Billy Gardell: Big laughs, more than Mike Biggs

Billy Gardell is Mike from Mike and Molly. ... But really, he's not.

What we mean is, Gardell is a lot more than his popular television character. Mike Biggs isn't known for tight premises and layered comedy. He's not the kind of experienced communicator the 45-year-old pro is on a comedy stage. And he's not able to keep an audience engaged with nothing but his thoughts and a microphone like Gardell does on a regular basis.

Still, TV  fans will be well-represented at The Mahaffey for Gardell's show tonight. We caught up with the comedian and asked about his show, his other projects and his future.

CL: Your Mike & Molly character (Mike Biggs) is a good guy, but not exceptionally clever. Are your fans surprised when they see you live, and note a lot more wit in your material? Or do you think they understand your ability as a comedian to present things live in a different way than they're used to seeing on television?

Gardell: I hope the people are pleasantly surprised that I’m just a little smarter than Mike.

You've been renewed for a sixth season. That's a lifetime in today's competitive network environment. Instead of becoming a runaway hit and eventually fading, the show has been a steady performer throughout its run. Was that intentional, and to what do you attribute that kind of consistent success?

I think every sitcom hopes to have the life span that we've had, and I think that we can attribute that to a cast that loves and respects each other and a group of incredible writers with a real collaborative energy.

On television you get to work with a talented cast, including your co-star, Melissa McCarthy. On a comedy stage it's all you. Each role requires different things from you as a comedian. Which do you prefer, and what's the most challenging thing about each one?

Stand up is my first love because it's "live or die" immediately. But my stand up has grown because of learning to share the stage with other actors. ... What I mean by that is, the acting has bled into my stand up.

Since you're well known and have a challenging television production schedule, how do you find time to work on stand-up material? Do you have clubs or places where you can get in some practice time? What's your writing process like?

I’m a guy who has to go bang it out at open mic nights, so my (production) hiatuses are when I get up on stage and try new things.

You're not one to be idle when you're not filming the show. In fact, you seem to enjoy staying busy. Where else can people see you and what other projects do you have coming in the next year?

I’m touring as a stand up, and I’m also hosting the nationally-syndicated game show Monopoly Millionaires Club
I think you have to work as hard as you can when the window is open.

Where do you see your career in five years? Still doing the same show? A new television project? Still doing stand-up? What would motivate you from an artistic standpoint?

Always doing stand up. Would love to try my hand at a dramatic series and produce some television shows.

What might surprise people who have never seen you perform stand-up? What can people expect from your set if they have seen you before?

I don’t know what would surprise them; I just hope to take them away from their troubles for an hour.

Showtime is tonight at 8 p.m. $32.50-$62.50. 400 1st St. S., St. Petersburg. Info: or 727-893-7832.

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