Last weekend comedian Bill Engvall returned to Manhattan to do two shows at McCain Auditorium on the K-State campus. He demonstrated all the caginess of a veteran, someone with long enough experience in the business that he could claim to have performed at Bushwackers. But he was also good natured.
I attended the 7:00 show—there were two that evening—and it began with twenty minutes of Gary Brightwell, a mousse-coifed Californian who is also a veteran performer. He commented on playing golf in Texas, Engvall’s home state, noting there were “gun racks in the golf carts.”
Shooting in the eighties and coming home with a couple of birds were indications, according to his contact, that you’d had a pretty good day on the course. Was it this same fellow who had trouble with airport metal detectors? Why? Because “you have a satellite dish holding your pants up.”
Brightwell may have gotten his biggest laughs telling what happened when his girlfriend decided that instead of going to an Angels’ game with friends who had a box, she would buy the tickets. They sat in the next to last row of the Big A, and had to be there early so that sherpas could first guide them to their base camp. His get-away line had to do with a female body builder who scared dogs.
Then Engvall was immediately on stage. And his actions were all pretty close to sudden, at least for those of us who hadn’t seen a comedian live since the pause-reliant Bill Cosby appeared at McCain last year. The Blue Collar tour vet used eye contact and his very genuine-seeming grin to endear himself and then went rattling from line of development to line of development, sometimes faster than the ability of his mic to separate the syllables.
His ability to make use of material earlier-presented and to build stories with a decent allotment of laugh lines made Engvall’s performance admirable. After a brief reference to his early appearances in town, he was off.
He discussed his own aging, his notoriety, and—a comedian’s favorite topic—being called to jury duty. “What kind of entertaining do you do?” the judge asked him, and in one line Engvall managed to connect two of his topics, fame and jury duty, and to do so early. He would go on to score in this way fairly often.
One excuse he heard a potential juror offer was, “I don’t speak English.” Later he got home and his wife announced, “We are going on a diet.” Female clerks at the farmer’s market had shaved heads and hairy armpits, which prompted Engvall to ask, “Are they dyslexic?”
His remarks often raised smiles through recognition. What is all that stuff about “trans-fats”? His college boy son returns home sometimes “for a fill my wallet weekend.” The comic told how he became responsible for minding his son’s skink (a “skank,” he suggested, is a female skink) and was told to buy feed for the crickets he originally bought to feed the lizard.
And then we were off on the medical marijuana jokes, which at this point in history are like George Orwell’s Dead Metaphors—they’ve been used before, but not so recently that anyone remembers them, and so they are effective again. He finished with an anecdote about an attempt to enliven his married love life and a stupid question his wife asked him about his plane hitting a deer: “Were you on the ground?” Are all stupid questions joke material?
The fair-sized crowd at the 7 o’clock show seemed to have a pretty good time during Engvall’s hour with us. The second show afforded him another chance to add to his total of performances in the Little Apple.