When NBC resurrected "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" this TV season, the network retooled several aspects to make the sitcom better fit the comedian. The setting shifted from Indiana to Foxworthy's native state of Georgia. And when casting the best-friend character, Bill, they cast Foxworthy's friend, Bill Engvall.
Foxworthy recalled discussing the cast changes with NBC, which picked up the show after ABC canceled it. "The more we talked about it, I said, 'That's Bill Engvall.' We wrote it so close to him, except for the cowboy hat," Foxworthy said, sitting near his TV living room on the show's set.
Behind Foxworthy, Engvall walked across the loading-dock set wearing country singer attire: blue jeans, cowboy boots, fancy vest, waist-cut jacket and a black hat. He carried a cigar that looked to have been smoked on and off.
Foxworthy, too, held a cigar--though he claimed he stopped smoking and just used it as a pacifier. This is just one of many things the two men seem to have in common.
They both live in Beverly Hills with their wives and children. They both spent years touring on the comedy circuit before settling there. And most important, they share a similar Southern sense of humor, which will be on display Saturday night at the Universal Amphitheatre, where Engvall will open for Foxworthy's comedy concert.
Engvall was well-established on the comedy circuit in Texas while Foxworthy was working his way through the clubs in the South. Once they crossed paths, a friendly competition developed.
Even now, years after Foxworthy's "You might be a redneck" routine gave him a meteoric rise past most everyone in the comedy orbit, Engvall teases him that people still say, "He's funny, but he's no Engvall."
The two actually share a similar down-home sensibility, which is sort of the antithesis of Jerry Seinfeld's New York-style neuroses. The heart of their material is making observations about life around them. When they perform on the same bill, they often check to make sure they aren't performing material that seems too similar.
If Foxworthy's shtick is people who "have a home that is mobile and five cars that aren't," Engvall is finding a niche maligning another group unprotected by political correctness: the stupid.
"I just hate stupid people. They should have to wear signs that just says, 'I'm stupid.' " Engvall rails on his comedy CD, "Here's Your Sign."
He elaborates: "Before my wife and I moved from Texas to California, our house was full of boxes. There was a U-haul truck in our driveway. My friend comes over and says, 'You moving?' Nope. We just pack our stuff up once or twice a week, just to see how many boxes it takes. Here's your sign."
Engvall said his routine's a little more edgy than Foxworthy's. "I tend to go closer to the line than he does. But we both try to keep it clean." Engvall may talk about adult topics, but he does it so that he'd be comfortable if his children were sitting in the front row. Of course, not everyone is comfortable with the same things. "I've had people walk out of my show because I used the word 'condom,' " Engvall said.
Engvall was born in Galveston, Texas, and thought he'd be a teacher. Then, he said, "I got to college and I found women and beer." He also found a Steve Martin album that turned him on to comedy. On a bet, he did a five-minute routine in a Dallas club and was offered a job to emcee. He learned from the pros for two years, as Jay Leno, Garry Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld all passed by the microphone.
He's made several appearances on "The Tonight Show," and hosted A&E;'s "Evening at the Improv." In 1992, he won the American Comedy Award for Best Male Stand-Up Comedian. He moved into television with guest roles on "Designing Women" and "Golden Palace," and a regular part on the short-lived series "Delta" with Delta Burke.
"He makes me laugh," Foxworthy said. "We have the greatest time in the world."
Foxworthy, the former IBM computer repairman and quintessential nice guy, has made a practice of championing friends from his club days. He brought Engvall to the attention of Warner Brothers, which released "Here's Your Sign" earlier this year. And Engvall read for roles on two earlier Foxworthy pilots.
"I said, 'Quit calling, man. Every time you call me, I lose a job,' " joked Engvall.
But truly, he's grateful.
"Every night the kids go to bed and say their prayers and ask God to bless our family and Jeff Foxworthy," he said. "He's a great guy. It's nice in this business to find somebody like that."
* WHAT: Jeff Foxworthy with Bill Engvall.
* WHERE: Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza.
* WHEN: 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
* HOW MUCH: $31.25 and $41.25
* CALL: (213) 480-3232.