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Billy Gardell a lovable ballbuster

'Mike & Molly' co-star the next Gleason?

New Faces for Fall:
Sharon Horgan | Jon Michael Hill | Billy Gardell | Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe | Andrew Lincoln | Holt McCallany | Michael Pitt | Maggie Q | Ruth Wilson | James Wolk
Fall TV Preview 2010

It’s hard to get on Billy Gardell’s bad side. Ask about his TV track record (“Yes, Dear” and “My Name Is Earl”), and he’ll quickly offer up, with a hearty laugh, “I’ve been on everything that’s been canceled.”

Plus, he and his friends have an affably antagonistic relationship, just as his character on the forthcoming CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly” has with his friend — played by real-life buddy Reno Wilson.

“I torture my bald friends; they torture me because I’m fat,” Gardell says. “When you break somebody’s stones, you have to do so with love.”

This disarming candor — and ability to take it, too — serves the role well. “Mike & Molly,” produced by Chuck Lorre, follows the parallel stories of its title characters: Mike (Gardell) is a cop who’s gun-shy around women; Molly (Melissa McCarthy, “Gilmore Girls,” “Samantha Who?”), a teacher, is looking for love but prodded by her family about weight issues. The two meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting amid a volley of fat jokes.

“We’ve all gotten so sensitive that nobody can bust balls anymore,” Gardell posits about the content of “Mike & Molly” — his warmth and winning attitude shining through. “That’s what I loved about ‘The Honeymooners.’ … You see marriage is not always chocolates and ‘What do you wanna do?’ To get to where Gleason says, ‘I’m an idiot — baby, you’re the greatest,’ you’ve gotta screw some things up.”

The “Honeymooners” namecheck is appropriate — and not just because “Mike & Molly” creator Mark Roberts describes Gardell as “the next Jackie Gleason.” Gardell’s first comic memory is watching that show at age 9. He started touring as a stand-up comic at the ripe old age of 19 (he describes his material as “working class”).

Loyal to his home city of Pittsburgh, Gardell rises at 5:30 a.m. Pacific every Tuesday to call in for the town’s WDVE morning radio show. He shares successes and failures, unafraid of a little ball-busting. He can take it.

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