While Billy Gardell may not wear the blue of his famous “Mike & Molly” character, he knows all about his blue-collar roots.
The comic who grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh spent six seasons making audiences laugh as Chicago police officer Mike Biggs on the CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly,” along with his TV wife Melissa McCarthy. While the series ended this May, Gardell has kept up his stand-up work throughout its run – performing shows and touring when he could. Now back on the road regularly and fielding other projects, the entertainer looks to expand his range.
He brings his comic tour to the Turlock Community Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 10.
Gardell’s previous work included stints on shows such as “Yes, Dear,” “My Name Is Earl” and film roles in “Bad Santa” and “You, Me and Dupree.” In 2016 he received a Daytime Emmy nomination for best game show-host for the short-lived “Monopoly Millionaires Club.” As a stand-up he has had specials on Comedy Central and Showtime.
The 47-year-old spoke with The Modesto Bee from the road in Detroit recently about life after “Mike & Molly” and his plans for the future.
Q: So six months out from the end of “Mike & Molly,” how are you feeling about its end and its legacy?
A: I feel like we did a really great job for six seasons. I think our show could have gone a little longer. People who make more than me make those decisions. But working with that cast was the greatest gift in my career.
Q: For people who are so familiar with your role on the show, how are you alike or different from Mike Biggs?
A: I did try to bring some of myself to the role. But I think Mike is probably nicer than me. For sure.
Q: Did you continue doing stand-up during its run?
A: Absolutely, I was. I never stopped doing stand-up. I started when I was 17. That is what brought me to the dance, and I never let up on that. The success of “Mike & Molly” has meant I’ve been able to play it on an even bigger field now.
Q: People have said stand-up is like a muscle. Do you find it that way for you?
A: Definitely, you have to keep grinding to stay relevant. There is such a live-or-die thing on every joke. You either get a laugh or bomb. You have to keep that up, going one house at time to keep from fading.
Q: Where does most of your comedy come from, and how would you describe its style?
A: I come from Pittsburgh, a working-class town. The way you see things is to look for the funny in life. You try not to take yourself too seriously. That’s where my humor is based. Where I grew up it was a hard, blue-collar, 10-hour day. So you have to laugh at yourself.
Q: You’ve obviously done a lot of stand-up as well as TV and film. How is stand-up different from that other kind of work for you?
A: Stand-up is about winning an audience over. Acting is about letting them in on what you are thinking. It’s two different places in the brain. If you practice both, they can complement each other.
Q: You’ve got a series set to air in March for CMT called “Million Dollar Quartet,” based on the famous meeting of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. You play talent mastermind Colonel Tom Parker. What attracted you to that project?
A: I wanted to do something dramatic after “Mike & Molly.” I was looking at scripts, and my dad was such a huge Elvis fan. I got to play Parker, a devious con man who was quite a stretch from Mike. Mike was the nicest guy on the planet. This guy will lie when the truth works.
Q: Other projects on the horizon?
A: I’m working on a new hour special for stand-up. And I want to take chances with my acting. I want to follow John Goodman’s path. I want to see if I can make that turn.
Q: So what, finally, can people expect from your live show?
A: Just my goal in life is to make people laugh for an hour and forget their troubles. That’s the best thing I think a comedian can do. You can go right back to that other stuff afterward.