Some comedians work blue. Bill Engvall works blue collar.
Sometimes he thinks about changing his image. In Engvall's daydreams, he has put aside his longtime public persona as an everyman comic for roles as a television or film villain — think Martin Short in “Damages” or Robin Williams in “Insomnia.” The faint smile on his fatherly goateed face would be replaced by an evil grin.
Engvall recently portrayed a villain on the TNT crime drama “Leverage.” But another recent gig was as host of “Lingo” for the Game Show Network — evil, it's not.
“I always like to do stuff where people go, ‘Oh my God, I didn't know he could do that,' ” said Engvall, whose career took off in 2004 as a member of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, alongside Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Ron White. Engvall, Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy reunite Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center.
“When you do stuff that you're really good at, but that's all you do, I think you get stuck in a rut,” Engvall said. “I think you have to be able to do comedy before you can play a great evil guy. It's almost like there's that sick, dark side of comedy. I'd like to explore that a little bit.”
Inspiration for such a drastic change might come from Engvall's former co-star, who happens to hail from around here. From 2007 to 2009, Engvall starred on the family-friendly TBS sitcom “The Bill Engvall Show” as a good-natured, if slightly clueless, patriarch of a suburban Colorado family. His eldest daughter, Lauren, was played by Louisville native Jennifer Lawrence, in one of her first prominent roles.
Now 20, Lawrence was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for playing a very different teen looking for a very different dad in “Winter's Bone.” A far cry from her materialistic teen sitcom character, Lawrence's transformation is just the sort of change her TV dad might like for himself.
Engvall still follows Lawrence's career — with pride.
“Little Jennifer Lawrence, bless her heart! I love her to death,” he said. “My wife and I couldn't have been more proud of her if she were our own daughter. In every interview she did, she'd give me credit. I love her for that.
“Of my favorite scenes that I did on that show, one of them was with Jennifer. I go back and watch it every once in a while. We had a scene where she was mad at me and I had to go in and apologize to her. We had that nice dad-daughter moment. I remember (thinking), ‘This girl's good.' She's got it; she's got what it takes. I think she'll be holding that statuette before she's done.”
Lawrence's ascent to the A-list from what was essentially a “Blue Collar Comedy” spin-off follows a pattern — Haley Joel Osment (“The Sixth Sense”) was Foxworthy's co-star on “The Jeff Foxworthy Show.”
“Jeff and I were joking — the best actors on our shows were kids under the age of 18,” Engvall said.
Of course, Engvall has invested 20 years in his persona as an everyman comedian, making it harder to shake.
And he's not really complaining. While he'd love to play a villain — or maybe do a Western — he's happy in his role as a “Blue Collar Comedy” guy.
Once a radio DJ and aspirant teacher, Engvall saw his comedy career take off in 1996 with the album “Here's Your Sign.” A single featuring Travis Tritt reached No. 1 on the Billboard country charts. But the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” took him to new heights, including the TBS sitcom and more — TV specials, three films, even to Sirius satellite radio.
“Blue Collar came along at the right time. What we did is we tapped into a demographic that is largely overlooked by television and film. It's what I call the ‘silent majority.' We go about our lives, we pay our bills and our taxes, and then they overlook us,” Engvall said. “I think what we did is provide that family kind of entertainment. We're not ‘Disney on Ice,' but we provided that clean kind of show that everybody could come see. That's what people were wanting at that time, and obviously they still want it because we still do great numbers.
“One thing I love about the encore we do is that, a lot of times I'll go to a concert and you don't know any more about the act when they finish than you do when they started,” Engvall said. “With us, I think, you kind of get a little sneak peek at our lives. When we're just sitting around talking on stage with each other, that's what we do on the road. We make each other laugh and we cut up, so I think people say these are really just normal guys who got a break.
“I don't think you can really put a price on the value of clean material. I try to tell young comedians, ‘Don't underestimate the intelligence of your audience — they're not stupid.' If I say, ‘My wife and I are getting amorous,' you know exactly what I'm talking about. I don't have to go into graphic detail. I think that's the mistake a lot of young comics make — you don't have to do that.”
Reporter Joseph Lord can be reached at (502) 582-4501.