February 07, 2020

BY TOM NETHERLAND | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER

Bug-eyed Rodney Dangerfield had “No Respect.” Georgian Jeff Foxworthy owns “You might be a redneck if …”

Comedians do not need a trademark routine, but for Texan Bill Engvall, it meant the difference between household status and some guy’s name on some marquee.

Look up when driving down State Street. Find Bill Engvall’s name on the bedazzling marquee at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tennessee on Sunday for two shows. He’s earned his placement on such lighted billboards as a household name.

“I think in this day and age, (a catch phrase) is almost imperative,” said Engvall by phone from his home in Park City, Utah. “You’ve got to have something to set yourself apart.”

For the Galveston, Texa,s native, that catch phrase was and remains “Here’s Your Sign.” It derived from everyday observations of stupidity.

“I was in Omaha, Nebraska, at The Funny Bone,” Engvall, 62, said. “I came up with this sign that said, ‘I’m Stupid.’ When I released my first album, Foxworthy was in the stratosphere. Well, we sold 100 copies of my album in the first week. Sold one copy in Hawaii.”

Signed to Warner Bros. Records, the label reissued Engvall’s album in 1996.

“We rereleased it with the song, ‘Here’s Your Sign,’” Engvall said, “and it went to No. 1. It was huge! ‘Here’s Your Sign’ is what got me in that world. Blue Collar put nitro to it.”

Today, see Engvall’s recurring role of Reverend Paul on Tim Allen’s Fox television series, “Last Man Standing.” You may remember him as a finalist during the 17th season of ABC’s smash, “Dancing with the Stars.”

Before that acclaim, Engvall toured America in the early 2000s as part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. With fellow stand-up funnymen as Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy, the tour elevated Engvall’s name exponentially.

“We touched a demographic, our demographic, that’s so overlooked by Hollywood — blue collar people,” Engvall said. “They’re out there scraping by every day just to get by. It put me on the map. Yeah, ‘Here’s Your Sign’ did that, but Blue Collar took it to another level.”

Now, Engvall does not perform stand-up comedy like many if not most comedians. For one, his isn’t a mouth yanked out of the gutter. For another, he seems more conversational and not exactly confrontational.

“I like for my show to be more like Hal Holbrook,” Engvall said. “I’m relaxed. I learned a long time ago, they want you to be charming, they want you to be relatable, and they want you to be just like them.”

Most nights, people laugh, some hysterically. When that happens, wonder what Engvall feels at that exact moment?

“That’s a great question,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s a word for it. It transcends laughter. We’re on the same wavelength now, you and me. The feeling is total satisfaction.”

But what about when a joke bombs? What about when they do not laugh?

“It’s horrible,” Engvall said. “Comedians, if they don’t like your joke, they don’t like you.”

For Engvall, he looks into his own life for much of his material. On the stage, he’s not pretending. He’s being himself, not some actor in a role.

“Being onstage,” he said, “I’m basically opening up my life and saying, ‘This is who I am.’”

Consequently, audiences love Engvall. He spoke of the numerous unanticipated perks that have come his way as a result of his vocation and stature.

Think about it. He’s sold millions of albums, been nominated for a Grammy, acted in movies and hosted his own televised comedy specials.

“I’ve gotten to open up for Leon Russell, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson,” Engvall said. “I’ve got the greatest job in the world. Like in Bristol, I get to come onstage and make people laugh.”

He paused, chuckled, continued.

“One of my fears,” Engvall said, “is to wake up one morning and say, ‘That was a hell of a dream!’”