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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Comedian Bill Engvall performs at the Marcus Center Feb. 18.

Bill Engvall's comedy extends far beyond "Blue Collar"


It's hard to deny the effects of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour on American culture, and not only on rural America but America as a whole.

Phrases like "You might be a redneck," "Here's your sign" and "Git'er done" aren't just sayings the farmhands and factory workers of this country have embraced; they've become native speak to even the most aristocratic of personalities.

The members of the wildly successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour have all been able to catapult their careers into new and exciting directions, and BCCT veteran Bill Engvall hasn't had a shortage of interesting opportunities.

While he continues to thrive in the stand-up world, Engvall has also found himself on the small screen quite often through the Blue Collar spin-off "Blue Collar TV," his own sitcom "The Bill Engvall Show" and guest appearances on TNT's "Leverage" and "Hawthorne."

In 2011 Engvall also became the host of the third run of the game show "Lingo," which airs on GSN.

With a number of successful comedy albums under his belt, a biography, a list of television appearances from his earlier days and one ludicrous movie – "Delta Farce" – to help round out a good portion of his resume, it's no surprise that younger generations have joined the older ones in their appreciation of his family-appropriate humor, which is something he cherishes having. He also appreciates his longevity.

"I'm honored. When I started in comedy I never thought this is where I'd end up. I mean, it was just kind of a cool thing to do just out of college and as I used to say, it fulfilled all of my job requirements. I could work at night, drink on the job and sleep in late. It's been interesting to watch the transformation if you will, if that's the right word. For a while there my audience was people with kids and people in their mid-30s, early 40s. Then all of a sudden with Comedy Central, the demographic just started dropping hugely and I was just amazed. I love the fact that I have younger fans and stuff because generally if you catch fans at a younger age they're fans for life, you know, unless you do something really stupid and turn them off but I don't see me doing that. I'm thrilled with it."

With clean comedy being something of a rarity these days, Engvall sticks out like a sore thumb amongst his comtemporaries, and even some of his Blue Collar buddies when they aren't representing the Blue Collar brand.

The PG-13 (at best) comedian reveals that his inspirations are legends like Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart, and that even though he does enjoy a dirty joke, he's not going to cross that line publically and join the dirty side.

"I think it's harder to write a good clean, funny joke than it is a dirty joke. Listen, I'm not getting preachy, I love a good dirty joke just as much as the next person but I can't do it with my demographic and I don't want to, to be honest. I look at guys like Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart, and these guys, they were clean and look at how long they worked. Now, I've been passed over for a lot of stuff because just I wasn't hip or urban enough but in the long run I'm going on doing this 30 years now so the formula works. Clean and funny equals the longevity. I don't begrudge anybody who does [dirty jokes]. Everybody can do their act the way they want, you know, and it's my choice to be clean. Nothing thrills me more when I can look out and see teenagers, grandmas. I'm not Disney on Ice, I don't want to give anybody the wrong impression, I do talk about real life but I talk about it in a very clean way and I think people appreciate that."

Engvall quickly gives a nod to other clean comedians like Brian Regan and his friend Jeff Foxworthy and the hard work that it takes to be clean, which is all done so parents can relax and not worry about having to explain the odd adult world to their kids before they really need to.

"It can be done. I just think that, and I'll catch flack for this, but I think dirty is kind of the lazy way of going about it. Listen, I could throw curse words in every other word and probably have more TV shows than I ever would've thought I had. It's just not the way I want to do it. I want you to be able to bring your kid when he's a little older and can understand what's going on and I don't want you to have sit there the whole night going 'Oh, God, is he going to say something that I'm going to have to explain?' It's just not worth it. You're paying money to come laugh and relax and have a good time so why would I put you under pressure by doing that?"

Is there even a dark side to Bill Engvall? Of course, but he's not even going to let it out when his career is set to expire.

"It'll never be on stage. I always joke with my friend, I said the last show I ever do will be the one where I'm going to say everything I've wanted to say, but I hope it's not until I'm 90 and by then I don't even think I could do it then. It's so engrained in me, it's still, I don't know, I just feel like people appreciate comedy more when it's clean and funny because they know you've worked really hard to make it that way so that they can sit there and enjoy it. But yeah, there's people, I have friends who do that. They have a clean set and a dirty set. I don't have the grey matter for that, man. I gotta have my set in my head and ready to go. It's like Cosby can do two separate completely clean shows, I mean in the same night, and it just completely blows my mind."

Engvall, like many comedians, was able to catch on with a larger audience through a specific bit and routine, and though it has been years since "Here's your sign" sent a lightning strike throughout the comedy community he still hasn't grown tired of it – nor is it a hindrance.

"I think what 'Here's your sign' did, it brought people to my party, and when they got there they saw that I could do a lot more than that, than just the 'Here's your sign' stuff. Now I don't ever consider it a hindrance and it's not as big a part of my show as it used to be. I still do it but it's maybe five minutes of a 90-minute show."

He continues to do "Here's your sign" because it's like his personal greatest hit that everyone expects or hopes to hear.

"If you go to a concert, let's say you go see Van Halen, you say 'I hope they play 'Panama' and I hope they play 'Jump' and 'Ice Cream Man.' With comedy it's different because you want to hear the old stuff, but you've already heard it, so as a performer you're not going to get the response that you got that first time. So that's why whenever I go to a place, if I come back to a town that I've been to before I try to have at least 30 minutes of new stuff just so it shows them that I'm working it and then they don't get bored and I don't get bored."

A baseball fan, Engvall plans on hanging out with Brewers announcer Brian Anderson and he still relishes the day that he got to sit down with Bob Uecker for a chat at a Brewers game.

"The last time – I'll tell you my baseball story – the last time I was in Milwaukee I got to go to one of the games and I sat in the dugout and talked to Bob Uecker, which was a dream come true for a baseball fan like me."

The down-to-earth comedy star also lends his time to some great causes and charities, specifically ones that deal with paralysis and other debilitating diseases.

"Gail, my wife, and I host a golf tournament in Austin that provides money for research for spinal cord injuries. Basically our dream is to find the technology for regenerating nerve endings so that people that are hurt or paralyzed in car accidents or whatever are not confined to a wheelchair their whole life. We've had some amazing results. We've had a young lady get out of her wheelchair and walk across the stage and it just tore me up. It's called the Lonestar Paralysis Foundation. Then our other one we do is in Midland, Texas. We do a thing for the Midland Children's Rehab Center where we raise money for kids with catastrophic diseases and injuries. I've been blessed so much in my life that I'm thrilled that I'm able to help and give back and hopefully one day there'll be no more horrific illnesses for children and there'll be no more paralysis."

Engvall is performing at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts Friday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m.


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