LIMA — Comedian Bill Engvall has starred in his own network television show, recorded top-selling CDs, been an integral part of the “Blue Collar Comedy” tour, acted in movies and came in fourth in season 17 of “Dancing with the Stars.”
It’s his likeable presence that resonates with the audience, whether he’s dancing, doing stand-up or acting. His open personality endears him to his fans.
He called The Lima News recently for an interview. It was 9 a.m. our time and 7 a.m. his time.
“Well, we need to get you guys on a different time zone!” he joked.
Engvall has been doing comedy since 1980 or 1981, he couldn’t quite remember the year. He found his way into comedy when he was a boy, having moved a lot as a child. He wasn’t the sports-minded child, so he felt he had to be the funny guy. However, he’s quick to point out that he didn’t know back then that comedy would take him where he is today.
“It’s funny, I didn’t think you could make a living at this,” said Engvall.
He was born in Galveston, moved to Baltimore, then back to Texas, then to Arizona where the family lived on an Indian reservation for a number of years.
“Dad was in the public health service, and one of his things was he became the doctor for the Native American Indians, which was a cool way to grow up as a kid. It’s funny, as you get older, I wish I had some of that cool stuff back. But when you’re 9 years old and somebody gives you a handmade hand-painted bow and arrow kit, you go what am I going to do with this, I can’t play with it,” he said.
It was years later though, when he got up the nerve to perform that he was bitten by the proverbial comedy bug.
“I went onstage, it was an open mic night, amateur night basically, and a buddy and I had just gone to watch the show. So we were sitting there and a couple of rounds of liquid encouragement went through us and they got me onstage. At the time I was spinning records at a disco in Dallas, and so I just got up and talked about being a DJ and living in Dallas, and all of a sudden people were laughing. The lady who owned the club came up to me and asked me if I wanted to be the house MC and I was like ‘does it pay?’ At that point in my life that’s all I cared about was what does it pay? But I never thought it’d be what I would be doing today. I thought I’ll do this for a year or so and then I’ll have to go get a real job, but I started working and next thing you know it’s been how many years later,” said Engvall.
Engvall is the same guy, whether he’s on the street or on the stage. However, there are times being famous, especially a famous comedian can be a bit trying. People will expect him to be on, and always be funny.
“If you’re a plumber, I don’t walk up to you and say ‘hey go fix the toilet for me,’” said Engvall. “I think they do kind of expect you to be on. Most of the time I don’t sit there and do routines for them, but I’ll joke with them.”
However, there are always people that will try and tear the comedian down.
“I try my best. There’s always somebody, though. I’m always amazed at what people will say. Like I saw a thing on my Twitter account this morning that some girl said I saw you two years ago in Tulsa and you didn’t do a meet and greet. My heart was broken. Just now, really started eating at you? I’m sure there’s someone out there that I have missed, but I always try to take time to say hi and shake their hand or take a picture. Because without them, I’m not here, I’m not talking to you,” said Engvall.
While coming up with new routines is nothing new for Engvall, there are two topics off limits to him — politics and religion.
“I don’t do political or religious stuff because even if the joke is spectacular, you’re going to alienate 50 percent of your audience,” said Engvall.
And he is forthcoming about the nature of the nation during this time period.
“There’s people who love our president and there’s people who obviously can’t stand him. Somebody posted something on Facebook the other day that I thought was appropriate, they said hoping Trump fails is kind of like hoping the pilot flying the plane you’re on crashes. Listen, do I agree with him? No, but I hope he does a great job. I really want that. I don’t get into all of that because that’s one of those things that once you step into that pool, you’re in. This is one of the few elections, the only election, I’ve seen where people are just so violently opposed to each other. It wasn’t like, hey I don’t agree with your guy. It’s like, if you vote for him I’ll kill you! You’re like what? Wait! That’s now the way it goes. I avoid all of that in my shows,” said Engvall.
While Engvall has done television and movies, he would like to do more.
“I’d love to do some more movies, they’re fun. And I’d like another shot at television. I have got to tell you, if it doesn’t happen, I’m okay with that. I’ve achieved every goal I’ve wanted. I’ve had my own TV show and I’ve been on other people’s TV shows, done movies … I used to live and die on it. Oh, I really wanted to get that. But now I think television has changed so much. I don’t know where it’s going; I don’t know because I don’t know what the landscape is anymore,” said Engvall. “The thing I’m most proud of my show is I did it the way I wanted to do it. I wanted an old-fashioned family sitcom and unfortunately I just don’t know whether America’s into that anymore.”
He considers the fact that there are over 100 channels with 24 hour viewing.
“I think as a viewing audience we have a huge case of ADHD. It used to be you watched your shows. But there was also only four channels or three channels. I always tell people thank you for buying the albums and watching the TV shows, but the live show is the way to go. I have fun, and you never know what’s going to happen. I have this outline of what I want to do, but it’s a live show, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said.
What about another “Blue Collar Comedy” tour?
“No I don’t think so. Listen, if the guys decide they want to get back together it would be something worth thinking about, but it was also, I think it was the perfect storm. It hit at the right time, it hit the right demographic, and I always live by that thing, leave them wanting more. You don’t want to go to a town where you sold 10,000 tickets and for whatever reason you’re only selling 1,000. It was a blast and something I don’t think will ever be recreated, and so I think maybe it’s worth leaving it the way it is,” said Engvall. “Everybody has got their own stuff, too. Everybody is doing their own projects now. But if the guys got together and said let’s do just one year I’d be in.”
He is still friends with Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Ron White.
“Obviously, locale makes it difficult, we really don’t physically get to see each other, but we stay in touch with Twitter or text or whatever,” said Engvall.
With all that he has done, Engvall would advise up-and-coming comedians to stay the course and continue on, as it is worth it.
“I would tell them, don’t let anybody tell you you can’t. Cause it’s not the normal way of making a living. I just know the way I started the words gold album and platinum album and Grammy nomination, that was not going to be associated with me. But it was. People kept telling me no, and I kept saying I think I can. And here we are,” said Engvall.
Reach Merri Hanjora at 567-242-0511