From Col. Parker to the con­cert stage

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MUSIC - By John Bei­fuss

Billy Gardell, who brings his com­edy to Min­gle­wood Hall on Satur­day night, de­scribes the arc of his ca­reer as “23 years to an overnight suc­cess.”

A standup co­me­dian turned sit­com star turned dra­matic ac­tor, Gardell, 46, is best known for play­ing the Chicago po­lice of­fi­cer who is one half of “Mike & Molly,” the six-sea­son CBS com­edy that aired its series fi­nale on May 13.

Mike’s wife, Molly, was played by Melissa McCarthy, who in the past few years has be­come one of the two or three most pop­u­lar movie co­me­di­ans in Amer­ica. But if Mccarthy’s level of su­per­star­dom so far has eluded Gardell, the Pitts­burgh-born (and Pitts­burgh-loyal) long­time standup co­me­dian has not wanted for work — “My Name Is Earl,” “Bad Santa” — or chal­lenges.

For the past three months, Gardell has been in town as part of the en­sem­ble cast of “Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet,” the eight-episode CMT dra­matic series about the Mem­phis-based birth of rock and roll in the 1950s. Gardell could be a scen­estealer, and not just be­cause his plus-size physique will of­fer a con­trast to the leanand-hun­gry South­ern sex ap­peal of Drake Mil­li­gan as Elvis, Chris­tian Lees as Jerry Lee Lewis and Chad Michael Mur­ray as series nexus Sam Phillips. Gardell has one of the juici­est roles in the pro­gram: He is Col. Tom Parker, the Dutch-born show­man who be­came Elvis Presley’s man­ager.

A grace­ful big man in the tra­di­tion of Jackie Glea­son, Zero Mos­tel and Oliver Hardy, Gardell is in ev­ery episode of the series. He And awaaaay we go: Billy Gardell per­forms Satur­day at Min­gle­wood Hall.

said he re­searched his role, but “I don’t think any­body knew Col. Parker ex­cept Col. Parker.”

The first sea­son of what CMT hopes will be a longlived series be­gins in 1952, with the so-called “colonel” op­er­at­ing a “Colonel Tom’s Danc­ing Ducks” amuse­ment in Mem­phis; fol­lows Parker as he be­gins

to man­age the ca­reers of such Nashville coun­try stars Eddy Arnold (Trevor Dono­van); and con­cludes with the meet­ing of Parker and Presley.

“He’s a bit of a con man,” Gardell said of Parker. “There’s a part of him that’s a shys­ter, but also a part of him that’s a vi­sion­ary.”

Gardell — who cites

sit­com star turned dra­matic ac­tor John Goodman as a role model — said shoot­ing in Mem­phis “has been lovely. Play­ing these iconic char­ac­ters, it re­ally helps to be in the city where these events hap­pened. There’s a real at­mos­phere in Mem­phis.”

He said he and many of the cast mem­bers took a field trip to Grace­land, and many have vis­ited Sun Stu­dio on their own or in smaller groups. He said the re­sults of the ex­po­sure to Mem­phis should be ev­i­dent.

“I ab­so­lutely think they (CMT) are look­ing at this as their ver­sion of ‘Mad Men,’ their foray into the high­estqual­ity tele­vi­sion.

Gardell con­cludes his work on “Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet” Fri­day (shoot­ing in Mem­phis is sched­uled to wrap July 9), so he ex­pects his Satur­day show to be some­thing of a farewell cel­e­bra­tion, with many cast mem­bers present. Who­ever attends, he said, will ex­pe­ri­ence what he calls “work­ing-class hu­mor,” evoca­tive of his Pitts­burgh roots.

“My top­ics are very much real life,” said Gardell, whose act now re­lies heav­ily on his ex­pe­ri­ences as a hus­band and father.

“Mil­lon Dol­lar Quar­tet” is set to de­but on the CMT (Coun­try Mu­sic Tele­vi­sion) ca­ble net­work in Novem­ber. Gardell said he hopes the series is a suc­cess, and that he’ll re­turn to Mem­phis soon, to be­come Col. Parker once again.

“He’s a re­ally fun char­ac­ter to play. It’s a case of giv­ing the devil his due.”


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