When Bill Engvall steps onstage at Bass Hall on Sunday night, he's liable to pause for a moment to drink in his surroundings and to marvel at how far he has come in three decades of comedy.
"I remember 30-some-odd years ago when I was doing open-mic nights at the Comedy Corner in Dallas," he says. "I had just five minutes of material. I had big dreams, wanted a good career, wanted to get my own TV show and all that stuff. But who knew if any of that could really happen?"
But it all did come true for Engvall, who grew up in Richardson and is best known for his "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" gigs and his signature "Here's Your Sign" stories.
Given his North Texas roots, Engvall tends to appreciate his success even more when he comes back to do shows like the one at Bass Hall.
"I know this is going to sound sappy," he says. "But as I've gotten older, I've found that you've got to take the time to appreciate the moment."
But enough of all this sentimental talk. Because Engvall has funny stuff on his mind, too.
What are some of the things you'll want to talk about when you're here?
My whole career has been made talking about family and raising kids and being a parent. I still talk about that, but now the kids are grown and gone off to college. So my material is changing. Now I find myself talking about how my wife and I are empty-nesters and dealing with that.
Like, now my wife is on this campaign for us to do more stuff together. I love hanging out with my wife. She's a good Texas girl. But not one of the things she's wanting to do is on my bucket list.
I mean, she took me to a bed-and-breakfast, which is something I just don't get at all. It's basically all the expense of a hotel, but all the inconvenience of staying in somebody else's house.
That said, you probably also feel obligated to do some of the older material, right?
It's weird how that works with comedy. Let's say you go to a rock concert. Let's say you go to see Aerosmith. You go hoping they'll play Walk This Way or Toys in the Attic. And in comedy, yeah, they want to hear the old stuff, too. But once you've heard a joke, you've heard it.
So you still get the laugh, but it's not that big, explosive response like when the audience heard it for the first time. So I always try to have at least half the show be new material.
I'll bet that fans who know all your "Here's Your Sign" jokes word for word wouldn't mind.
Let me tell you a funny story. When Here's Your Sign came out and hit big, I didn't realize that people would memorize that album. So I was doing one of my first shows after the album and there was a woman in the front row doing the show word for word with me.
Actually, she was about a half a second ahead of me. I finally had to stop and say, 'Ma'am, I am so honored that you know all this material. But the rest of the audience is going to get mad if you're doing the show instead of me.'
Was there a specific incident that inspired the "Here's Your Sign" routine, in which people say something so inane that they deserve to wear "I'm Stupid" signs?
I was out in L.A. There was a big rig that had wedged its trailer underneath an overpass. I was right behind the truck and lucky I didn't run into the back of it. And traffic was backed up, stopped to a dead standstill. So we're all standing on the side of the road and I'm talking to the trucker.
That's when a highway patrolman pulled up. And he looked at the rig and he looked at the trucker and I could tell by the look on his face. I said, 'Oh, no, he isn't really going to say it, is he?' And sure enough, he said, 'Did you get your truck stuck?'
And without missing a beat, this old boy said, 'Nope, I was delivering that overpass and I ran out of gas.' That was the birth of 'Here's Your Sign.' And I don't know where I would be today without it. But I don't care to look, really, because I might not be on the Bass Hall schedule today.