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Bill Engvall interview: The Big LeBaxter episode sees Reverend Paul back on Last Man Standing and more

Bill Engvall makes a welcome return this week in his recurring role on FOX hit series, Last Man Standing.

And in a tip of the hat to the classic film The Big Lebowski, the episode is titled “The Big LeBaxter.” The bowling-themed episode focuses on Mike Baxter’s (Tim Allen) desire to win a key tournament.

His rivals?  The Holy Rollers – headed up by Reverend Paul (Bill Engvall).

In typical fun, Last Man Standing-fashion, Vanessa (Nancy Travis) is armed with many bowling puns in this episode.

All of this team building machination before the big tournament for a church fundraiser sees Allen in a fun scene with Engvall’s Reverend as they hash over players.

Their natural chemistry and real-life-friendship help make the jokes flow on the show.

And for Baxter, losing in a bowling match “is like death.” His ace in the hole? Daughter Mandy (Molly McCook), described as a top-notch bowler blessed “with the wingspan of a pterodactyl,” according to him.

The funny episode was written by Erin Berry and directed by Andy Cadiff.

Fans will be delighted to know we found out there will be more Rev. Paul episodes ahead as well.

What is Last Man Standing?

Affable and opinionated Mike Baxter is the marketing director for an outdoor sporting goods store. He has a colorful group of employees and vibrant family life. But sometimes, he can be the odd man out as his wife Vanessa (Nancy Travis) and their three daughters, Kristin, Mandy, and Eve, energetically rule the roost.

Vanessa and Mike share the hands-on parenting and have created a world where their family has expanded and their everyday life is full of relatable challenges and learning lessons. It is all served up in a fun, family-friendly comedy that is into its eighth season.

Bill Engvall is a returning recurring character on Last Man Standing as Reverend Paul, seen this Thursday as he and Mike square off in a bowling competition.

In his career, Bill was also the breakout finalist on the 17th season of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.

Of note, he even shared a TV wife with Last Man Standing star Tim Allen, as Nancy Travis was his wife on the TBS series, The Bill Engvall Show.

Fans can get his fresh new special, Just Sell Him For Parts, currently available on Walmart’s digital streaming service, Vudu. He even hosts a weekly podcast called My Two Cents with Bill Engvall with PodcastOne.

Fans also remember Bill as a member of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, featuring four comics who broke ticket sales records across the USA back in 2000-2006.

Bill Engvall
Bill Engvall is back on Last Man Standing. Pic credit: FOX

Bill Engvall interview

Monsters & Critics: How did the character of Reverend Paul come to be and where is he going on the series?

Bill Engvall: Well, we’re not sure where it’s going to go. I’ve been able to play a lot of different roles in my career, but this one really kind of stuck to me.

It was a role that I felt that I was ready for… it is an interesting role because Reverend Paul is really one of the few guys that can call Mike Baxter out.  I don’t know if it’s because of the theological position that I hold, or what it is. But it was a role that I really felt good with.

I feel like Paul is a redeeming character. He’s not the antagonist. He is just kind of there to help Mike along.

M&C: And he’s personable and he’s relatable. It’s just so nice to see a TV series, you’re not a caricature type preacher.

Bill Engvall: That character, I don’t think they would ever written it if it was a one-off role. I think that they were looking for someone and I’m honored that they chose me for this role.

I’ve noticed reading the posts of my fans and the fans of Last Man Standing’s Facebook page that Paul is a character that people look forward to seeing.

One of my favorite episodes was the one where Reverend Paul was going to quit the ministry. And just the reactions of the whole cast, and of course, Nancy [Travis] was cast as my wife on my TV show. Which is really weird (laughs)!

That’s just one of the other perks of this role. I’m going to get to see my friends again, and in this business it’s hard enough to find people that you really can call true friends. Tim really is a good guy. I’ve liked him since our stand-up days and I always respected him.

I love the fact that in a weird way, Reverend Paul has become part of their family. I’m hoping that they’re going to do an episode for Mandy the one who just had a baby. I’m hoping that they’ll do an episode where Rev. Paul will christen the baby, or something like that.

M&C: Well, you can see that there’s a genuine warmth between you and Tim in scene and, and Nancy as well. You can’t really fake that, when you’re comfortable with someone and that friendship is already established. Actors put it on, but you can see it’s beyond acting and I think that’s why your character resonates so strongly with the fan base.  It’s so much fun to watch you two together because energetically that back and forth between y’all just sells.

Bill Engvall: Yes, I agree 100 percent that it is, it’s like that’s what makes it an easy role to do because Tim, Nancy and I, and the three of us have that relationship that’s good. It’s beyond the show. That really speaks volumes — I think —  to why the character has been accepted.

I’m always teasing them because the last few times I’ve had to do the show, I’ve had to miss a few days of rehearsals, at the time I had live dates and Tim would always give me the business ‘Oh yeah, I get to give you a role and then you want to go fly off.’

And I go, ‘Hey, you can make this all go away. You just say, Bill, I want you on all the episodes and I will write the stand up off the road.’

M&C: Like everyone else, uh, coronavirus has affected your career. You had to postpone and rescheduled dates for performances. so much of your comedy is based on your family life. How are you handling the lockdown with your family?

Bill Engvall: Well, actually we’re doing really well. I’ll tell you why that is, because for over 40 years I’ve been on the road all the time. Yeah. I’m like a Johnny Cash song. I’ve been everywhere.

It’s been really nice to spend some time with my wife, but I hate that it took the virus to do this. But you know what? I really enjoy hanging with her, it’s something that I’ve missed for a long time. My wife and I used to joke all the time that the reason we stayed together for almost 38 years now is because I go away.

But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t think that this whole situation is probably testing some marriages. I don’t mean that in any kind of weird mean way, but it’s the thing that… when you’re not used to something, and when you’re away, you don’t realize all the weird quirks that the other person has, and it drives you nuts.

But the other thing is my wife and I have been so lucky. We have a place down in Arizona, it’s 80 degrees and it’s sunshiny and part of me feels kind of guilty of like, there are people that are really suffering.

We have just kind of adapted to it, ]and for us] it is really not that bad, There are the things I’ve missed. I’ve missed the fans and being out and doing shows. I don’t know how long this will last and I didn’t know what the new normal is going to be. I’ll tell you that.

I’m sure Tim has thought about this too, is that even when they open things back up, I wonder if people are going to be hesitant about going in and being in a hall with two or 3000 people?

Because, it’s not like this virus is going away quickly. Right now all everybody is hoping it is just peaking. I listened to doctors and they say they could come back and they’re not going to have a vaccine for over a year now. So it’s going to come back again.

I don’t really know what the future holds, but I know this, and this is part of the piece that sticks with me. It kind of brings you back to that subject. I’ve had a terrific career. Would, I love it to keep going? Yes… but if it’s not, I’m okay.

M&C: You have had a really interesting career. You are part of a fraternity of comedians that never had to go there, with language… like Brian Regan and Jim Gaffigan, you guys never had to shock people or use bad language or make you uncomfortable, awkward comedy. How do you feel about that?

Bill Engvall: I am so proud of that. First off, I am honored that you put me in that league of comedians because I have the greatest admiration for those guys.

I’m really happy about that because in my years on the road, I basically figured out that there are three things that people want.

They want you to be relatable. They want to know that you are like them. you do the same things they do and they want you to be clean.

I don’t know that enough comedians that give that weight, you know?  Listen, I love a good dirty joke as much as the next guy. And I can tell you something that will curl your hair. But I always try to write my show in a way that I think, ‘would my wife sit through this for 90 minutes?’

I’ll tell you a funny story. I used to joke with my friends that the very last show I would do, I’m going to say everything I’ll ever wanted to say, and my friend goes, ‘you’ll never do it.’ And I said, ‘you’re right. (laughs) I swear!’

But I think that’s a great badge of honor for me, isn’t it? Stand up there for an hour and a half and make you laugh and not have to swear. There’s a niche for people like that. But it just wasn’t my bag and that’s cool.

And that doesn’t demean any other comics that use swear words. It’s just this something I chose not to do. I learned early on, I used to watch Bob Newhart and listen to his records and Bill Cosby records. I’m sad that Bill’s career had ended the way it did, but you know, if you dance with the devil, you’re going to pay the band.

I remember watching them and listening to them and thinking, what’s the common denominator? And it’s if thing, they were all clean and they’re still working, most of them…

People don’t tire of clean comedy. Especially in a day like we live in now, I think people want comedy that will, it gives them encouragement and some hope and all that.

And just the fact that they can watch it. I always know I’ve written a good joke when I see a husband or a wife kind of elbow each other like, ‘Oh that’s you right there.’ Because that’s all they want. They just want to know that you’re normal. Like they are.

M&C: How many times are we going to see Reverend Paul this season on Last Man Standing? 

Bill Engvall: If it was my wish, you’d see him every week (laughs). I don’t know. I guess a realistic number would be, I’d hope you’d see him three or four times. I don’t know how many stories you can write with the preacher in it, but I would like to see three or four. I’d be thrilled to do that.

I would like to see an episode where…I have thought about this, have an episode that deals with something pretty serious that’s resolved in a comedic and fun way because of how Tim wraps up the episode in his personal log at the end of the show. That part of the show.

A really meaty episode, maybe a two-episode arc or whatever. Where Reverend Paul has to rely on Mike for something.

The episode where Paul nearly quit the ministry was close, but it’d be fun to see something where the characters are really stretched.

M&C: A lot of your fans, they dine on your Blue Collar Comedy days, the repeats, are you going to bring the band back?

Bill Engvall: April, that’s a great question. I get asked a lot by fans. I never say never… but that was kind of lightning in a bottle.

It was the perfect storm. We hit an audience that had been largely overlooked by the West and East coast media, which I think was silly because those are the people who buy the products that are on the shows that you’re putting on.

I always liked to walk out on the stage and just look around before a show, because I had never performed in arenas before. And I thought, this is as close to being a rock star as we’re ever going to get. I mean we held the record for selling out the Nashville arena in 24 hours and then Bon Jovi beat us, which is so weird cause those are two names you never see together. Blue Collar Comedy and Bon Jovi.

You had four really strong comedians on one show who were all friends. I think what it was was…and I’m going to circle back to what we talked about a minute ago. It was a clean show.

You could bring kids to this show, Larry had just come off of [the animated film] Cars and the kids thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. and you also had that comradery, that I would say 99.999 percent of people told us was their favorite part.

That was when we were all four sitting together on stage, just talking back and forth with each other. I go back and get to what I said earlier about what audiences want. They looked at us like, well these guys really do hang out together… it’s not like let’s just get together for one show!

It just fulfilled all the requirements that the audience wanted and I don’t honestly believe there’ll be [a reunion] but I don’t want to say that we won’t do it, but I don’t think they’ll ever be another comedy tour like that around.

That’s one of those once in a career kind of things. If they did, I would look seriously at it, but, we’ve gotten older and our audience has gotten older… not that we wouldn’t bring in a new audience.

Probably we would, but I think we’re all kind of at that point in our career where we can see the finish line. We’re not sure when we’re going to cross it, but who knows, like I said.

If you had told me last year that wouldn’t be able to leave our houses because of a virus, I’d have said you were crazy.

So. hopefully, fingers crossed. You’ll see more Paul on Last Man Standing.

Last Man Standing airs Thursdays at 8/7c on FOX.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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