Looking Back with Comedian BILL ENGVALL

Grammy Nominated Comedian Brings ‘Farewell Tour’ to Midland Center for the Arts July 16th

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Artist Feature,   By: Robert E Martin

13th July, 2022     0

Known worldwide for his part on the enormously successful Blue Collar Comedy concern films and the WB’s hit sketch comedy show Blue Collar TV, story-telling comedian Bill Engvall is a multi-platinum selling recording artist and one of the top comedians in the country.

As part of his Here’s Your Sign It’s Finally Time retirement tour, Bill will take the stage at Midland Center for the Arts, this Saturday July 16th for two shows at 6:00 & 8:00 PM. Tickets are now on sale at mdialndcenter.org or by calling the ticket office at 989-631-8250.

After getting his start in a nightclubs, Engvall began a prosperous television and comedy career spanning almost 42 years. Following his appearance in the Showtime special A Pair of Joker’s with Rosie O’Donnell, he went on to host A&E’s Evening at the Improv, eventually being awarded the American Comedy Award for “Best Male Stand-up Comedian” in 1992. Beyond his revered comedy, Engvall has guest starred in numerous sitcoms including his 3-episode arc on the TNT show Hawthorne and FOX’s Last Man Standing featuring Tim Allen.

Engvall has produced 10 albums, with many of them reaching gold and platinum status. His second album, Dorkfish (1998) received the honor of being ranked #1 on the Billboard Comedy Chart, surpassing comedy giants like Jerry Seinfeld. Other Engvall albums including Live (2004) and Here’s Your Sign (1996) became Certified Multiplatinum and Certified Platinum, respectively.

 From his early beginnings on The Tonight Show and The Late Show with David Letterman to his appearances on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour with Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Ron White to his renowned success on the Billboard charts, Bill Engvall has had an extraordinary entertainment career that is encapsulated in this final farewell comedy tour.

Recently I had the good fortune to chat with Engvall about his comedic legacy, thoughts about his contemporaries, and the important role that comedy serves within our society.

As we begin our interview, Engvall mentions how excited he is to be coming back to Michigan. “I recorded my first two albums that went platinum in Royal Oak Michigan at the Magic Bag, so Michigan is dear to my heart.”

REVIEW:   In 2006 I had the privilege of interviewing George Carlin  months prior to his passing, and when asked how he got into comedy he responded that he was ‘Born with the right to bitch and always had a clear vision to do comedy from the age of 9 onward.  So I’d like to begin by asking you the same question: Do you feel you were born with a right to bitch and at what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to pursue comedy as a full-time vocation?

Engvall: That’s actually a very good question. I don’t know if I ever felt I had the right to bitch. What happened with my pre-destination with comedy is that my Dad was a government doctor in public health service, so we moved every couple years. I wasn’t really the jock type, so in order to make friends at school I became the funny guy, so it call kind of happened unbeknownst to me.

My Dad had Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby records that were always around and available to us, so I think maybe sub-consciously this is where it all began for me, but I never thought of it becoming my job or evolving into a career.  When I started doing standup I thought I’d do it a year and then get a real job. I didn’t think it had legs and now here we are 42 years later.

REVIEW: Were there any comics that informed and helped shaped your sensibilities and approach to comedy?

Engvall: Oh yeah - even thought my act is different, Steve Martin was a huge influence. I remember buying his ‘Let’s Get Small’ album and wore it out. I would listen to the funny parts but started to listen to the crowds and thought it was cool because what was happening with the audience was unheard of. That’s where I started to break down how to go about it and asking if there was a comedy school I could attend. Newhart & Cosby were huge influences, but Newhart was more deadpan and not my style, although both showed me that people could actually do this.

REVIEW: There’s so many different forms of comedy. You have slapstick like Laurel. Hardy and The Three Stooges, situational comedy like Seinfeld, and Kings of the One-Liners like Rodney Dangerfield and Steven Wright; so what do you feel distinguishes your comedy and approach to comedy from your contemporaries?

Engvall: I would put myself in the storyteller category. My wife always laughs when I tell her I have a place that wants me to do a 14-minute set, because she says I can’t even to one story in 14-minutes. But my style of storytelling has done well for me, even though it doesn’t translate well for TV. They don’t want 15-minute bits they want 2 or 3 minute bits, so there are good and bad sides to being a storyteller.

REVIEW: What’s the most challenging component involved with longevity when it comes to being a stand-up comic?

Engvall: Well, I think you need to be generational. People come up to me and say, ‘I remember my parents letting me listen to one of your records for the first time and it blew me away’, so you want to build a longevity into your work to transcend generations.  Honestly, and I will argue this until the day is done, the cleaner you are the longer you’re going to last. That’s the way you become multi-generational. Everybody loves a good dirty joke, and I could tell you some that will make your head spin, but nobody wants to sit through it for 90-minutes.

REVIEW: One of the talents that all great comics share is an ability to help us understand the insanity around us. So in that vein, what are three things about contemporary culture that drive you the most insane?

Engvall: Number One for me is the way people are treating each other, which is beyond me. I can’t ever recall a time in my life when people had such little respect for each other.

The other thing that drives me crazy is that we as people have the ability to change things, but we won’t because everybody’s attitude is: ‘I want change, but don’t want it to affect me’. That’s like George Washington saying, “I gotta cross this river, but I don’t want to get my boots wet.”

The third thing is where my clean storytelling family guy comes in, because comedy used to be the release valve; but now, especially for comedy that is controversial or political in nature, it’s become the igniter. And that’s frightening to me, because we need to have that release valve. It’s like a pressure cooker - if you don’t release that steam, it’s gonna blow up.

That’s where my style - knock on wood - doesn’t lend towards people telling me to screw off, because I’m not confrontational in that sense. Not every comic has the same approach, but when you go to see a comedian if you listen and laugh you’ll discover good comics talk about subjects everybody knows, because ultimately we all do the same stuff - it’s just with different accents.

REVIEW: Okay, last question: What’s your favorite joke of all time?

Engvall: Well, it’s not fit for publication, but I’ll you one you can print.  This country church is packed one Sunday and the preacher is giving it his all when the Devil suddenly appears in back to the church.  He walks up the center aisle and says to the preacher, ‘Are you scared of me?  The preacher’s eyes get wide and he’s visibly shaken and books out of the church.  This continues to happen with every parishioner until the Devil comes up this skinny old man looking at his bible. The devil walks up to him and says, ‘Are you scared of me?” And the skinny old man looks up at the Devil and says, ‘No, not at all’. And the Devil responds, ‘Why not? I am Lucifer the Devil.’ And the skinny old man says, “Because I lived with your sister for 60 years.”





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