When someone who has made a four-decade career out of being funny decides to take a step back from what made them famous, there's always that potentially nagging sense of self-doubt that can creep into the artist's psyche. Is it really my time to be done? Do I have anything left to prove to myself?
In Bill Engvall 's case, he knew it was the perfect time to bid goodbye to the road. "I always said that I wanted to go out on my terms. I never wanted to be the act where someone said they should have stopped a year ago. And I say this with all humility, but I caught the brass ring. I've achieved every goal that was in front of me in terms of stand-up," he says with a smile.
And it's through this sense of honesty that the comedian has gained a passionate worldwide following.
Currently on his farewell stand-up comedy tour, "Here's Your Sign, It's Finally Time," which runs through November, Engvall's introspective feelings are easy to understand. Born in Galveston, Texas, on July 27, 1957, Engvall has spent nearly his entire adult life making people laugh, and has found incredible success in doing what he absolutely loves.
Bill Engvall accepts his American Comedy Award for male stand-up in 1992.
While working as a disc jockey in his early 20s, Engvall was in a nightclub one evening with friends, who urged him to get up on stage and try his hand at stand-up. "After a couple rounds of liquid encouragement, I went up there and talked about my experiences being a DJ. And people liked it and I thought it was cool. And then I got approached by the lady who owned the club to be the house emcee," he says.
But Engvall, who didn't know much about the professional comedy scene, had no clue what the job would entail. Lucky for him, he got a crash course on how the industry worked.
"I didn't know what the club emcee did at the time, and this was back when Garry Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld were still doing clubs and special events, so I learned from the best," recalls Engvall. "I learned how to put an act together. People could have easily blown me off, but so many people were supportive. One night, I took Jay Leno to the airport and asked him if I could be his opening act, and he told me that I didn't really want to be his opening act. He told me that I'd have my own career, and to stick with it. At the time, of course I was disappointed, but I guess he knew what he was talking about."
Engvall also credits Steve Martin's classic comedy album "Let's Get Small" as instrumental to his decision to pursue a path as a comedian.
Engvall appeared with Delta Burke and rest of the cast of her 1992-93 series "Delta."
After moving to Los Angeles, Engvall nabbed a cable show hosting gig on "A Pair of Jokers" with Rosie O'Donnell, hosted A&E's "Evening at the Improv," while also appearing on "The Tonight Show" and "Late Show With David Letterman." These early experiences provided him with the confidence he needed, but it wasn't until he won for male stand-up comedian at the 1992 American Comedy Awards that he realized he'd done something truly significant.
"I always had the ability to make people laugh. I was never the class clown, but I was the guy who was able to set-up the class clown, because I never wanted to get in trouble. But when Joan Rivers read my name at the Comedy Awards, I realized that I'd been given a gift," he says.
His first comedy album, "Here's Your Sign," was released in August 1995, and would go certified platinum while holding the No. 1 position on the Billboard Comedy Chart for 15 straight weeks. His second album, 1998's "Dorkfish," debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Comedy Chart, and ended up going certified gold. Over a half-dozen successful comedy albums would follow throughout the years. And of course, he'd become a household name in the 2000s with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, which exploded across the country, even crossing the pond and finding success in Europe, despite the material having deeply held American roots.
"In life, you have to laugh as much as possible, otherwise you're going to go nuts, especially with the way the world is today," he says. "And when people overseas responded to the material, and I saw that it had struck a chord with people outside of my home area, that's when I realized I might have something special going on."
The comic made many appearances on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
As Engvall's generosity of spirit can be felt in casual discussions, it's no surprise to hear that working with him for extended periods of time has enriched those who have been fortunate enough to do so. "I've been with Bill for 25 years, and he's the kindest, most honest, and generous human being I know. His transformation of growth has been amazing to witness, and there's nothing false about him as a person," says Engvall's stand-up manager, J.P. Williams, founder and owner of Parallel Entertainment. "We've been close for a long time, and as you get older, you start to find your place, and he's really found his. It won't be the same without him on the stand-up circuit."
Engvall's stand-up success led to frequent TV work, with appearances on "Designing Women" and co-starring roles on "Delta," "Last Man Standing," and "The Jeff Foxworthy Show." He had his own TBS sitcom, "The Bill Engvall Show," for three seasons and appeared as host of GSN's "Lingo," and, rather memorably, as a contestant on the ABC smash "Dancing With the Stars." And throughout it all, Engvall has enjoyed each opportunity that has come his way, while trying to remain level-headed about his various successes and contemplating the future.
"I've had my own TV show, I've had platinum and gold records, and I've been in movies. And when COVID hit, and I couldn't work, I realized I wasn't missing it. I wasn't sitting there saying I needed to get back on the road. I loved having dinner with my wife every night and spending time together, and the world has changed so much, and so fast, it just felt like the right time. And people are so sensitive in the comedy world right now which is another contributing factor," Engvall says.
Engvall was a regular on the second season of "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" on NBC.
In 2021, Engvall's newest TV series, "Blue Collar Auction," premiered on Peacock's Circle TV, a country-themed music and lifestyle network. The series, from Venture 10 Studio and Parallel Entertainment, features him as head auctioneer, engaging viewers in competition as various items are sold to the highest bidder. The series auctions off collectors' items, such as celebrity memorabilia and automobiles, to virtual buyers while focusing on the personal stories behind the items.
He's also made unique friendships as a result of his profession that will last a lifetime, including one with country superstar Reba McEntire.
"I just love Bill. I love working with him, and I love being around him," she says. "Bill is a great family man, and his shows were family oriented with a little edge but everyone enjoyed them. Bill opened a show for me in Las Vegas and when we got on the plane from Nashville he sat with my son Shelby and they played video games and laughed the entire way. He's a great guy and a great entertainer, and I'm just so proud to say we are friends."
Bob Kinkead, CEO of the Kinkead Entertainment Agency and Engvall's stand-up agent, shares similar sentiments. "It's truly been a pleasure representing Bill over the last 12 years, and I appreciate his work ethic and loyalty," he says. "He's always been on time and is the easiest artist to work with. He does a 90-minute, belly-laughing comedic routine for all ages. He reinvents himself on stage so you never feel like you're seeing the same show."
Engvall realized during the COVID pandemic he didn't miss being on the road.
Keeping the show geared toward a nearly all ages approach was something that Engvall had in mind from the start.
"I wanted to do a show that the populace would enjoy. I got turned down for so many HBO 'One-Night Stands' because they didn't think I was edgy enough, but here I am 42 years later still doing it. I never drew humor from someone else's pain or misfortune. That's not my style, and it never felt right. All the audience wants to know is that you are relatable to them, and for me, you don't have to be the funniest guy of all time, but that you understand them," he tells Variety . "Over the 42 years that I've been doing this stuff, I've noticed how people like it when you keep it clean. People love for you to be clean and relatable. A nd that is it. And they come back, and they tell their friends."
When it comes to the future, Engvall is excited to see what happens next, as is his agent, Paradigm's Jim Dempsey.
"Bill is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet," Dempsey says. "He's a no-nonsense straight shooter, and as you can imagine, he always gives a good laugh. I'm excited about this next chapter in Bill's life and career. As he wraps up his immensely successful tour, we are excited to focus on his next film & television projects. Bill has some serious chops, and along with his legion of fans, I too am excited to see what is next around the bend."
Engvall has been a film fan since childhood, and has developed eclectic tastes in terms of what he enjoys watching in his spare time, and the types of projects he'd like to get involved with in the future. He cites playing the villain in the 2016 indie thriller "The Neighbor" as "a real treat" and notes he'd be game to tackle more roles like that in the future.
"I'd love to do a down and dirty indie where I go completely against type and do something that nobody would ever expect," says Engvall. "I loved it when Robin Williams went dark in 'One Hour Photo.' I'd love to do something like that. And when I was younger, my dad and I watched a lot of westerns, so one of my ultimate dreams is to be in a movie western."
Engvall's love for his wife is very evident, and it's clear that without her unwavering support, he'd not have had the chance to develop the same comedic and pop-culture legacy.
"I have to give credit to my amazing wife, Gail, for always believing in me more than I ever did. She made it OK for me to be myself and pursue what really made me happy. For 42 years, she never once complained that I was out on the road and missing out on things. I'll never be able to repay her for that. The road can tear families and marriages apart, and I would never be the person I am today without her."
But coming up this December, when his final tour wraps up, Engvall is looking forward to some relaxation, whether at his Texas ranch or just enjoying some quality time gardening, a hobby he's become quite fond of.
"When I first started going out on the road, I'd be packed two days before I was set to leave. And now I'm packing 20 minutes before the flight. Things change. And I'm looking forward to a retirement from life on the road," says Engvall. "It's important for each individual comedian to realize when it's time to hang it up. My family has been so great, and my wife, who is the greatest business manager in the world, she told me that she just wanted me to be 'ready' when that time comes. And it's arrived."
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