With four decades of stand-up comedy under his belt, Bill Engvall says his approach to making people laugh has changed.
“When I first started out, I was trying to get a laugh every 15 seconds,” he says in a phone call from Park City, Utah. “That's a lot of material.”
But as he's grown older, he's developed a storytelling style.
“It's just like a 90-minute story that we just weave in and out of subjects and I think it's a much better show,” he says. Engvall will perform Sept. 28 at Embassy Theatre.
Some of his act will be familiar to longtime fans, and that's on purpose. You don't go to a concert hoping that your favorite band plays all new songs – you want to hear your favorites.
“One of the battles a comedian fights is new material,” Engvall says. “Because you have to find that balance of doing stuff that people really want to see and keeping it fresh.”
When creating new material, he stays away from politics and religion, which he thinks his audience appreciates because they are inundated with that all day.
“When you come to my show, my job is to make you feel better than when you got there and hopefully that happens throughout the stories I tell,” he says.
Stand-up comedy is what he loves, but Engvall has also had roles in movies and television, including “The Bill Engvall Show,” which ran for three seasons on TBS. He made it to the finals on Season 17 of “Dancing With the Stars” and has released several comedy albums.
Despite all that, Engvall says he doesn't think of himself as a celebrity – and he doesn't want the audience to, either.
“I hope that when they're driving home, that one of them says, 'You know what? He's just like we are,'” he says.
Engvall spoke to The Journal Gazette about his career, touring and the possibility of retiring.
Q. You've done all sorts of things in the entertainment world. What's left that you would like to tackle?
A. I really don't know. I've been so fortunate in my career to achieve every goal that I've ever set in front of me. So now, I'm just kind of kicking back, waiting to see what life throws my way.
If I got a shot at another TV show, that'd be great. But I'm also at a point in my career that if it doesn't, it doesn't, you know?
I still love being out onstage. For me, being out in front of the audience in live shows are always the best because I'm the boss.
With television, you may have some 20-year-old telling you what they think is funny and you're like, “I've only been doing this for 40 years, I think I have a little grasp on what's funny.”
And I also enjoy when I'm onstage and I hit on a subject that I can see a husband and a wife kind of elbowing each other like, “Oh, that's you right there.”
Q. You said you've been fortunate in your career to achieve every goal. Do you have any advice for people on achieving their goals?
A. Don't set them too high. (laughs) It's easier to achieve lower-ranked goals. Obviously, I joke.
You just have to say, “This is what I'm going to do and I'm going to give it my best shot.” But if you don't, it's not the end of the world.
I think when you set goals in front of yourself, it kind of invigorates you to do that and maybe make a change in your life that will help you achieve those goals.
When I got into comedy, I didn't get into it with the idea of “I hope I get a TV show out of this.” It just kind of happened.
I don't really know what is next. And that's kind of exciting, too, in the sense of I don't know what's over the horizon.
Q. Do you see a day ahead where you'll choose to hang it up?
A. I say this with all positive vibes with it: Yeah. We've all been to shows where you saw the act and you think “He's just walking through this.” I don't ever want to be that. If it gets where it's not fun for me onstage, then I'll call it in.
If I said I'm quitting tomorrow, no one can say, “Oh, you almost made it. You were so close.” (laughs)
Q. Is there a point where you felt like you'd “made it?”
A. When I was on the studio lot looking at that big door that said, “The Bill Engvall Show,” I went “Oh, OK, yeah, this is really cool and this is what everybody wants.”
I think probably when we talk about retirement, probably the biggest fight is in me because I enjoy being out in front of audiences. Any entertainer that says they don't is lying to you.
Q. When you're touring, what makes all the travel worth it?
A. Probably just keeping my marriage together. (laugh) Gail and I have been married 37 years now. As I tell the audience, the reason we've been together that long is because I go away and we have our time apart.
I took this whole summer off because I was starting to feel a little burnt on the road. I love her to death, but she's giving me that look like “When are you going out again?”