Longtime fans of the popular CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly” were disappointed to learn in December that the show was coming to an end in May, a decision made by the network.
Fans weren’t the only ones who were sad. The show’s cast shed many tears as they filmed those final episodes, said Billy Gardell, who played police officer Mike Biggs during the show’s six-season run.
But the Los Angeles-based comedian prefers to look at the positives he received from his time with the show.
“It was life-changing,” Gardell said by phone from his hometown of Los Angeles. “I got to work with the greatest group of people I’ve ever experienced in my career. They became family members. We’re all still very close and it changed the lives of everybody on the show, man, for the better. I will work again, but it will never be that ... the love on that stage, man, everybody took care and looked out for everybody else. And I think it came through in the work. I think people could really see it.”
The show’s talent included Melissa McCarthy (Molly Flynn), Katy Mixon (Victorian Flynn), Reno Wilson (officer Carl McMillan), Swoosie Kurtz (Joyce Flynn) and Rondi Reed (Peggy), to name a few.
“A lot of selfless talent,” Gardell said. “That was the key. There were no egos on that stage.”
That selflessness played a large part in the show’s success, Gardell said.
“It makes a difference when you’re not thinking about yourself,” he said. “You’re giving and when you’re giving to each other, that’s when the magic moments happen. I believe the people who like the show understand that. I think people who love that show really saw that.”
For Gardell, relationships are the foundation for a healthy and happy life.
“I’m doing my honey-dos for the day right now,” he said. “My honey-do list for my wife. I’m getting all my stuff done so my wife stays happy.”
Raised in Swissvale, Penn., near Pittsburgh, Gardell remains close to his roots although he lives thousands of miles away in California with his wife of 15 years, Patty, and their son, Will, 11. Gardell is a proud fan of all things Pittsburgh, as he shared during the first couple minutes of his 2011 Comedy Central stand-up special, “Halftime.” The show was filmed in Pittsburgh.
“It’s who I am,” Gardell, 46, said of his Pittsburgh heritage. “I take pride in who I am and where I come from. That’s helped me weather a lot of storms. I learned a lot of that from my grandparents. They were Pittsburghers their whole life. It meant something to them and I loved that it meant that much to them.
“The pride of being accountable and the work ethic that comes from being from a blue-collar town and the importance of family — that stuff all spoke to me at a very young age.”
“I tell my son all the time, ‘Outside the house, it’s Los Angeles. Inside the house, it’s Pittsburgh.’ He’s got it man. He’s a good boy. He gets it.”
With “Mike & Molly” behind him, Gardell is focusing on his stand-up act and his new role as Elvis Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker in CMT’s eight-part series “Million Dollar Quartet.” The show takes place in Memphis in the 1950s and chronicles the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. The name is based on a jam session that took place with Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash in 1956 and became the inspiration for a popular Broadway musical.
Taking a dramatic turn, rather than returning to a sitcom, is a move Gardell was excited to make.
“I think you owe it to your fans,” he said. “And as an artist, I wanted to branch out. I’ve always admired what John Goodman has done. I really love his career and the way it started with ‘Roseanne,’ so I kind of follow that template. I’m a big fan of his.”
Finding a role such as Walter Sobchak (whom Goodman played in the 1998 cult classic “The Big Lebowski), would be a dream job for Gardell.
“Oh man, that’s one of my all-time favorite movies,” he said. “I would die to work with the Coen Brothers.”
The word is now out to Joel and Ethan Coen, who produced “The Big Lebowski” and other classics, including “Fargo,” “Raising Arizona” “No Country for Old Men,” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” In the meantime, Gardell is enjoying the challenge of playing Parker.
“The more you find out about the colonel the less you know,” Gardell said. “He was just that kind of guy. He was very mysterious, very sharp, questionable ethics but very charismatic. So, it’s been a really fun character to take on.”
“Million Dollar Quartet” is slated to begin sometime this summer and, if successful, Gardell said it could be picked up for another season.
Having just wrapped up filming for the series, Gardell is working on new material for his stand-up routine.
“I love acting but stand-up is my first love,” he said. “I will never stop doing stand-up. I’m about to work on a new hour of comedy so I’ll be going back to the open-mic nights, back to the trenches. I like going to the open-mic room where there’s 20 people. If you can get a laugh out of 20 people, then 2,000 will explode the room.
“I try to write 20 to 25 new minutes every eight or nine months. Not too prolific.”
Gardell’s act is very much a reflection of the man himself. To that end, one subject you won’t hear Gardell speak about is politics. Unless he’s asked about it.
I leave that (stuff) outside,” he said. “I just want to entertain you for an hour. Life will be life when you walk out the door. I like to talk about relationships and being a dad and being a parent and trying not to be a hypocrite about it, trying to stay married and how crazy the world is.
“I think we’ve reached a point in this country where it’s really hard to talk politics anyway. People just want to be right. They don’t want to compromise. So I don’t think it adds to my show. Some guys can do it, but they’re smarter than me. I think Lewis Black is an example of how to do that brilliantly. So if he’s doing that I think there’s no reason for me to.
“I want fans who come see the show to feel like they got their money’s worth and that they forgot their problems for an hour,” he said. “Those are my goals.”