From Billy to 'Mike & Molly'

Swissvale-born Billy Gardell plays a titular role in "Mike & Molly," which debuts on CBS this fall and is likely to be one of this fall’s breakout hits.

Billy Gardell stars as Officer Mike Biggs in CBS' "Mike & Molly," which debuts tonight.

Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS

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On the night of Thursday, July 22, I was fortunate enough to be in the back room of the Corner Cafe. That establishment—a small, unassuming neighborhood joint well into the South Side Slopes—has a well-kept secret in that back room. Hidden through a doorway next to the pool tables, you can find the most perfect comedy venue in Pittsburgh. A small, dimly lit room with only enough room to fit about 60 people comfortably, it’s an intimate, custom-made labor of love, perfect for local comics.

And there was plenty of Pittsburgh talent present on the night of July 22. I was fortunate enough to perform that evening, alongside a who’s who of the Burgh’s best funny people. And the audience was ravenous—supportive and entertained by every comic that appeared, even as the show stretched into a second and third hour of stand-up.

They laughed, loudly, at every joke. They roared with applause at every introduction. On the way out, they thanked us honestly for being there, and we did the same.

The perfect crowd in the perfect venue, on a random Thursday night in the South Side Slopes. Perhaps the best show I’ve ever been a part of. All because of the headliner—a local guy named Billy Gardell.

billy gardell in mike and molly

Billy Gardell as Officer Mike Biggs and Melissa McCarthy as Molly Flynn share a scene from the
new CBS comedy Mike & Molly.

Photo by Richard Cartwright/CBS    

The following night, Billy would film two shows at a sold-out Byham Theater, taped for an hour-long Comedy Central special. Thousands would fill the historic venue to be a part of the most energized and supportive crowd Comedy Central would ever film.

But, like all dedicated performers, Billy had to practice. So at a tiny bar in the South Side Slopes, one of the best comics in America was holding court. I stood in the back of the room with the other comics, feeling the satisfied buzz of a good show for a great crowd, and it hit me: Is this the last time that Billy Gardell will perform in a bar?

His ascension from road warrior to household name is just about complete, after all. The Comedy Central special was his second, the first having debuted after a string of movie roles (Avenging Angelo, Bad Santa and You Me, and Dupree) and TV spots (Yes, Dear, The King of Queens, My Name is Earl and Desperate Housewives) had helped him move into the upper echelon of touring comics.

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