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Gardell: 'Mike and Molly' star talks retirement, stand-up, cops, Gleason and McCarthy

He appears at Chinook Winds in Lincoln City this weekend


by: COURTESY OF GUY VIAU - Billy Gardell, who stars in the CBS comedy Mike and Molly, appears at Chinook Winds Casino and Resort for two stand-up shows, Friday and Saturday, July 12 and 13.Billy Gardell hopes to retire by age 50. Before then, though, the actor-comedian and star of the CBS series "Mike and Molly" has plenty of stuff to do.

There is stand-up comedy, which Gardell will display in a pair of 8 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday, July 12 and 13 at Chinook Winds Casino and Resort in Lincoln City (tickets $25 to $40, chinookwindscasino.com).

It's the start of a month-long tour for Gardell, who was born in Pittsburgh and moved to Florida when he was 10 and makes his home in Los Angeles.

Then there is "Mike and Molly," which premiered in September 2010 and will begin its fourth season in the fall. Gardell plays Mike Biggs, a Chicago police officer. His TV wife is Melissa McCarthy, who plays elementary-school teacher Molly Flynn-Biggs. They fell in love after meeting at a Chicago Overeaters Anonymous Club. Marriage is going better than their dieting plan.

McCarthy has been a familiar figure on screen for more than a decade, stemming from her roles in TV's "Gilmore Girls" (2000-07) and "Samantha Who?" (2007-09). But 2011 was her year. She won an Emmy for leading actress in a comedy series for "Mike and Molly" and starred in the comedy film "Bridesmaids," earning an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress.

Gardell, who turns 44 in August, made time for a Q&A session with the Portland Tribune prior to his Chinook Winds shows:

Tribune: Where are you calling from?

Gardell: I'm on vacation in Orlando with my family. Mickey Mouse robbed me two days ago. All we have left is money to go to the movies.

Trib: What do you have planned for the rest of your summer?

Gardell: I'm coming out your way, then doing some (comedy) dates in Connecticut, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada. Then we go back to taping (for next season's "Mike and Molly").

Tribune: Do you consider yourself an actor or a comedian?

Gardell: I'm a comedian first. I've learned to be a better actor working with my cast on "Mike and Molly."

Tribune: You were doing comedy even in high school?

Gardell: My first stand-up was the ninth-grade talent show. It was horrible. I bombed. But something about getting up there was exciting.

Tribune: When watching you act, Jackie Gleason comes to mind.

Gardell: Thank you for the compliment. My dad turned me on to a lot of cool Gleason stuff, television and movie-wise, when I was a kid. That was one of the things we'd watch. Watching (Gleason) explode and react would make me laugh — especially the "Baby, You're the greatest" moments.

Tribune: Who else have been your biggest influences in comedy?

Gardell: In stand-up, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Dennis Miller. Of my peers, pound for pound, Billy Burr is the best stand-up comic out there right now. For acting, John Candy, and lately I've become a huge fan of John Goodman. The work he's doing in film is tremendous. I would love to emulate his career.

Tribune: How many stand-up shows do you do a year?

Gardell: We did about 30 last year. It's one- (or two-) nighters now. It used to be 38 weeks a year, seven days a week. It's a little more user-friendly now.

Tribune: Have you been to Oregon?

Gardell: I've played a couple of other casinos in that area. It's been wonderful. We've done some real good sales up there, and the people are fantastic. What baffles me, getting to the casinos in Oregon, it's like finding Oz. They're in the middle of the wilderness.

Tribune: You played a police officer in "My Name is Earl," too. Were you or any relatives in law enforcement?

Gardell: My cousin is a police officer in Pittsburgh. He's a sergeant of Reserve Township. My best friend is also a cop on the Pittsburgh police force. They actually work for a living. I pretend really well. It's better to be typecast than not cast.

Tribune: What's it been like working with Melissa?

Gardell: She Is wonderful. It has been amazing to watch her career. She has stayed the same person. I can't say enough about that, that it hasn't affected her. Our cast is immune to that stuff. A lot of us are 40 with wives and husbands. We all root for each other. They show up at my gigs. I show up at their premieres. It's been a blast, a real honor to work with her and that crew.

Tribune: Your son is 10 years old. You've said you want to retire when he hits 15 or 16 so you can spend more time with him. Is that still the plan?

Gardell: That's the plan, man. I'd like to be able to run with "Mike and Molly" for another six or seven years, then follow him around and watch what he does.