When comedian Bill Engvall takes the stage for a show, he doesn’t just hope the audience finds him to be funny. He hopes people find him to be relatable as well.
“There’s been kind of a transition in my stand-up,” Engvall explained via phone from his home in Utah. “When I first started in this business 40-plus years ago, it was cramming jokes down people’s throats and trying to get a laugh every 15 seconds. It was just tiring. What’s happened, though, as I’ve gotten older and more mature, it’s turned into more of what I would call a 90-minute story that weaves in and out of different subjects.”
Comedy as a career
Engvall never set out to be a stand-up comic. He attended college with the intent of becoming a teacher before dropping out and heading to Los Angeles to pursue television opportunities.
“I always liked comedy,” he said. “My dad always had Bob Newhart records and stuff like that around the house, but I never thought you could make a living at it. I always just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and someone say, ‘OK, now you’ve got to go get a real job.’”
The Galveston, Texas, native eventually became known for his “Here’s Your Sign” routine, which was the title of his first album. Here’s Your Sign has been certified platinum and held the No. 1 position on the Billboard Comedy Chart for 15 weeks.
It wasn’t long after that when Engvall joined Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White, and Larry the Cable Guy as part of the wildly successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour. The soundtrack that resulted from that tour was nominated for a Grammy award.
That was followed by The Bill Engvall Show, which debuted on TBS in 2007.
Stunned by his success
Looking back, Engvall said he’s still a bit stunned by his success.
“I remember specifically standing outside the studio, the stage we were on, and they had these great big doors that slide back and forth so they could move equipment and stuff, and on it was written ‘The Bill Engvall Show,’” he said. “I just remember staring at it going, ‘Wow, you made it. You got your hands on the brass ring.”
Subsequent albums like Dorkfish, Here’s Your Christmas, and Aged and Confused along with a book titled Here’s Your Sign and his autobiography Bill Engvall – Just a Guy: Notes From a Blue Collar Life were popular as well, but Engvall has remained true to his stand-up roots.
“There are two things I’ve learned in this business that will give you great longevity: to work clean and to work relatable,” he said. “That’s why I don’t do political or religious humor or current events stories. People can see that all day on the news. My job when people come to spend their hard-earned money to see my show is to make them feel better when they leave than when they got there.”
Engvall hopes that’s the case when he visits the Embassy Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 p.m.
New fans from Dancing
While older fans still regularly attend his shows, he said he gained new notoriety when he agreed to appear on Dancing with the Stars in 2013. He had been reluctant at first, but his wife talked him into it.
“I’m glad I did it because I think what it did is it opened up a new audience for me, people who might not have known me from before,” Engvall said. “Blue Collar was huge, but there was still a segment of the population that didn’t know us. We were kind of the redneck-chewing-on-a-piece-of-grass crowd. With Dancing with the Stars, I showed that there was more to me than just that.”
All of those experiences aside, Engvall said he still simply enjoys entertaining people and giving them a reprieve from the stresses of life.
“To this day, I still enjoy the stage time,” he said. “When I leave a show and it was a great show and people are laughing, I go home or back to the hotel feeling really good because I know I’ve made people feel better. I’ve gotten emails from people who’ve said they had a really bad day and they came to see the show and they left thinking everything was a little better. That’s all they want, to laugh a little and forget their problems.”
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