As the plus-sized dude, Billy Gardell has often been cast as the best friend, the neighbor, the criminal. His resume features supporting and guest characters on shows such as “Yes, Dear,” “My Name is Earl” and “The Practice.”
But last year, the 300-pound Pittsburgh native landed a lead role on CBS sitcom”Mike & Molly,” placed in the cushy post-”Two and a Half Men” spot on Mondays.
“We hit the lottery!” said Gardell in a recent phone interview. “I’m really proud of the show. People identify with it because not everybody is perfect. It’s a combination of ‘Roseanne’ and ‘The Honeymooners.’ ”
Gardell plays Chicago cop Mike who meets teacher Molly (Melissa McCarthy) at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. They begin to date. While the sitcom is lighthearted at its core, it’s not family friendly. Besides requisite fat jokes, the characters often opine about sexual and gastronomical issues.
“Those are two corn dogs fighting for kennel space,” Mike told Molly after his ample stomach growls during a trip to the opera.
Gardell’s manager Chris DiPetta calls his client a “20-year overnight success.”
“When you’re second or third banana, you don’t get the attention,” said DiPetta, who runs the Punchline Comedy Club in Sandy Springs, where Gardell has done stand-up comedy for two decades. “Being No. 1 on a show is a whole different story. He gets his own parking spot right next to the sound stage.”
Fans of the show appreciate Mike’s basic sweetness.
“I think Billy was a little unsure of himself the first couple of episodes,” said Lara Thompson, a 39-year-old Tucker event and meeting planner. ” ‘I’m a funny guy, but can I be a serious guy, too?’ I think he’s grown into his character. He’s the lovable teddy-bear guy.”
Gardell lived in Marietta during his early stand-up days in the mid-1990s.
“I really enjoyed Georgia,” Gardell said. “Lots of cookouts. I liked Piedmont Park. I loved Bridgetown Cafe. It was killer!”
He met his wife Patty in Atlanta, where he ran into her three times in one day. He first saw her at her employee, a bank. Then he spied her at the Punchline where he performed. Later that night across the way at jazz joint Cafe 290, he saw her again and bought her a drink.
“I’m bringing you this drink,” he recalls telling her. “Hopefully, that makes me look cuter.”
“I’m going to need another one!” she cracked.
Here’s a sample of his stand-up:
For now, he’s just loving the regular paycheck, which has enabled him to get out of debt. And he’s ready to play Mike for years. “If they want to shoot me from a cannon,” he said, “I’ll do it.”
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog