After six years of swapping laughs with comedy superstar Melissa McCarthy, Billy Gardell is getting more time to put back into his first love: stand-up comedy. “I knew from 9 years old, watching the stand-ups on Johnny Carson with my grandmother,” the now 48-year old funny man explains. “I just knew from that moment on, and I hear people in their 50s sometimes say they still don’t know what they want to do. I didn’t realize what a blessing that was until I got older.”
“I think I was too broke and naïve and filled with piss and vinegar to not know it was a huge risk, but it just paid off. And my grandmother, my Irish grandmother, I just thought she hung the moon, so I asked her, ‘Do you think I could be a stand up comic?’ And she said what we use to say to kids, that if you worked hard – you could do anything. I trusted this woman’s opinion so highly, I never asked anybody else. I would just ask myself if there opinions were more important that hers? They never were, so I just kept going.”
After getting the nerve to approach an open mike (after an deep pocketed bet gone wrong with his buddies at work), Gardell originally found an audience in the Orlando comedy scene, and meeting household names
along the way. “Because I started in the late '80s, I got to work with some amazing comics: Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, George Carlin, and Dennis Miller. And it was so much fun to watch my peers be successful as well, our open mike night was me, Darrell Hammond, Wayne Brady, Carrot Top. Even Larry the Cable Guy was running around Florida at the time but he was just Dan Whitney. All these amazing guys that at the end of the night were just trying to figure out how to get a job, writing jokes and having a laugh at Denny’s. I was kinda the last one at the party, but I finally got there.”
With a two night special on deck for the Houston Joke Joint, this randevu in Houston has a special significance for the CBS alumni – it’s a homecoming of sorts. “It’s been a few years since I been here, but I used to work for a dear friend and comic in his own right, Don Learned at his club called the Laugh Spot. It’s a place I used to come regularly when I was coming up, in fact – I was actually in town working in Don’s club when I got the call that I was gonna be Mike on Mike & Molly. But I’m actually coming into to town to do a benefit for some of the EMTs who took care of everybody during the hurricane, so this was all just an excuse to work together a bit more and try out some new material I’m working on.”
Even though Gardell hasn’t recorded a new hour since Comedy Central’s Halftime back in 2011, the
stand-up is keenly aware his development process in unique and his expectations for himself may be a bit high. “I’m a slow writer and honestly I hate everything I write, so it takes a lot for me to actually keep one in - not that’s its brilliant or anything, but I just want it to be really solid, really funny, and if it can be something that brings people together, I do that too. It takes me longer than most guys to write an hour, but I’m really happy when it's finished.”
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While plenty of Grade-A comics are hyper focused on current events in their act, Gardell’s slower material churn has required him to turn inward, delivering personal discoveries about his own life and the lives of his family. “Right now, my son is 14, and as he reaches for his independence, seeing his friends on the weekends, he’s left me and my wife home alone. We’ve been together 18 years. We’ve had every argument and every discussion a couple can have, and so what I’m doing is trying to find a way for me and my wife to enjoy hanging out again in a fun way just for us. And the process for that is really funny. So what I’m talking about is being a veteran couple, who has been in the league a long time, trying to get back into the swing of dating and having fun, and spending time on each other and not going out with rookie couples, because they’re new love… and new love will make you want to hang from the rafters.”
In times of trouble, comedians with a working class attitude like Billy Gardell may just be the perfect stress reliever. For his audiences, the performer wants to be an escape. “I want them to forget their problems for an hour and to laugh really hard, because I think there’s a medicine in laughter that we don’t quite understand. At the beginning of my career it was about making the audience laugh so that I felt good, but as I’ve come through this life I find it much more enjoyable to make the audience laugh so that they feel good.”
Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Friday, February 2 and 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 3 at 11460 Fuqua. For more information, visit jokejointcomedyshowcase.com or call 281-481-1188. $25-30.