Typically those in show business prefer not to be typecast or pigeonholed into any particular role, but if the keynote comic legacy that Bill Engvall leaves behind is having been a founding member of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, he probably would not mind.
The Blue Collar Comedy Tour was started by Engvall and his best friend Jeff Foxworthy, who make up half of what is collectively called the “redneck quartet.” Comedians Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy round out the troupe, which is touted as one of the Comedy Central cable channel’s most successful series of specials, and was equally well received across the country as a live touring act for six years.
Individually, the Galveston, Texas-born Engvall — who performs two shows at 5 and 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, at Harrah’s Resort — has done a ton more than mere standup in a career spanning nearly four decades. The 61-year-old is the author of several books, including his best-selling autobiography “Just a Guy;” was a finalist on season 17 of “Dancing with the Stars” and starred in the eponymous “Bill Engvall Show” for three seasons on the TBS network; produces a weekly series of podcasts called “My Two Cents” that spans the gamut of special guests and show-biz sorts; and has had several movie roles, including a starring role in a 2016 horror flick called “The Neighbor.”
The first of Engvall’s 12 live recordings, “Here’s Your Sign,” went platinum, and several others reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart for top comedy albums. The title of that initial record also became Engvall’s catch phrase of sorts, implying that stupid people should have to carry around signs warning others of their stupidity.
Engvall chatted by phone with At The Shore between tour stops.
ATS: According to your website, you’ve got gigs lined up through May on this tour, including several cities in the same week sometimes. Yet as busy as you stay doing standup, that’s really just a fraction of everything you’ve been involved with in your career. How do you swing it?
BE: Well, I’ll just say that idle time is not my friend. I need to keep busy, and I enjoy it, you know? I enjoy coming to places like Atlantic City and New York, and getting to see parts of the country that I’ve never seen before. But I’ve been to Atlantic City before and I enjoy playing there, so it’s going to be fun.
ATS: Your latest album, ‘Don’t Sell Him for Parts,’ came out about a year ago. Will the A.C. show include mostly material from that, or do you also include snippets from your entire career?
BE: It’s a weird line that you walk as a comedian. But let’s say you and I were to go see Aerosmith — we wouldn’t be driving over there saying ‘I hope they play all new stuff,’ right? We’d want to hear the hits, and so what I try to do, especially in places like Atlantic City where there’s different people visiting all the time, is bring in a bunch of new material but still throw some of the favorites in. There’s probably going to be people in the audience who haven’t seen me before, or maybe someone who has who’s bringing a friend who hasn’t, so there’s a fine line that you walk. But I’ve managed it fairly well so far.
ATS: How has ‘Don’t Sell Him for Parts’ been received by your fan base so far?
BE: To be honest, we made a bit of a mistake with it because we kind of got talked into putting it on a streaming video that is the kind of technology my people (or those of a certain age) don’t really use.
The special itself was really well done. I was really pleased with it. It’s just that, unfortunately, the way things are changing, and the way people are listening to music or watching their movies or comedy specials, it changes almost daily, it seems. And I’m just not one to keep up with it.
ATS: Do you plan to continue your podcasts?
BE: No, I kind of put the whole thing on hold because, while it was fun while I was doing it, it really is a full-time commitment to do it right. You can’t just dabble in it. And the other problem is, there’s 3,000 podcasts out there right now. I might start it up again at some point, maybe when some of the other podcasts get weeded out, but that’s the other thing — there’s just infinite space for podcasts (on the Internet), so who knows if that will ever happen. But I enjoy doing them. It was just taking up too much of my writing time.
ATS: In one podcast you were talking about how you were on the road with your son, who was still a kid at the time, and you stopped at a steakhouse that you didn’t realize was a topless restaurant until you got inside.
BE: Yeah, he was thrilled by that, but I kind of had to swear him to secrecy and ask him to not tell his mom, or I’d be in big trouble.
ATS: You and your wife met in college (Southwestern University in Texas), and I read where you dropped out before graduating to start a career in standup — is that accurate?
BE: Kind of. The truth of the matter is that I didn’t finish college because I was just not disciplined at all at that age. Women and beer caught my attention, and studies went out the window. Because of that I moved to Dallas and was working as a DJ. They opened up a comedy club nearby, and I always liked comedy. I listened to Steve Martin and Richard Pryor and George Carlin and all those guys, so I went with a buddy of mine to an open-mic night and got up there on a dare. I just fell in love with the experience and I’ve been doing it now for almost 40 years.
ATS: Speaking of longevity, a common thread among comedians is failed marriages. It seems a rarity that anybody in show business stays married for 37 years like you have.
BE: Yeah, well I’ve been very lucky in the sense that she gets it, she understands it, and when you think about it, I’m really the perfect husband — I go away, I come home, I drop off a check, then I leave again.
ATS: A lot of your life experiences were gleaned from lessons growing up in a rural environment, and being taught by your grandfather the virtues of the great outdoors. Is it still that way it is with you?
BE: Oh yeah, that part of my life will stay with me until I pass away, and I’m happy about that. That’s just how our family was.
There’s times I feel like the old guy because I see what’s going on around me and I get the urge to say ‘When I was your age, we wouldn’t have done that,’ or whatever. I was telling my wife the other day that I was really thrilled to have grown up the way I did, before everything got so crazy with the Internet and all that. It was nice to have just a simple, normal life. And that’s kind of helped me through to this stage in life. I mean, she and I were joking that if a terrorist or something took out the Internet, I know I could survive because I’ve lived most of my life without it. My kids might be in trouble, but I’d be fine.
ATS: Your autobiography goes back to 2007. Any chance of another retrospective now that you’ve done so much since then?
BE: It’s funny, I thought of doing a book on something like the things I’ve gotten to do and the people I’ve gotten to meet through this business — experiences that years ago I’d never thought I’d get to do in my life. I remember talking with (actor) John O’Hurley (best known as J. Peterman on ‘Seinfeld’ and, like Engvall, a former finalist on ‘Dancing with the Stars’) and saying something like ‘We were with so-and-so the other night’ and he was like ‘What?’ It got me thinking about all the cool things I got to do and the people I got to interact with because of this business. It’d take a lot of sorting through memories and digging into the past, so it’ll be a few years down the road if it ever does happen, but it might be fun.