Born in Galveston, his comedy act has taken him all over the United States and now he’s returning to Texas with a show at the Victoria Performing Arts Center June 20.
He talked with the Bee-Picayune about working as a stand up and finally achieving his lifelong dream of becoming an actor, in both comedic and dramatic roles.
Bee-Picayune: How long is the tour this time?
Bill Engvall: I’m pretty much on tour all year long. I’m like a band that will go for six months then take six months off. Comedians are pretty much on tour all year long.
BP: How’s the road treat you when you’re out there?
BE: It’s getting harder. The older I get the more the traveling sucks. (laughs) Every job has it’s downside and unfortunately for a comedian it’s the traveling part. But I get to come home to Texas which is always a good thing. I wish it was at the end of this run instead of the beginning.
BP: Are you going to be doing all new material for the show in Victoria?
BE: My own career has been pretty much made talking about kids and being a dad and all that.
Well, now they’re all grown up so the show has now taken a life of it’s own with me dealing with life and getting older and not handling that well.
We cover a lot of subjects now, which is fun. With the kids being grown, it’s kind of forced me to write the way I used to write before I had kids. It’s still a clean show, there’s no swearing and all that. It’s very relatable. People will enjoy it, I think.
This is my first time playing Victoria, so I’m pretty excited about that for a couple of reasons.
One, because it’s always fun to break in a new market. But also because a lot of people haven’t seen me before. When I play Dallas, I’ve probably played it a hundred times, and they say, “Eh, we saw him last time,” but they like it, they just assume you haven’t written any new stuff. (laughs)
It really is a fun show. I set it up as if I’m just sitting in your living room and I’m just a funny guy talking. I don’t want people to think of it as it’s them going to see a comedy show. I tell stories that people can relate to.
BP: Do you get to bring your family along with you?
BE: Not so much anymore. My wife will drive with me every once in a while. If we were going to be able to stop and visit the ranch, she’d come with me. But from Victoria I go to Jacksonville, Fla., then New Buffalo, Mich., so it’s a rough road life.
BP: Do you have it in you to want, and do serious roles?
BE: Oh yeah. That’s the main focus of my acting right now. I’m having my agent really seek out dramatic roles. I always want to do stuff that’s different. When people see it they say, “I didn’t know he could do that.” And I think in order to do drama very well you have to do comedy.
I got to do a dramatic role on “Leverage,” that show on TNT, and I did a three-episode arc on “Hawthorne” where I played a detective which was just really fun. It was something different.
BP: You have the look for it, the look for serious dramatic roles.
BE: I’d love to play that psychotic, sick bastard. (laughs)
BP: How was it filming your 2007 comedy “Delta Farce”?
BE: You know, it was fun. I always joke and say “Delta Farce” had two things go wrong. One was the timing because of the war and the second was a bad script. (laughs)
I think sometimes, “Delta Farce” was a prime example of this, I don’t know what we expect from our movies. It’s called entertainment. People have different forms of entertainment. Some people like booger and fart jokes and some people like really smart humor. And, if you’re one of those people that like really smart humor then you can look at the title and say, “That’s not for me.”
A lot of people loved it. I had fun shooting it. I got to ride around in Jeeps and shoot big guns and Larry (the Cable Guy) was funny as always; it was perfect.
If Will Ferrell would have made it, it would have been huge. (laughs)
I think there was a perception about Blue Collar that was like, “Oh these idiots, blah, blah, blah.” Nobody gave us any respect at all. We weren’t looking to be respected, like, “Look at these actors.” We were just having fun. I don’t know why people couldn’t just go to the movies and have a yuk and not take too much out of it.
BP: It just seemed like you guys had a blast making it.
BE: First off, nobody’s going to buy that beautiful chicks are going to fall for Larry. (laughs) Right off the bat you know it’s a comedy.
BP: Did you guys get to train with all the machine guns and stuff?
BE: No. I’ll tell you a funny story. When the Jeep landed in the desert, it was about 100 degrees, it was hot as hell, and we had all the gear on. But our flak jackets were filled with Styrofoam or foam rubber. It wasn’t like the Mylar and the bulletproof stuff the real soldiers have. So our whole pack weighed maybe 10 pounds whereas a real soldier’s weighed about 80.
We were running around the desert and it was hot. The director called cut and Larry goes, “My God, I’m dying.” And then the craft services guy goes, “Would you like a popsicle?” and Larry goes, “Oh yeah, thanks!” (laughs)
We got to play soldier, but we didn’t have to do any training. The only training we had to do was to learn how to salute right, then we were supposed to screw that up.
BP: So you and Jeff Foxworthy are getting animated for “Bounty Hunters” on CMT, what’s that like?
BE: Jeff, Larry and I are. It’s called “Bounty Hunters.” It’s a little animated show that’s coming out on CMT.
Lisa Lampanelli plays our boss and basically, we play three bungling bounty hunters who in the end get the job done. We recorded 13 episodes and it’s a fun little show. People will enjoy it.
BP: How cool is it to see yourself animated?
BE: You don’t want to see yourself as a cartoon; it’s not good. (laughs)
It’s like when you go to Six Flags and you get your caricature done. They take your worst feature and make it 10 times bigger than what it is.
It’s really fun and easy to do, you just go into the studio and record it. I finally got to see a little bit of it and it’s really wild. It’s an amazing process they go through.
BP: You’re also headed back to TBS for a new show called “Do It Yourself,” right?
BE: I shot a pilot for them and we’re waiting to hear back. It’s a little project about people that work in a home improvement store and I get to play this guy who was an executive for Circuit City and got let go and this was the only job I could get. It was a really fun role.
Also, I’ve sold a drama to TNT kind of loosely based on the old “McCloud” series, so that will be really fun if it goes.
We have a few irons in the fire but nothing really to say it’s going to be on so and so date.
BP: It seems like you always have irons in the fire. You’re a really busy guy.
BE: I have to because idle time is not my friend.
BP: Do you ever get tired of “Here’s Your Sign”?
BE: You know what? Not really. Because that’s what got this whole thing started and I can’t turn my back on that. It’s one of those things that I’ll always do. People want to hear it and that’s what brought people to the party.
BP: It also got you a pretty decent radio hit as well.
BE: I’ve been really lucky. My whole career has been really blessed. I was joking with a friend the other day and said if I had to start over again I probably wouldn’t make it.
I caught it at the right time and I’m very grateful for what God’s given me. The ability to make people laugh and I hit at the right time.
It’s one of those businesses where it’s easy to get caught up in what you’re not doing. Every once in a while when I’m doing a interview, like this one, I’ll look around my office and see “Best Male Stand Up in ’92” and I see a Grammy nomination and a platinum record and a gold record and I realize, man, if I was to quit tomorrow I could easily retire and say that I did everything I wanted to do.
BP: Is being a stand up comedian something you always wanted to do?
BE: No, no. I wanted to be an actor. But when you grow up in a small Texas town you don’t tell your dad you want to be an actor. You might as well say you want to be a ballerina.
BP: If you could go back to wanting to be an actor as a child, is this what you thought it would be like?
BE: Oh no. Because I had no idea. It is so much better than I thought it was going to be. I didn’t know what I expected, it’s just been so awesome.
I love to climb in to the skin of another character and bring it to life. I think when I was younger I was thinking more about the parties, but there’s so much more to it than just that. It’s beyond my wildest dreams.
Even when I did stand up, it wasn’t my job. It filled all my job requirements. Work at night, drink on the job and sleep in late. It was the perfect job. But, it wasn’t what I thought I’d be doing for a living. I didn’t think it’d be 30 plus years of doing it.
This ball just keeps rolling and people keep buying tickets to come and see the shows. And when I do my show in Victoria, I may be talking, but in my head I’m thinking, “I still can’t believe people still come out and see me.” (laughs)
BP: Do you have a new album in the works?
BE: I don’t know. I’m working on a bunch of new material, maybe putting together an album.
Times have changed. People don’t really buy albums anymore. If I was to do one, I would probably just release it on iTunes or something like that where people can download.
BP: Have you ever thought of doing something like what Louis C.K. did, releasing it all on his own through his website?
BE: I think Louis really broke some ground there and I think you’re going to see a lot of people doing that.
It’s just the way of the world now. Social media and all that Internet stuff. It’s not like the old days of when I would go to the record store and buy an album.
One of prized possessions is a 45-inch record of “Here’s Your Sign.” When it went gold, they asked if I wanted it on a DVD and I sad no. I wanted it on an album. I want it like an old gold record. So they made it up and I have it on my wall. It’s very cool.
BP: Is there anything you want to say to people who haven’t seen your show live before?
BE: I just say to people, thanks for buying the albums and CDs and downloading the songs but, if you really want to get the true essence of the show, come and see it live.
Places like the Victoria Performance Arts are small, intimate venues and that’s the way comedy should be seen.
Come out, sit back, relax and have a great night.
Paul Gonzales is the entertainment writer at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 116, or at thescene@mySouTex.com.