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Un-Hip Boots Fit Engvall Fine


Being a comedian and a team roper just wasn't enough for Bill Engvall. Last month, he decided to add bronco buster to his resume.

But now, if he never again hears the words "Get him, Hank!," he'll be a happy man.

"When I turned 38, I decided I was going to be a bareback rider," Engvall, who was raised in Dallas, said this week from his home in Culver City. "My wife said, 'What are you, stupid?' Three or four times on the way to the ranch, I'm thinking I can still turn around and go shopping. No one will know."

But he stayed the course, and found himself on a "spur horse," a small bucking horse. "If this thing could've had training wheels, it would have. I get saddled up, nod my head and they lead this horse out by a rope. I'm spurring like mad and the horse is just running around.

"Then I hear, 'Get him, Hank!'

"Hank is a dog whose only job is to bite this horse on the ass. The next thing I know, I'm airborne. I'm gone. I landed so hard I got the wind knocked out of me and couldn't feel parts of my body I knew were there."

The final insult was still to come.

"The dog comes over and licks me on the face, as if to say, 'Sorry, Bill. I was just doing my job.' The class was supposed to go until noon. It went from 8 to 8:01."

One hopes the relatively healed Engvall will last longer at the Improv in Brea, where he is performing through Sept. 3 with George Lopez on the first stop of their "Tex-Mex Tour," an outgrowth of Engvall's desire to leave club gigs and step into concert venues.

The idea came when he and Lopez were doing a golf benefit. "I saw this as a perfect mix," Engvall recalls. "We're different, yet we draw from the same audience, the middle-class working guy. I pitched it to George, and he said yeah. Now we'll see how it draws."

There are no opening or middle acts. Fans get the two headliners: Lopez and Engvall greet the crowd together, banter a little bit, then flip a coin to see who goes first. Each does a 45- to 60-minute set.

"I still love the clubs, but it's starting to take its toll on me. There's still a great intimacy, but you have to move on," said Engvall, who did two separate 45-minute shows in Minneapolis on Tuesday, returned to L.A. and would catch a 5 a.m. flight Thursday to Fort Lauderdale to open for George Jones before returning to Brea for two shows Friday night.

He offers some simple explanations for his high-flying popularity: He plays a broad audience, not "a pocket of very hip L.A. people." His act is "real simple. It's setup, joke, setup, joke. No rambling. I catch flak for being very generic, but look at Cosby. Look at Newhart."

Engvall works in their kinder, gentler vein. He doesn't like to do roasts. His nice-guy persona is nothing new. It started 13 years ago on an amateur night when he took the stage on a bet. The manager didn't think the wanna-be actor was very funny, but he was very likable. Engvall became the emcee, and that was all he needed.

Since then, he has collected a passel of TV credits, headlined across the country and received the American Comedy Award for top male stand-up in 1992. He recently landed a recording contract with Warner Bros. A CD is expected around March.

Best-known for his "Stupid People" and "Stupid Stuff" material, he relates life's little annoyances in a hilarious way. He also focuses on family, children and animals.

"A long time ago, I decided there was always so much bad stuff going on--O.J., the Menendez brothers, taxes. . . . I think that's the last thing people want to hear about. There's a lot of funny stuff out there. In [my] little world, everybody is always happy. Boy gets girl. Sun sets in the west every day. I like making people laugh."

He remembers a show in Detroit several years back.

"There was a woman at that show who had been diagnosed that morning with terminal cancer. But she finds out the next day she was misdiagnosed. She calls the club and says, 'I don't know who the comedian was, but tell him he cured cancer!'

"Of course I didn't cure cancer, but I spent 45 minutes making her laugh when she thought she was going to die. The gift of laughter is a God-given gift. If you've been given it as I have, then use it. It's a positive. You never feel better than when you're laughing."

* Bill Engvall and George Lopez perform at the Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea, tonight at 8 and 10:30; Sunday at 8:30 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday at 8:30; Friday at 8:30 and 10:30; Sept. 2 at 8 and 10:30, and Sept. 3 at 8:30. $10 to $15. (714) 529-7878.

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