Why comedian Bill Engvall is ending the year, and his touring career, in Utah

The stand-up comic has made Park City his home, and will perform on New Year’s Eve in Salt Lake City.

(Teresa Woodhull) After 42 years, comedian Bill Engvall will perform for what he says is the final time on Dec. 31 at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City.

After 42 years of traveling the country to perform standup comedy, Bill Engvall is about to take the stage for the last time in the place he considers home: Utah.

Really. A Texas native who still has a distinctive twang in his voice when he says, “Here’s your sign,” Engvall has made Park City his home for more than 20 years.

“We started coming up here to go skiing — great snow, we love to ski,” Engvall said. “And then one year we spent the summer up there and it was just great. We’ve been here ever since.”

When he decided to retire from touring at the end of 2022, he immediately knew he wanted his final performances to be in his adopted home state.

“For me to be able to wrap it up in Salt Lake City, that’s perfect,” Engvall said. “For whatever reason, the Utah people have just kind of taken me under their wing. They’ve been so great to me and loyal to the shows. And so when my wife and I decided that this was time, I said, ‘I want the last show to be in Utah and I want it to be at the Eccles Theater,’ because I love that. Such a gorgeous place.”

He’ll perform two shows at the Eccles on New Year’s Eve, drawing down the curtain on a career that has taken him to every state in the union over the past four decades.

“It’s been a great run — 42 years. That’s 41 years longer than I thought it would last,” Engvall said. “People are, like, ‘Oh, why are you retiring?’ And my honest answer is — because I caught the brass ring. I’ve done everything I wanted to do in this business. Other than ‘Bill Engvall on Ice,’ and nobody wants to see that.”

Making the decision

Engvall still loves performing, but the traveling that goes with it has been wearing on him. Even though he long ago left behind performing in small clubs in out-of-the-way places, and now headlines at big venues.

“I don’t care how nice you can travel — when you’re on the road by yourself, it takes a lot out of you,” he said. “People see you on stage for 75 to 90 minutes and they think, ‘Oh, what a great life.’ But they don’t see the 22-and-a-half hours you’re sitting in a hotel room.”

Engvall fondly recalls the Blue Collar Comedy Tours, which featured him touring with Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy. Blue Collar was a “godsend. That literally made me a household name. Without that, I doubt seriously we’d be having this conversation right now.”

(Teresa Woodhull) After 42 years, comedian Bill Engvall will perform for what he says is the final time on Dec. 31 at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City.

That 2000-2006 tour was wildly successful. even spawning a movie and a TV series. But for Engvall, the best part of the “Blue Collar” days was “you had somebody to talk to and visit with or have breakfast with. And when you’re by yourself, it’s a lonely existence.”

He’s not complaining, however. “There’s not been one thing I’ve regretted in this career,” he said.

“It’s funny. During COVID, when I couldn’t work, I realized all of a sudden that I didn’t miss it. And I thought, ‘You know what? That means it’s time,’” he said. “Because I never wanted to do this just for a check. I think we’ve all seen shows like that. It’s not fair to the fans who spent their hard-earned money.”

Getting used to Utah

Engvall first started coming to Utah in about 2000, when his family and Foxworthy and his family “used to meet up in Park City and we’d ski and hang out. It was really fun.”

That was when he got “indoctrinated into Utah.” Headed for a dinner reservation at Grappa on Main Street in Park City, they decided to stop on the way and get a glass of wine, and he didn’t think much of it. “Now I’m from Texas, where they pretty much sell liquor at a child’s birth,” Engvall said. He told the maitre d’ they just wanted to get a glass of wine at the bar, and was surprised to be asked, “‘Do you have any intent on eating here?’”

In the midst of his confusion, “the guy behind me said, ‘Just say yes.’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And the maitre d’ goes, ‘There’s the bar.’

“That’s when I learned about Utah liquor laws.”

He jokes about Utah, although he mostly praises the state. “We love going down to Moab,” Engvall said. “One of the things that my wife and I both love about Utah is just the varying geography, whether it’s the red rocks or the [Grand] Staircase-Escalante [National Monument] or up in the mountains — beautiful hiking trails up there. There’s no lack of things to do in Utah. And I think that Utah is a very family thing. And I think that’s why you see a lot of people moving in, because they’re starting to realize, ‘Oh, it’s not what I thought at all.’”

And Engvall’s act fits in with family-friendly Utah.

“I don’t want to get on a soapbox here, but I do firmly believe that one of the reasons I’ve lasted as long as I have is because I do work clean,” he said. “Listen, I love a good, dirty joke as much as the next guy, but I don’t really want to sit through 90 minutes of it, ‘cause after a while, I start thinking, ‘Is there anything else you do other than cuss?’…

“There’s a niche out there that likes the dirty comedy, and I don’t begrudge them that. I enjoy it, but I just find I get more emails and comments on social media thanking me for keeping it clean. It’s amazing how many of those I get. And I didn’t want to get to the point in my show where I was relying on dirtiness as a crutch just because I didn’t want to write new stuff.”

Engvall said he and his wife have become regular Utahns. They go see the lights on Temple Square. And drive through the Hogle Zoo’s ZooLights. “We do all that goofy stuff, and love every minute of it,” he said.

People are still surprised to learn he lives in Utah, he said. To be clear, he’s not here full-time — he also has a place in Scottsdale, Arizona, to retreat to during the coldest part of local winters. “I’m at that age where … I don’t need that 5 below stuff,” he said, chuckling.

And he’s “gotten involved on a small level in Park City — not in a political way, but just doing stuff and attending things because we just really enjoy it. And my hope is that Park City keeps its charm and doesn’t become Aspen, but it kind of looks like it’s headed that way.”

If Engvall sounds like a regular guy, that’s because he is. Certainly a lot more of a regular guy than you’d expect from a guy who’s a comedy icon and has starred in movies and TV.

“When people see me in downtown Salt Lake, the guy they see walking around in the mall is the same guy you’re going to see on stage,” he said. “I never had to adjust to a character or to put on a facade. It’s just — hey, this is Bill — whether I see you at the IHOP or I see you at Grappa. And I think people appreciate the fact that the guy they just saw at the LensCrafters is the guy that you’re going to see at the Eccles Theater.”

You probably haven’t seen him at the Sundance Film Festival, because he’s a local and he knows to make sure he has “booked it out of town for that.”

Success took years

One of the reasons Engvall values his success, he said, is that it did not come overnight. He performed in clubs and on TV for more than two decades before he hit it big on the first Blue Collar tour. And he never really thought big-time success was in the cards.

“Gosh, no,” he said. “I think you dream it, but the reality of it coming through is just so minuscule. I mean, I was too stupid to know that you could make a living at this. And then it really wasn’t until the first album came out that things took off.”

Even that was a slow starter. His first comedy album, “Here’s Your Sign,” was released in 1995, and “the first week, the album sold 50 copies across the country.”

It eventually became a big hit, about 15 years after he first went on stage, and Engvall is more than OK with that.

“People ask you, ‘How do you know there’s a god?’ And I know that because he didn’t give me fame at 23. Because I would have totally screwed it up so bad. I’d have been in some rehab center,” he said with a laugh. “I think sometimes when you’re that young, you’re not mature enough to appreciate what you got. And I think there’s a real good reason that I wasn’t given this break until I was old enough to be able to handle it.”

Not completely retired

Engvall is not necessarily retiring from performing altogether. “Listen, my ultimate dream — if I could have everything I wanted — would be kind of what I had when I was doing Tim Allen’s show,” he said. (Engvall had a recurring role as Rev. Paul on Seasons 5-9 of Allen’s “Last Man Standing.”), appearing in nine episodes. “I would love to have a recurring role where I’m on five or six out of 10 shows.”

He starred in his own sitcom, “The Bill Engvall Show,” from 2007 to 2009 on TBS. (His teen daughter in the show was played by Jennifer Lawrence, before she became a star in “The Hunger Games” franchise and an Oscar winner for “Silver Linings Playbook.”)

If, at this point, he was offered the lead in a TV series, “It’d be something I’d have to think about it,” he said, “because it would either be filming Monday through Friday and then coming home on the weekends, or just moving back to L.A. And I’m not going to do that.”

And he’s not saying he will never perform on stage again, although he has no plans to tour the country. “As far as I know, this is retirement. Now, two or three years from now, if I’m bored and Gail, my wife, says, ‘You’ve got to get back out on the road’ — I can do that,” Engvall said. “But as of right now, I’d like to see what life throws at me. See what’s out there. … The honest answer is: I don’t have a plan.”

He would like to spend some more time helping out at the National Ability Center in Park City, “I’ve been out there volunteering a little bit. I’d like to do that more regularly,” he said. “And I’d like to maybe get involved there in Salt Lake with delivering meals to kids or older people that can’t get out. …

“I’ve been so lucky and so blessed to have a job that I love for so long. And so now it is time for me to give back something.”

He and his wife are planning to spend more time with their son, daughter and grandchildren, and they’re also planning to travel “to some of the cities and towns that I’ve just flown over for most of my life. There’s some really cool stuff in this country.”

The final shows

The two final shows will be about 60% new material and about 40% Engvall “hits.” They’ll be filmed for a future TV telecast (outlet and date to be announced).

“The new stuff I wrote was specifically because we are shooting a special,” Engvall said. “If I’d had my druthers, I’d’ve just done the greatest hits. But that’s not really fair to the fans either. If you and I go see Aerosmith, we’re OK if they play a couple of new songs, but we really want to hear the hits.”

It’s not that he couldn’t keep performing. He could book another tour if he wanted.

“But I always said I wanted to leave with people wanting more,” Engvall said.

Will he feel relieved when it’s over? Sad? “I think there’s going to be a combination of both,” Engvall said. “It’s all I know. It’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve never had to have a real job.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a very emotional end of the show.”

Bill Engvall: The Last Show

Comedian Bill Engvall will perform two shows in Salt Lake City, before retiring from touring.

When • Saturday, Dec. 31, at 5 and 8 p.m.

Where • Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main, Salt Lake City.

Tickets • $35-$85 at myarttix.org, or in person at the Eccles box office, or by phone: 801-355-ARTS (2787).

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.