Bill Engvall’s career started with open mic comedy nights. Little did he know, more than 30 years later, those open mics would lead to open dance floors.
The famous "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" comedian has spent the last three decades cracking people up, but his stint on last year’s season of "Dancing with the Stars" was no laughing matter. Engvall wound up making it all the way to the season finale, finishing in fourth place.
Engvall is back on the comedy circuit, however, making his next stop in Milwaukee for a show at Potawatomi Bingo Casino Wednesday night. Before he takes the stage though, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to talk to Engvall about his comedy career, his stint on "Dancing with the Stars" and making people laugh.
OnMilwaukee.com: When did you originally get into comedy? When did you realize that this was not only something you wanted to do but that you could do?
Bill Engvall: Well, I never thought it would be a career. When I got into standup, it was just as a hobby. As I tell people, it fulfilled all my job requirements: I could work at night, drink on the job and sleep in late. I never really thought of it as a job until after "Here’s Your Sign" (Engvall’s 1996 debut comedy album) came out, and then I thought maybe this is what I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life.
OMC: Was that a weird moment for you?
BE: Yeah, I just didn’t know you could make a living at it. When I was starting up, the phrases "platinum album" or "gold album" or "Billboard charts" or "Grammy," that was never associated with comedy. So when "Here’s Your Sign" came out, it kind of put me on the map, and then Blue Collar came long and kind of cemented my place in this business. Now I look back, and I’ve been doing it for 33 years.
OMC: Who were your comedy inspirations when you were first starting up?
BE: I would say Cosby, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin and George Carlin. Those guys.
OMC: What about them really spoke to you?
BE: Steve Martin’s "Let’s Get Small" was the first comedy album I ever owned. The first time, I listened to the material, but then I listened to it again, and I heard the laughter and the applause. I thought, "Wow, that’d be a cool thing to do." But it was never something I sat down and thought, "I want to be a comedian." It kind of found me.
OMC: What kind of material is this upcoming show going to feature?
BE: This show is really fun for me because my whole career has been made of me talking about raising my kids and being a dad and all of that. Now, my kids are all grown and gone on their way, so it’s forced me to start writing the way that I used to write before I had kids. So this show going in there, we’re going to talk a lot about "Dancing with the Stars" and about getting older – dealing with the aches and pains of that – plus some general funny stories about my family. It’s just been a really fun show for me.
OMC: What’s it like being an empty nester nowadays?
BE: It’s awesome. I don’t understand these parents who go, "We don’t know what we’re going to do." What do you mean you don’t know what you’re going to do? You can go out to dinner whenever you want. You can go make a hot tub whenever you want. What’s the downside? I mean, I miss my kids, but it’s also nice to having the house to yourself again. And I get to spend my time doing what I love to: fishing and golf.
OMC: Do you watch much of "Dancing with the Stars" nowadays?
BE: I went back to see my little partner (Emma Slater) from last season. I don’t watch it every Monday night, but I keep up with the kids to see how they’re doing.
OMC: How was your experience on the show?
BE: I have the fine honor of saying that I’m the only comedian and the oldest guy to ever make it to the finals on "Dancing with the Stars." It was amazing; it was probably one of the most fun things I’ve done in my professional career. It was also the hardest, but also the most fun.
OMC: Do you still do much dancing now?
BE: Yeah, my wife and I go out dancing every once in a while. I really got into it and really like it. It’s a good workout, and it’s a lot of fun to do.
OMC: Do you feel a little pressure when you go out dancing since the whole world knows you can dance?
BE: Yeah, when my wife and I go out dancing, people start clearing the dance floor, and I’m like "No no no no no no, everybody get back out on this dance floor." (laughs)
OMC: Do you get watch much TV when you’re out on the road like this?
BE: You know, if it’s not baseball, I watch A&E and The Discovery Channel and stuff like that. My only sitcom that I ever watch is "Modern Family."
OMC: A&E is a funny channel nowadays because they have those old crime shows still but also those reality shows.
BE: Right, yeah, that’s why I like them. In fact, we may have a show coming out on A&E, a reality show, so we’ll see how that goes.
BE: It’d be along the lines of a "Duck Dynasty" in the sense of it being what they call a scripted unscripted show. They won’t just be following us around with a camera, but it’ll be more like "Bill and Gail are going to clean out the garage this week, and Bill doesn’t want to throw anything away" or "Gail wants to take Bill out to see a Pink concert, and he doesn’t want to go." Kind of situational stuff. But yeah, we’ll see how it goes; hopefully it’ll be successful.
OMC: Have you guys started filming episodes yet?
BE: We’re in the process of getting it together. The deal has been closed, and now we just have to put together a promo reel to show A&E and see if they like it.
OMC: Is it going to be odd to have your life on TV like that?
BE: Not really because my whole life has been on stage anyways. It’s just kind of another format to show people what kind of funny life we have.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.