Comedians often seek notoriety by pushing the limits. Bill Engvall, of Blue Collar Comedy fame, took a different road. Early in his career he decided to keep his routines clean, focusing instead on relatable topics everyone can enjoy.
It seems to have paid off for the “Here’s Your Sign” humorist, who spent his childhood in Winslow. Engvall chatted with the East Valley Tribune last week in anticipation of his back-to-back performances Friday in Scottsdale.
Q: Stand-up comedians like to slaughter the sacred cows of society, but your humor avoids political and social commentary focusing instead on everyday occurrences. Why?
A: You’re bombarded all day long with bad news, but when people come to see my show I want them to forget all the bad stuff that’s out there for 90 minutes. If you start to get into politics, you’ve alienated fifty percent of your audience. My only political statement is “Harrison Ford for president.” I want a president who can kick some butt and give me straight answers.
A lot of young comedians try to be too hip for the room. I try to keep the show as relatable as I can — dealing with family and with me. There’s a lot of good things to laugh at without irritating or offending. My heros are Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart.
Q: What is the key to your success?
A: Keeping it clean has been a huge factor in my career. I learned a long time ago, you can talk about whatever you want, but give the audience credit. If I said I was getting amorous with my wife, you’d know exactly what I meant.
When I had my TV show, I patterned it after ‘Andy Griffiths’ and ‘Leave it to Beaver.’ Maybe I’m the old fuddy duddy now, but shows like ‘The New Normal’ ain’t close to being normal. People want to come and laugh, not be preached to.
That’s why I’m not changing how I do stand-up. It’s going to be relatable stuff. In California there’s stories about medical marijuana in the paper every day, so I have a bit about how I went to my doctor because I couldn’t sleep. He asked me if I’d ever tried medical marijuana.
Q: What value do humor and comedy bring to society?
A: I love doing what I do, because when you have a really good laugh you feel good. I laugh all the time and I’m rarely sick. I always say, you have to laugh or you’ll go crazy.
You don’t have to bail on your beliefs, but I think people should lighten up. As far as politicians go, they need to lighten up and just answer the questions. I was doing a show not too long ago, and someone said why don’t you run for office. I couldn’t, because I’d make too much sense.
Q: Are you sick of people asking about “Here’s You Sign?”
A: I never get tired of it. I always thought stupid people should be slapped, but my wife said I wasn’t the kind of person to go around slapping people. I came up with the idea when I was working the club scene and I would sell the signs for $1. I would come back with stacks of dollar bills and my wife would deposit them at the bank. She told me I had to stop because they thought she was a topless dancer. I told her she would have been a good one.
Q: How long does it take to write a routine?
A: I’m writing all the time, but for a new, 90-minute routine it takes about a year. I’m doing two shows in Scottsdale, so I have an outline and might add stuff to make them a little different. I don’t want people to come hear the same thing twice. When people come see my show, there’s a lot to laugh about.
IF YOU GO
What: Bill Engvall, the “Blue Collar Comedy” humorist known for his “Here’s Your Sign” routine performs in Scottsdale.
When: 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12.
Where: Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St., Scottsdale.
Cost: $49-$79; date package including two tickets to the 10 p.m. show, drinks in the Catwalk Lounge and a 20 percent discount in the Store at the Center available for $98.
Information: (480) 499-8587 or www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.
Contact writer: (480) 898-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org