PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Billy Gardell has come a long way from his days growing up on Harrison Avenue in Swissvale.
Gardell lept to fame in Chuck Lorre’s “Mike and Molly” and tonight returns to CBS in a new Lorre series called “Bob Hearts Abishola.”
His work puts him in Los Angles, but Pittsburgh is still home.
“I haven’t lived here for 25 years, but Pittsburgh is right here,” Gardell said as he points to his heart. “I tell my son when you walk out that door, it’s Los Angeles out there. But when you come in here and shut that door, it’s Pittsburgh in here. All the things that I think are decent about me I learned from my father. And my dad took great pride in being a Pittsburgher. … My work ethic I learned in Pittsburgh. It gets me a little emotional. This city is who I am.”
When Gardell arrives on screen in his new show, it will break new ground.
“We’re the first show to have an emoji in it, and I think that throws them a little bit,” Gardell said.
It’s been three years since the curtain came down on “Mike and Molly” and Gardell was thrilled when he got another call from Lorre.
“He said, ‘I’ve got something and I think you’re the guy for it.’ And I said, ‘I’m in.’ I would do anything for the man who changed my life for the better in so many ways,” Gardell said.
This time around, Gardell plays a compression sock company owner who has a heart attack and falls for his nurse.
Gardell is enjoying building the chemistry with the new cast and says the underlying tone of the show is kindness.
“We need kindness,” Gardell said. “There’s no empathy in the air anymore. Everybody’s right at all cost. And here’s something that can be fun, funny, heartfelt and kind and I think there’s always an audience for that.”
For Gardell, every day at work is just continuing the dream of a young boy in Swissvale.
“This is what I was doing when I was 9 (years old) on Harrison Avenue,” Gardell said. “There used to be a 70’s show called “SWAT.” Me and three of my buddies, my porch was headquarters and we had sticks for guns and we had a mission. That’s all I’m doing.”
Gardell cut his chops performing stand-up comedy but recently has cut back his touring. At his peak, he was touring 40 weeks a year.
Now Gardell tries to make sure he is at home during the week.
“The hour on stage is like nothing else but the being away from my family and being away from my son, it’s not where I want to be right now,” Gardell said. “I like being in the house. I like knowing if there’s a school event I can be at. If there’s homework his mom can help him and I can talk to him about work ethic. Look, I never made it to college. The closest I got was I drove by one time. But I can talk to him about a work ethic and we’re a good balance for him.”
With the passing of his dad, Bill, a year ago at 75, the home has taken on a more powerful pull.
Gardell is working to be there for his son, Will, like his father was for him.
“I hear him every day,” Gardell said. “If I have a thought and I’m not sure how to navigate it, I hear his voice and I’m hoping to give that to my son.”
Now 50, Gardell is focused on his health.
He quit drinking and smoking a decade ago and recently dropped 30 pounds and counting.
“It’s hard,” Gardell said. “It’s hard work when you are overweight. Skinny people love to tell you how to lose weight. That’s my favorite thing. Skinny people have all the answers because they’ve never had to struggle with it.”
And in many ways, the struggle with weight was a key to connecting to the “Mike and Molly” viewers.
“It helped people who do struggle say, ‘Wow, we’re actually being seen on TV,'” Gardell said.
He says cheeseburgers are his downfall. Well cheeseburgers and coming home to Pittsburgh.
“I got to hit Primantis, Veltre’s for pizza,” Gardell said. “My wife knows if I come to Pittsburgh, all bets are off for a couple of days.”
When it comes to Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams, you’ll often find him at Pirates games when he’s home.
“I’m a die-hard,” Gardell said. “I watch them and they torture me.”
Gardell is also all about the Penguins and of course, the Steelers.
“The Steelers have been very kind to me,” Gardell said. “I’ve been on the sideline and do the Terrible Towel twirl and because of that, I struck up a friendship with Franco (Harris), been with Ben (Roethlisberger), Rocky (Bleier), Mel (Blount), (Jerome) Bettis. So for a kid from Harrison Avenue to walk down on that sideline, that’s a dream.”
So what does this diehard fan think about the Antonio Brown and Leveon Bell soap operas?
“I’m rooting for the 55 guys who are starting in September,” Gardell said. “You’re with us or you’re not. And if you’re not, I don’t want you with us.”
“Bob Hearts Abishola” airs on CBS on Monday nights at 8:30 p.m.