After a decade in showbiz spent establishing himself as a standup comedian and doing guest parts on TV and movies, Billy Gardell finally got his big break with Mike and Molly. The CBS rom-sitcom first garnered attention in 2010 for its normalizing portrayal of overweight people, but as it begins Season 4 is now simply regarded as a popular show, one that helped launch Gardell’s costar Melissa McCarthy into superstar status. Gardell, a proud Pittsburgh native, took some time to answer our “7 Questions,” keeping his usual good cheer about him despite the current woeful state of his beloved Steelers.
Mike & Molly Season 4 begins at 9pm Monday, Nov. 4, on CBS.
1. You’re at a magazine rack and can only pick three titles. Which ones do you choose?
Sports Illustrated, Time and Entertainment Weekly. You need a little bit of candy, too.
2. Aside from Mike & Molly, if your DVR can only carry three shows. Which ones do you want?
Homeland, Ray Donovan and Game of Thrones.
3. What has been your strangest fan encounter?
I really don’t have any strange ones. Every now and then you get one that doesn’t quite want to disengage and go about their day, but other than that I’m pretty good with my fans.
4. Tell me about a time when you were starstruck.
Just recently I did one scene in the movie Jersey Boys, which will be coming out next year, and I was directed by Clint Eastwood. When he walked in the room, even though he was wearing jeans and a golf shirt, it was the outlaw Josey Wales. It took me a minute to get my footing before I could speak to him. Very cool.
5. What are three things you must have in your fridge or pantry?
Number one is coffee. My wife and I have a rule, we don’t speak before the first cup of coffee. Then I would say we got to have bread, good bread. That’s my favorite, even though I’m trying to cut down on it, that’s my absolute favorite. Then cheese.
6. You’ve made your living in standup and on TV being the nice, regular guy. Do you ever feel like you want to take on a role that would really challenge that perception?
Yeah, I think I’d like to try to do that in film at some point. I’d like to play the other side of that guy. I’ve just got to wait for the right role and the right opportunity for that to happen. I’d love to play a bad guy. I’d love to play the mastermind bad guy. I’d love to do a throwback villain in one of the Bond movies, walking around in a white suit with a cane, you know what I mean? One of those guys. Or, I don’t mind playing the goofy guy who’s beside the bad guy, too. But I’d like to try something a little more serious and dramatic.
7. How has the success of Mike & Molly affected your standup career?
Every time I do standup in casinos or the theaters, you come out and you just feel that ovation. I would say at this point 20 percent of those people are standup fans and 80 percent know Mike & Molly. You get this warm reception and it’s really wonderful to be able to bridge my standup life to the sitcom thing. I have no urge to quit doing standup at all. She brought me to the dance, so I kind of always got to feel loyal to her.
Photo: © 2012 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. Credit: Sonja Flemming