An interview with Bill Engvall: blogging, acting, a new outlook

Friday, June 25, 2010

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Actor and comedian Bill Engvall hosted the CMT Music Awards in 2009. He will entertain in Solomons June 26.

In recent years, Bill Engvall's stand-up comedy routine has changed to the tune of two major life changes.

One: The "blue collar" comic has crossed over to the other side of 50.

Two: His children, two out of his three major comedy characters (the third being his wife of more than 20 years), have grown up and left the house.

Yup, Engvall's new material ponders the subject of getting old — and how to deal with it.

Keep "your bedroom fresh and exciting," he tells the gents. "But if you're going to do something new in the bedroom, my advice is to warn them before you try it. Because you don't want to hear this in a dark room: What are you doing?"

Engvall is known for clean comedy, but his act is hardly "Disney on Ice." His first comedy album, 1996's "Here's Your Sign," went platinum, and he's of course known for his contribution to "Blue Collar TV" and "Blue Collar Comedy Tour: The Movie," for which the cast also included Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy.

"Blue Collar TV" ran from 2004 to 2006. Engvall's own sitcom, "The Bill Engvall Show," debuted in 2007 and lasted three seasons on TBS.

Even when he was busy filming the sitcom, Engvall accepted stand-up comedy gigs on the weekends. "For me, stand up is the greatest form of expression," he said when reached on the phone, "because there's nothing more fun than a comedy show."

As of late, Engvall has added blogging to his resume. FOX Sports West recently invited him to write a weekly to bi-weekly blog post about the Los Angeles Angels (the native Texan's longtime favorite team) and Engvall accepted the gig.

Fittingly, we started the interview by conversing in the universal language of men.

Weekend: You've had a really successful comedy career and recently had your own sitcom. What could possibly make you want to stoop to our level and add blogging to your resume?

Engvall: (Laughs) … I decided that when FOX Sports West contacted me about doing this blog about the Angels, I thought it would be fun to talk about sports. And it's something different.

Weekend: How is it going so far? How are you catching most of the games?

Engvall: We have season tickets, so it's going well. I think the Angels are unfortunately dealing with major injuries and players getting older. … They're in a weak division, which is good for them. I'd hate to see them in the division with the [New York] Yankees and Tampa Bay [Devil Rays]. We'd be dead, I think.

Weekend: It's been pretty tough around here with the Orioles and the Nationals. How can we stay optimistic?

Engvall: Well, I think anyone gets antsy when their team goes through a bit of a downswing … I always tell people, "Just go to the park and enjoy the game. Just sit there and enjoy baseball for what is."

Weekend: In a recent post, though, you wrote about the guy at the park who will say stuff like, "Even I could have caught that one" — even though we both know there's no way he could have. That's in the stands. But what's the stupidest thing you've seen on the field recently?

Engvall: A couple weeks ago there was one out and there was a guy on third, and this guy hit a fly ball to shallow right field. And the player caught the ball and started running in toward the dugout; he thought it was the third out. And the guy on third was going, like, "OK, well hell, I'll go score then." So everyone's screaming at this guy, and I go, "Oh, man. That's an Engvall move right there."

Weekend: The tone of your television show was very similar to your comedy. What was it like to act it out as opposed to just live it?

Engvall: That was weird. One of the things we did on my show was based on a bit I used to do: Once your wife wants to argue, tell her you want to argue naked. My friend says, "Why would you do that?" I say, "Because once the clothes come off, there's no argument."

And they all thought that was really funny; I did, too, until they wrote it into the script. There I am bare-assed naked with this little pouch on. That was a little humiliating. [Actress] Nancy Travis kept looking at me, going, "Why would somebody write this for themselves?"

Weekend: Were you upset to see the show end after three seasons?

Engvall: Yes, I was, and I'll tell you why. Not because it was my show or because I had so much invested in it. I just think I did everything I wanted to do; it was a good family show. And unfortunately we became a victim of a network switching you from one night to the next. ... If I get the chance to do it again, I'd do it exactly the same way, because so many people come up to me and say, "Man, it's so nice to have a show on TV that I don't have to worry about if my kids walk in the room."

And that's also what I try to do with my stand up. One of the reasons I've been doing this for 30 years is I work clean and people know what they're going to get when they hire me.

Weekend: You really don't tell jokes so much as you tell stories, and it seems like your material has changed quite a bit since your children left the house.

Engvall: Oh, yeah. I've got a whole new outlook on life about getting older and dealing with stuff. Everything from physical changes to mental changes, to me and my wife spending a lot more time together; it's fun again for me because I've really gotten back to the way I used to write before I had kids.

Weekend: Can you explain that more?

Engvall: When a kid is 3 or 4 and does something funny, it's cute; or when he does something wrong, it's funny. When they are 19 or 23, it's not cute anymore. And also, I think I had to move on just because I'm getting older.

It's silly for me to be 53 years old and trying to do material that you'd expect to hear from a 20-something-year-old.

Weekend: How did you come up with "Here's your Sign?"

Engvall: "Here's your Sign" was a bit I've had for years. It used to be that I thought "stupid people should be slapped." One day my wife said, "You know, you just don't look like the kind of guy that goes around slapping people." So, that was in the club days and I came up with this idea of a sign, a sign that said, "I'm stupid." I'd sell them for a dollar apiece.

Weekend: You had a good run, obviously, with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, but would you agree that your material is a lot different than Jeff Foxworthy's and Larry the Cable Guy's?

Engvall: Oh, yeah. I think Jeff and I are probably closer than any others because he talks about family a lot. But, you know, I'm probably the least redneck of the whole group. That's the thing: When people hear the word redneck or blue collar, they think of a certain kind of person. It's a certain type of lifestyle.

It's the working man, people who go through life and pay their bills, just good common people. And that's what we are. People go, "Oh, you live in Hollywood." Yeah, but if you were living next door to me you wouldn't know what I did. We don't have the Hollywood lifestyle. It's not limos and all this.

Weekend: Are you OK with the blue collar label?

Engvall: Yeah, I got no problem with that. Somebody one time said, "You guys do country comedy." I said, "No, I think a better description would be comedy for the country." … We've all had this discussion, me, Jeff and Larry; we're just three guys that got an unbelievable break.

Weekend: In "Here's your Sign," you also outlined men's three basic needs (eating, sleeping, sex). Do they change as you get older?

Engvall: No! You just get pickier about which ones you like.

Weekend: I know you're a big fan of Caribbean vacations. While you're in Solomons, do you think you might stop by the Tiki Bar?

Engvall: I never say never, my friend. That sounds like a lot of fun.

Bill Engvall will appear at 7:30 p.m. June 26 at Calvert Marine Museum. The event will include music by the Sam Grow Band and an appearance by guest comedian Gary Brightwell. The show will begin at 6 p.m. and gates will open an hour earlier. Tickets are $50 and $40. Call 800-787-9454. Calvert Marine Museum is at 14150 Solomons Island Road, Solomons. Call 410-326-2042.