His catchphrase "Here's your sign" made Bill Engvall one of the funniest men in America. A Texan comic who appealed to the Everyman, Engvall co-founded "Blue Collar Comedy Tour," a successful stand-up show that featured jokes from a "redneck" point of view. The three-year tour that also starred fellow comics Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White, and Larry the Cable Guy, spawned "Blue Collar Tour: The Movie" (Comedy Central, 2003), two sequels, and a weekly sketch show "Blue Collar TV" (The WB, 2004-06). All his hard work paid off in 2007 when Engvall began starring on his own TBS series, "The Bill Engvall Show," a hilarious look at a modern American family. If success was measured by how one reached their goal, then Engvall's career went far beyond anything he could have ever imagined for himself.
William Ray Engvall, Jr. was born on July 27, 1957 in Galveston, TX. The actor would later say because he was born in the middle of a hurricane, his brain was adversely affected due to the drop in barometric pressure, which in turn made him perfectly suited to do off-beat stand-up comedy. As a child, Engvall's family moved often and he used his natural comedic gift to make friends in every new town. His first acting experience was in a third grade production of "Clementine," a play in which Engvall hoped to play a cowboy. His high-pitched voice at the time, however, made him better suited to play the role of Clementine. After having worn a dress in his class play, Engvall later joked that his path could have either led him to be a female impersonator or a comic. He chose the latter, and was quick to play the part of "class clown."
Engvall went on to attend Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX, where he was also a member of the Xi Chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order. To earn extra money, the future star worked as a DJ at a local nightclub and started doing onstage performances at the Dallas Comedy Corner where he watched and learned from pros such as Garry Shandling, Robin Williams, and Jay Leno. He spent two years at the Comedy Corner before becoming a traveling comic. On Dec. 18, 1982, Engvall married Mary Gail Watson. The couple had two children, Emily and Travis. Much of the comedy featured on Engvall's TV show later in his career was based on his own family experiences.
Two years after getting married, Engvall and his wife, who was six months pregnant at the time, moved to Los Angeles - the Mecca of Comedy" as Engvall described it - so that he could pursue a fulltime comedy career. Not long after his arrival, Engvall began taking acting classes that helped him land a spot on one of the most influential shows in television history - "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1962-1992). Engvall admitted his 1986 appearance on the variety series was the scariest moment of his life, but he passed Carson's infamous litmus test with flying colors. However, even though his "Tonight Show" booking was the big break he had been waiting for, it took a few additional years until Engvall landed his breakthough on the Showtime stand-up comedy showcase "Pair of Jokers with Rosie O'Donnell and Bill Engvall" (1990). After he landed a guest role on a 1990 episode of "Designing Women" (CBS, 1986-1993) titled "Tough Enough," the experience hooked Engvall on an acting career.
The comedy world also recognized Engvall's talents, honoring him as the American Comedy Awards Stand-up Comic of the Year in 1992. His experience on "Designing Women" helped him land a role opposite Delta Burke on her own series "Delta" (ABC, 1992) which unfortunately lasted only one season. A similar fate befell his next project, "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" (ABC, 1995; NBC, 1996-97), which unfortunately only lasted two seasons. His TV career on a slow rise, Engvall chose to refocus more on his stand-up at clubs nationwide.
Comics often found success as recording artists, and Engvall was no exception. His first release Here's Your Sign, titled after his signature comedy tag line, became the No. 1 best-selling comedy album of 1997, spending 15 straight weeks at the top of the Billboard comedy charts. A year later, Engvall's Dorkfish album was released to similar success. By the time his third comedy album Now That's Awesome was released in 2000, Engvall had gained national attention by creating the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" with friend and fellow comic Jeff Foxworthy.
"Blue Collar Comedy Tour" featured Engvall, Foxworthy, Ron White, and Larry the Cable Guy. Each comic had his own style and delivery of "redneck" comedy, with Engvall's "Here's your sign" routine and Foxworthy's "You know you're a redneck if." shtick garnering thunderous laughter during the tour's very successful three-year run. "Blue Collar Comedy Tour, the Movie" became the most watched film in Comedy Central history, while it's DVD sold over four million units. Its sequel, "Blue Collar Comedy Tour Rides Again" (Comedy Central, 2005) and the reunion special, "Blue Collar Comedy Tour - One for the Road" (Comedy Central, 2006) also premiered to high ratings. "One for the Road" was even nominated for a Grammy Award in 2006.
By this time, America - particularly the red states - seemingly could not get enough of the four comics and their take on everything from family, pop culture and relationships - all told from their collective "redneck" perspective. The tour and TV specials spawned the sketch comedy show "Blue Collar TV," which enjoyed a successful 2004 premiere. That same year, Engvall took a shot at a solo comedy special with "Bill Engvall's Here's Your Sign - Live" (Comedy Central). The country music world also embraced the comic after he collaborated with singer Travis Tritt on the music video, "Here's Your Sign (Get the Picture)" in 1997. CMT even presented Engvall with a hosting job for one of its top-rated shows, "Country Fried Home Videos" (2006- ), which aired home videos sent in by the public.
In 2007, the actor's career launched into the comedy stratosphere with a starring role in his own series, "The Bill Engvall Show" (2007-09), which he also created, produced, and wrote. As Bill Pearson, a family counselor whose own family keeps him on his toes, Engvall proved he could carry his own series without resorting to any of his old comic tricks. That meant no "Blue Collar" material. "I was maybe the least blue collar of the four of us," he said. "Larry was this caricature, Jeff had the redneck thing. People asked me if I wanted the guys on [the show] and I said I'd rather not."
With his television, stand-up and even music industry success, Engvall - who also wrote his autobiography, Just a Guy: Notes from a Blue Collar Life (2007) - set his sights on the big screen. He began with a supporting role in his pal Larry the Cable Guy's "Delta Farce" (2007) and followed it up with the straight-to-DVD "Bait Shop" (2008). The movie, about a bait shop owner who competes in a fishing tournament to save his small town business, had the comic acting alongside country music star Billy Ray Cyrus. In 2009, Engvall starred in the comedy/Western, "Cowboy Dreams," and appeared in the ensemble comedy "All's Faire in Love" with Christina Ricci, Ann-Margret and Cedric the Entertainer. In 2013, Engvall was cast in the 17th season of the popular reality competition series "Dancing With The Stars" (ABC 2005- ). Although he admitted from the beginning that he was not a terribly good dancer, his natural easygoing charm made him one of the season's fan favorites; he and partner Emma Slater were the last team voted off before the finals, which were won by "Glee" (Fox 2009- ) star Amber Riley.