Billy Gardell got his initial encouragement to become a standup comedian at an unusual age and from an unusual source.
"I was 7 years old and I was encouraged by my grandmother, as strange as it seems," Gardell said by phone from the road.
He attributes that early support for sustaining him as he grew up, finally winding up in a comedy club at age 17.
"It was in Orlando, Fla., and it was my first time. I was only on for about five minutes, but I remember getting lots of laughs. ... I didn't get lots of laughs every night, but you learn by the bad nights."
Gardell, who plays John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks on Saturday and Cache Creek in Brooks on Jan. 12, is just dipping into the casino market as he returns to standup while filming the third season of "Mike & Molly," a series he describes as having "a nice build from the beginning."
"It just gets better every year," Gardell said of the CBS sitcom in which he appears opposite Melissa McCarthy, who won an Emmy for the show. "The rest of the cast makes me look better than I am. Everything looks great for (the show's) renewal."
Now that he's made it in a major sitcom the dream of many standups Gardell is giving back. On Jan. 11, Showtime will premiere "Road Dogs," which focuses on comedians Gardell has chosen who "have been touring a minimum of 15 years, performing every week but you don't see them all the time," Gardell said.
"It's kind of like what Rodney Dangerfield used to do for comics. I'll start with Kenny Rogerson, Ben Creed and Tim Wilson."
Gardell's standup is noted for its basis in reality, from his rough childhood through a pretty grounded adulthood.
"My inspiration was Johnny Carson, and then later Richard Pryor and George Carlin," Gardell said. "I started to like the twist in their comedy. I talk about what I learned when growing up and from being a crazy adolescent. I was insane, out of my mind. It is a blessing that success came when I was 40 and not at that point in my life."
Out and about
New Year's Eve most likely will find the usual traffic jams and crowds. Reno's Virginia Street will host a flood of revelers, most of whom will venture forth from the casinos to watch the midnight fireworks shot from the roofs of Harrah's, Club Cal-Neva, and Silver Legacy (both upper and lower levels).
The display is expected to last 15 minutes.
At Lake Tahoe, Highway 50 through the South Shore casino area will be closed for the few thousand who love to frolic in the cold. Some will have participated in Heavenly Valley's "A Heavenly New Year Celebration," a day of concerts ending with a 9 p.m. gondola drop with an illuminated car descending from the mountain, followed by fireworks. (www.skiheavenly.com)
Before the arrival of 2013, fans of electronic music will be eager to attend SnowGlobe, three days and nights, Saturday through Monday, of performers including Wiz Khalifa and Canadian electrofunk duo Chromeo. In all, there will be 40 performers and artists at Lake Tahoe Community College. Participants can ski by day and attend the festival at night with free shuttles from Stateline, Nev., to the venue (snow- globemusicfestival.com).
Jackie Greene will perform another three-night New Year celebration at the Crystal Bay Casino, Saturday with the Mother Hips (9 p.m.; $30), Sunday (9 p.m.; $25), and Monday (10 p.m.; $45; crystalbaycasino.com).
Boomtown, Reno Events Center: Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats, Saturday; Pat Travers, Jan. 26; Al Stewart, Feb. 23.; Great White, March 30; the Fabulous Thunderbirds, April 27 (800) 648-3790.
Carson Valley Inn Cabaret Lounge: After Dark, today-Monday; the Motifs, Thursday-Jan 5; Paul Covarelli, Jan. 7-9; Elvis Week with Brian Andrews, Jan. 10-12. (775) 782-9711.
Eldorado, Reno Showroom: "Aladdin and His Lamp," Tuesdays- Sundays, through Jan. 13; "Magique," Tuesdays- Sundays, Jan. 22-April 14. (800) 648-5966.
Harrah's Reno Sammy's Showroom: The Magic of Eli Kerr, Fridays-Saturdays, through Feb. 23. The Stage @ the Zone: Audioboxx, Today-Monday; Chaparral, next Friday-Jan. 5. (800) 427-7247.
Harrah's Lake Tahoe South Shore Room: Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, today; the Fab Four, Saturday; Tainted Love, Jan. 5; Jonny Lang, Jan. 12; (800) 427-7247.
Horizon, Lake Tahoe Illusion Fusion starring Alex Ramon, Thursdays-Tuesdays. (775) 588-6211.
Silver Legacy, Reno Grand Exposition Hall: Gary Allan, Sunday; Elvis and Friends, next Friday and Jan. 5; Gabriel Iglesias, Jan. 12; Jay Leno, Jan. 25; Styx, Feb. 1; Lewis Black, Feb. 8; Jackson Browne, Feb. 17; Yes, March 9. (800) 687-8733.