Humor has long been at the forefront of Billy Gardell's life. As a kid, the comedian took notice of the classic comics, particularly his idol Jackie Gleason.

"I'm a hard core Gleason fan," said Gardell, during a recent telephone interview. "I was watching Jackie Gleason when I was 10 years old."

Gardell, who's winning raves as the co-star of the hit CBS-TV series "Mike and Molly," also starring Melissa McCarthy, looks forward to bringing his unique stand-up show to Region audiences.

"I like the Midwest. I grew up in Pittsburgh," he said, adding it was an extremely working class environment.

The comedian performs at 8 p.m. May 17 at Stardust Event Center at Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City. He said his stand-up show is filled with down-to-earth, average Joe material.

"I do a pretty blue collar show. I'm a family man and it's really a working class show," he said, adding he draws on his own life when crafting his stand-up material.

"I just try to make people laugh and forget about their problems for awhile," he said. "I try to make people laugh by looking at the human condition."

Gardell said he changes his live show every two years or so explaining it's "a slow process" coming up with new content.

"And if I have difficultly coming up with new material, I'll just have a fight with my wife," he said, laughing.

In addition to his work on "Mike and Molly," Gardell said he's really enjoying the comedy concert dates and has always loved getting up in front of a live audience to share his humor.

"I'll go out about twice a month now and in the summer I'll do about 10 or 11 dates." Gardell said it's not a hectic schedule but one he likes, and he often brings his family along with him.

"It's much easier these days," he said. His popularity on "Mike and Molly," he said, allows him to experience having "a big stand-up career" as well.

Gardell is the father of an 11-year-old son who's now providing him with much material for his show. He and his wife just experienced the phase where his son "doesn't like giving you hugs in front of other people."

The comedian is sure his child's teen years will bring about many more subjects to talk about.

"We hope we've treated him good enough so he'll treat us good in his teen years," he said.

While Gardell said his son "has a little gift for performing," he's expressing more of an interest in being a chef these days.

When enjoying the work of other current entertainers, Gardell  admires comedians Bill Burr and Nick Griffin. He's also a fan of actors Daniel Craig and Christian Bale.

Besides "Great One" Jackie Gleason, Gardell said he's long respected the humor and work of '80s comics such as John Candy, John Belushi and others.

"I think the '80s was the greatest decade for stand-up," Gardell said.

About the success of "Mike and Molly" and why audiences are so fond of it, Gardell said "I think people resonate with our show because there's a lot of heart. We're the only sitcom on TV that allows for a tender moment. And we look like real people."

The characters on the show he said may be a "dysfunctional mess" but they are loveable and speak to the everyday masses.

"It's been an amazing journey," he said, about being on the show. "I work with an amazing group of people. I couldn't have drawn it up any better on paper." Gardell said he'd gladly work on the sitcom for as long as he'd be asked to do it.

Among upcoming projects for Gardell is the new movie "Dancer and the Dame."

"It's geared to people 12 and up. It's about me and a dog and we're solving a crime," he said. The film, by Pure Flix studios, started filming in April.

FYI: Billy Gardell performs at 8 p.m. May 17 at Stardust Event Center at Blue Chip Casino, 777 Blue Chip Drive, Michigan City. Tickets are $35, $45 and $60. For tickets, visit or purchase in person at The Gift Box in the Blue Chip Casino pavilion. Guests must be 21 or older with a valid state or government-issued photo ID.

Eloise writes about food and entertainment for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight children in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.