the success of “Mike & Molly” has changed his life.
“One, it’s put bricks under my feet. I never thought I’d own a home doing comedy. The other is that working on that show with those wonderful people has allowed me to take standup to another level,” Gardell said.
“It used to be 62 people on a Thursday. Now, it’s like 1,500 people, which is really wonderful.”
He credits “Mike & Molly” fans with packing the venues he performs at. “Without them, none of this would be happening.”
Though he hasn’t experienced the stellar success that co-star McCarthy has had (she was nominated for an Oscar for her work in “Bridesmaids”), Gardell said a rising tide lifts all boats. There’s no jealousy on the set.
“I learned a long time ago that your journey is your journey. The more you can celebrate someone else’s journey, the better your life is. She’s a genuine, genuine person. I’ve learned a lot from working with her on this show. She’s a gifted actress,” Gardell said. “My life is bigger than I ever I thought it would be.”
It’s no secret McCarthy and Gardell were hired because of their size along with their talent. Gardell said audiences can relate better to comedians who are less than perfect.
“A common flaw is the bond that we share. Whether you’re the fat kid, the ugly kid, the nerdy kid – not everyone is going to throw the winning touchdown pass and be the homecoming king. In fact, most people are not. On top of that, when you can confess the shortcomings, I think people can identify. ‘I’ve felt that way. I am that guy or that girl,’” he said.
When the cameras shut down and the other actors are getting out of makeup and costume, Gardell can’t instantly shed the extra pounds he carries. But he is trying.
“I’ve lost 50 pounds and it’s strictly for health reasons,” Gardell said. Hours of standing on set were killing his knees. He went to series creator Roberts and told him he wanted to lose weight.
“Mark Roberts is a very generous man. He said, ‘We’ll hire you a trainer and if you lose weight, we’ll write it into the show, and when you screw up, we’ll write that into the show.’ ”
Gardell calls his weight a lifelong struggle. “In my house when you were growing up, it was when you have a bad day, let’s eat; when you have a good day, let’s eat. It’s about breaking that cycle.”
Gardell says he’ll never resort to surgery to lose weight. “I’m not going under the hood, brother. I never want to be that little. I have a big frame. Plus, I think people who are big and lose too much weight look weird. I’d like to lose another 50 pounds and stay around 250. I’d be happy with that.”
It took him a year working regularly with a trainer to begin liking exercise. “I used to hate going down there. Now I’m starting to see some results.”
When: 8:30 tonight
Where: Emerald Queen Casino, 2024 E. 29th St., Tacoma
Tickets: $60 via Ticketmaster