At the time, all anyone wanted to talk to the still unknown comic about was the size of his waist.
A lot has happened since then: the sitcom about two Chicago lovebirds will mark its 100th episode tonight, Billy is set to host the new syndicated game show MONOPOLY MILLIONAIRES’ CLUB and the comic — who once topped 300 pounds — has lost nearly 25 percent of his body weight!
“I have about another 75 to go,” he told me when we met up at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank last month.
“I have been working out about three times a week. I am trying to cut out sugar and trying to cut out bread. But that stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s wasn’t so good.”
Here’s more of what he had to share:
Seriously, how have you changed in the five years since MIKE & MOLLY came on the air?
I was probably a lot more scared back then. That first year I was terrified. But we evolved. I am still grateful though. If anything, I am more grateful. I didn’t think any of this was coming for me. I am just astounded every day. I look at my wife sometime when I walk around our house and think, “Can you believe we have a home?” “Can you believe we have health insurance?”
Both you and Melissa [McCarthy] look great. Do you guys have a bet or something?
No. [laughs] We don’t bother each other about it. We just root for each other. We are just trying to get healthy.
At the end of the day this isn’t a story about weight…
You are right. It is truly a love story about two people who never thought they were going to fall in love and they do. That is why the fans love us. Weight just happens to be their flaw. Every great character has a flaw. But the real mess is the family. You got an alcoholic mother, a stoned sister… It’s like our homes. [laughs]
Have you met a lot of Chicago cops in the past few years?
I have met a lot of Chicago cops that have been nothing but great to us. In fact, their favorite episode was the one where me and Reno [Wilson], who plays Carl, got stuck in the cop car in a snowstorm for like 70 hours. And you become like this old married couple. When I went back to play Chicago as a stand up all of the cops were like, “That’s the truth. You’ll take a bullet for the guy but he breathes out too loudly one more time, you will kill him yourself.
Do Chicago audiences treat you different because of the show?
I think they love us the most. There is a lot of love out there, but the Chicago folks really love us because we sound like a Chicago family.
What can you share about MONOPOLY MILLIONAIRES’ CLUB?
Right now it is a February 7 slate but they are thinking about pushing it back until April to get through February sweeps, which I think is smart. We filmed six episodes. They told me I wouldn’t have a $1 million winner for at least 20 games and I did it twice in six! I think I pissed the insurance guy off a little bit. But it is a game of luck. There are dice. It just happened to fall that way.
How do you like doing a game show?
It is perfect part time work for a stand up comedian. We transition in to that. We talk to people our entire lives. That is why Drew Carey is good at. That is why Wayne Brady is good at it. We make people comfortable.
You have obviously never done anything like that before…
No. Never. But I have always loved game shows. When I was a kid with my grandmother, that is what we did. We watched THE PRICE IS RIGHT and MATCH GAME and JOKER’S WILD.
How did you end up getting the job?
I specifically said to my agents, “I want a game show — but I don’t want a cheesy one or a small one. I want the biggest thing they have ever done.” And this opportunity for MONOPOLY came along. It is the most-played game around the world. They have built the biggest LED stage in history. It is as if [Jackie] Gleeson was hosting a game show.
What’s coming up this season on MIKE & MOLLY?
I don’t really know. One of the things [creator Chuck Lorre] does is he only gives you the next week’s script. So that keeps you very organic and very much on that time line and only thinking about that.
Cops are getting a bad rap these days. What do you think of that?
I think like in everything else, there are good people and bad people and you gotta pray that the good people win out. One of the things that I love about our show is that we show diversity and it is never mentioned that me and Reno — we are dear friends in real life — but it never shows that Mike and Carl… They never put up those stereotypical things like “you’re black and I’m white…” It is just two men who love each other.
You have a son [11 year-old, William]. Is he going to go in to stand up?
I don’t know. He like the performing arts. But he keeps talking about wanting to be a chef. He watches every one of those shows: CHOPPED, IRON CHEF… He knows chefs like I knew baseball cards.
Do you remember your first time doing stand-up?
September 28, 1987, Bonkers Comedy Club in Orlando, Florida. I did really good for about three minutes. Then I sucked for about two years! But it was enough that the bug bit me!
MIKE & MOLLY airs Mondays at 8:30 PM on CBS.
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