“Here’s your sign.”
These are three seemingly innocuous words that have taken on a whole different meaning thanks to comedian Bill Engvall.
A Grammy nominated, multi-platinum selling recording artist, Engvall is one of the biggest comedians in America, continuing to go strong more than 35 years after getting his start at an improv night in Dallas.
“I can honestly say that I never saw comedy as a career,” Engvall says during an interview from his home in Southern California. “I was never really the class clown type. I was always afraid of getting caught. I was more the instigator, if anything.
“A buddy and I found ourselves at an open mic night at a comedy club in Dallas one night in the late 70’s, early 80’s and with a little liquid encouragement, I ended up going on stage for five minutes and just talked about living in Dallas. I had absolutely nothing prepared, but at the end of the night, the lady who ran the club approached me and asked if I’d be interested in being the house MC. I stayed there for three years and had the opportunity to learn from the very best.”
Engvall fans might be surprised to learn that had comedy not fallen into his lap, his career plans would have been drastically different:
“I actually wanted to be a doctor but then realized that I tend to pass out at the sight of blood, which, let’s face it, is not a good trait to have as a doctor. I ended up going to college and briefly considered becoming a teacher, which could have been a comedic act in its own right.
“Instead, I chose to pursue the comedy thing which seemed to fit well with my life at the time: I got to work at night and sleep in late. It was perfect,” Engvall says.
While he might have cut his teeth on stages in Dallas, Engvall eventually picked up his life and moved to Los Angeles, a city that some might argue has deeper comedy roots compared to his Texas hometown.
“I came from Dallas where there really wasn’t anything in the way of competition and found myself in Los Angeles, where people would stand in line on amateur night, hoping to get their five minutes on stage.
“I ended up working securing regular work at the Improv in L.A., but was only getting stage time after 12:30 at night. I remember walking up to the owner and telling him how much I appreciated the opportunity but that I had an 18 month old child at home and my set time was posing a bit of a problem to me contributing to the family. Just like that, I began getting spots at 8:30, 9:00 in the evening instead. Other comics looked at me like I had somehow had a miracle performed when in fact it was as simple as asking,” he says.
Engvall’s star would continue to rise from there.
In 1992, Engvall won the award for Best Male Standup at the American Comedy Awards. Just a short time after having been a part of ABC’s short-lived series Delta, Engvall was signed to Warner Bros. Records.
His first release for the label, 1996’s Here’s Your Sign, caught on like wildfire across the country, helping solidify his star power with audiences from coast to coast. The album has surpassed more than one million units sold in the United States alone.
At the turn of the century, Engvall’s stock rose even higher after he joined his friends Jeff Foxworthy, Larry The Cable Guy and Ron White on the successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour, selling more than 9 million films and even scoring a Grammy Award nomination.
Asked if there are any plans to rejoin his peers and take the Blue Collar Comedy team back on the road, Engvall says he has learned never to say never.
“Being on the road with those guys was an absolute blast but it also served as an incredible means to keep you on your game. Every night you walked on that stage, you had to bring your ‘A’ game. As a performer, you didn’t want to get buried by anybody or be the low guy on the totem pole, especially because we were all very good with what we did.
“In many ways though, I think the Blue Collar Comedy thing was a perfect storm of sorts. I don’t think that any of us could have known we would be performing in front of 10,000 people a night. It was just the right thing at the right time and you always want to leave people wanting more.”
In the meantime, Engvall is more than content to be filling his schedule with solo performances. He expresses gratitude for the fact that he can largely dictate his schedule, ensuring he has a consistent work-life balance.
Now in his late 50’s, Engvall says that he has learned to stop sweating the small stuff.
“I’ve gotten to a point in my life where if something happens, I’m grateful and if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. When you’re younger, you’re more apt to chase leads down but for the time being, I’m more than happy to continue doing stand-up. I am just so fortunate to be able to do what I love, and have people show up to hear what I’ve got to say.”
What: Bill Engvall
When: Friday Feb. 20, 8:00 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton