After 42 years of traveling to perform stand-up comedy, Bill Engvall is preparing to take the stage one last time in what he calls home, Utah.
Indeed. A Texas native who still has a distinct twang in his voice when he says, “Here’s your sign,” Engvall has made Park City his home for more than 20 years.
“We started coming here to ski. it’s a lot of snow, we like to ski,” Engvall said. “And then one year we spent the summer there and it was just great. We’ve been here ever since.”
When he decided to retire from touring at the end of 2022, he immediately knew he wanted his last performances to be in his adopted homeland.
“For me to be able to wrap it up in Salt Lake City, it’s perfect,” Engvall said. “Whatever, the people of Utah just kind of took me under their wing. They were so great to me and committed to the shows. And so when my wife and I decided it was time, I said. “I want the last show to be in Utah and I want it to be at the Eccles Theatre,” because I love it. Such a wonderful place.”
He will play two shows at Eccles on New Year’s Eve, bringing the curtain down on a career that has taken him to every state in the union over the past four decades.
“It’s been a great run, 42 years. That’s 41 years longer than I thought it would last,” Engvall said. “People say, ‘Oh, why are you retiring?’ And my honest answer is because I grabbed the brass ring. I have done everything I wanted to do in this business. Except ‘Bill Engvall on Ice’ and nobody wants to see that.”
Making a decision
Engvall still loves performing, but the journey involved has worn him down. Although he long ago stopped performing in small clubs located in remote places and now headlines in large venues.
“I don’t care how well you can travel. when you’re on the road by yourself, it takes a lot out of you,” he said. “People see you on stage for 75 to 90 minutes and think: “Oh, what a wonderful life!” But they don’t see the 22 and a half hours you’ve been sitting in the hotel room.”
Engvall fondly remembers the Blue Collar Comedy Tours, where he toured with Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White and Larry Cabell Guy. Blue collar was “a gift from God. It literally made me a big name. Without it, I seriously doubt we’d be having this conversation right now.”
That 2000-2006 tour was a huge success. even creating a movie and series. But for Engvall, the best part of his blue-collar days was: And when you’re alone, it’s a lonely existence.”
He’s not complaining, though. “I haven’t regretted anything in this career,” he said.
“It’s funny. During COVID, when I couldn’t work, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t missed out. And I thought, ‘You know what? That means it’s time,'” she said. “Because I’ve never I didn’t want to do it just for a check. I think we’ve all seen shows like that. It’s not fair to the fans who spent their hard-earned money.”
Getting used to Utah
Engvall first started coming to Utah around 2000, when his family and Foxworthy and his family would “get together in Park City and we would ski and have fun. It was really fun.”
That’s when he was “educated in Utah.” On their way to a dinner reservation at Grappa on Park City’s main street, they decided to stop for a glass of wine along the way, and he didn’t think much of it. “Now, I’m from Texas, where they sell quite a lot of liquor at the time of the baby’s birth,” Engvall said. He told the waiter that they just wanted to get a glass of wine at the bar, and was surprised to be asked: “Do you intend to eat here?”
In his confusion, the boy behind me said, “Just say yes.” And I said: “Yes.” And the master says: “Here’s the bar.”
“That’s when I learned about Utah’s liquor laws.”
He jokes about Utah, though he mostly praises the state. “We love coming down to Moab,” Engvall said. “One of the things my wife and I love about Utah is just the different geography, whether it’s the red rocks or [Grand] Staircase-Escalante [National Monument] or in the mountains – beautiful hiking trails up there. There is no shortage of things to do in Utah. And I think Utah is very much a family thing. And I think that’s why you see a lot of people moving, because they’re starting to realize. “Oh, that’s not what I thought!”
And Engvall’s act suits family-friendly Utah.
“I don’t want to sit on a soapbox here, but I’m sure one of the reasons I’ve lasted this long is because I work clean,” he said. “Listen, I love a good, dirty joke as much as the next guy, but I don’t really want to go past 90 minutes because after a while I start thinking, ‘What?’ than blasphemy…
“There’s a place out there that likes dirty comedy, and I don’t begrudge them that. I love it, but I just find myself getting more emails and comments on social media thanking me for keeping it clean. It’s amazing how many of these I get. And I didn’t want to get to the point in my show where I was relying on grime as a crutch just because I didn’t want to write new stuff.”
Engvall said he and his wife have become regular Utahns. They go to see the lights of Temple Square. And drive through Hogle Zoo’s ZooLights. “We do all those crazy things and love every minute of it,” he said.
People are still surprised to learn she lives in Utah, she said. To be clear, he is not here full time. he also has a place in Scottsdale, Arizona to retreat to during the coldest part of the local winters. “I’m at the age where… I don’t need that 5-under stuff,” she said with a smile.
And he’s been “involved in Park City on a small level, not politically, but just doing things and going because we really enjoy it. And my hope is that Park City keeps its charm and doesn’t become Aspen, but it kind of feels like it’s headed that way.”
If Engvall seems like a normal guy, that’s because he is. Certainly a much more normal guy than you would expect from a guy who is a comic character and has appeared in film and television.
“When people see me in downtown Salt Lake, the guy they see walking around the mall is the same guy you’ll see on stage,” he said. “I never had to adapt to the character or put on a facade. Simply, it’s Bill, whether I see you at IHOP or I see you at Grappa. And I think people appreciate the fact that the guy they just saw at LensCrafters is the guy you’re going to see at the Eccles Theatre.”
You probably didn’t see him at the Sundance Film Festival because he’s a local and knows to make sure he’s “booked out of town for it.”
Success took years
One of the reasons Engvall appreciates his success, he said, is that it didn’t come overnight. He performed in clubs and on television for more than two decades before he hit it big on the first Blue Collar tour. And he never really thought that great success was in the cards.
“God, no,” she said. “I think you dream about it, but the reality of it going through is so small. I mean, I was too stupid to know you could make a living at it. And then it wasn’t really until the first album came out that everything took off.”
Even that was a slow start. His first comedy album, Here’s Your Mark, was released in 1995 and “sold 50 copies nationwide in its first week.”
It ended up being a big hit, some 15 years after he first took to the stage, and Engvall is more than good at it.
“People ask you. “How do you know there is a God?” And I know this because he didn’t give me glory at 23. Because I would totally screw it up. I would be in rehab,” he said with a laugh. “I think sometimes when you’re that young, you’re not mature enough to appreciate what you’ve got. And I think there’s a really good reason I wasn’t given this break until I was old enough to handle it.”
Not quite retired
Engvall doesn’t necessarily have to give up speaking altogether. “Listen, my ultimate dream, if I could have anything I wanted, would be the one I had playing The Tim Allen Show,” he said. (Engvall had a recurring role as Reverend Paul Allen in seasons 5-9 of The Last Man Standing), appearing in nine episodes. “I’d love to have a recurring role where I’m in five or six out of 10 shows.”
He starred in his own sitcom, The Bill Engvall Show, from 2007 to 2009 on TBS. (Her teenage daughter was played on the show by Jennifer Lawrence before she went on to star in the Hunger Games franchise and win an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook.)
If he were offered the lead in a TV series at this point, “It would be something I would have to think about,” he said, “because it would either be shooting Monday through Friday and then coming home. weekend, or just go back to LA and I’m not going to do that.”
And she’s not saying she’ll never take the stage again, though she has no plans to tour the country. “As far as I know, this is a pension. Now, in two or three years, if I get bored and Gail, my wife, says, “You’ve got to go back on the road, ‘I can do that,'” Engvall said. “But right now I’d like to see what life throws at me. See what’s out there. … The honest answer is, I don’t have a plan.”
He would like to spend more time at the National Talent Center in Park City; “I’ve been there doing a bit of volunteering. I would like to do it more regularly,” he said. “And I’d like to maybe get involved in Salt Lake, delivering meals to kids or seniors who can’t get out. …
“I’ve been so lucky and so blessed to have a job I love for so long. And so now it’s time for me to give something back.”
He and his wife plan to spend more time with their son, daughter and grandchildren, and they also plan to travel to “some of the cities and towns that I’ve flown over most of my life. There are really interesting things in this country.”
The two final shows will be about 60% new material and about 40% Engvall “hits”. They will be filmed for a future telecast (air and date to be announced).
“The new stuff I’ve written is special because we’re shooting a special,” Engvall said. “If I had my own drummers, I’d just do the greatest hits. But that’s not fair to the fans either. If you and I go see Aerosmith, we’re fine if they play some new songs, but we really want to hear the hits.”
It’s not like he couldn’t keep performing. If he wanted, he could book another tour.
“But I’ve always said I want to leave with people who want more,” Engvall said.
Will she be relieved when it’s over? Sad. “I think it will be a combination of both,” Engvall said. “That’s all I know. That’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve never had to have a real job.
“Yeah, it’s going to be a very emotional end to the show.”
Bill Engvall. Last show
Comedian Bill Engvall will perform two shows in Salt Lake City before retiring from touring.
When? • Saturday, December 31 at 5 and 8 p.m
Where? • Eccles Theatre, 131 S. Main, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • $35-$85 at myarttix.org or in person at the Eccles Box Office or by phone at 801-355-ARTS (2787).
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