Blue Collar Comedy Tour: Bill Engvall Is Retiring, and So Is the Funny One
The end of 2022 will be the end of the tour for two of the four “blue collar” comics who took the early-to-mid Bush years by storm — including the one that we liked.
Bill Engvall has spent the majority of this year on his “It’s Finally Time Farewell Tour” with one final New Year’s Eve show planned in Salt Lake City, while Ron White, the cigar-smoking, scotch-swishing centerpiece of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, will simultaneously be slipping out the back door with one last set in Tulsa, Oklahoma before Tater Salad retires from touring for good.
Engvall, White, Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy haven’t all toured together since 2006, but the cultural phenomenon left a footprint on comedy history. Now that half of the all-star lineup that lit up Middle America in the middle of the 2000s are hanging up their spurs, we should appreciate what the Blue Collar Comedy Tour brought to American humor — as in, it introduced most of us to White.
Foxworthy first envisioned the Blue Collar Comedy Tour in 2000 as a counterpoint to “The Kings of Comedy” — Foxworthy saw how Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac appealed to “urban, hip audiences,” and he wanted to create a tour that catered to the other side of America. Basically, the Grammy-winning comic wanted to do “Kings of Comedy, But for White People.”
Foxworthy recruited Engvall, who had already co-starred with him on The Jeff Foxworthy Show, and hired White, his former opener, to be their third star. Allegedly, when Foxworthy pitched White the idea, White called the proposal an inappropriate eight-letter r-word that isn’t “redacted,” but he eventually acquiesced — probably after finding out how much more money headlining comedians make than their openers. Larry the Cable Guy was the last to join the quartet.
The Blue Collar Comedy Tour was a massive success — the four comics toured for six years from 2000 to 2006 and shot three specials together, which were all met with massive acclaim from their targeted demographic of rural Americans. Despite the fact that Foxworthy was already a Grammy-winning comedian with his own sitcom and Engvall was a mainstream comic and actor in his own right, the two lead comics played up their “redneck” roots and dominated the zeitgeist with folksy catchphrases and jokes about NASCAR.
Larry the Cable Guy became a cultural phenomenon in his own right, eventually launching a TV and film career that dwarfed the later careers of his contemporaries. Even though the real Daniel Lawrence Whitney grew up in Nebraska, the constructed personality of Larry the Cable Guy became TV’s favorite Deep South-sounding redneck with an extensive line of merchandise for followers to purchase.
Looking back, most of the humor that came out of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour feels like shameless pandering, and hearing a bunch of guys who fly in private jets joke about tractors and trailer parks would have been insufferable if not for the show’s saving grace — White’s wit, dry delivery and weaving, meandering stories made him the best comic on the tour by a country mile.
While Engvall, Foxworthy and The Cable Guy preached their sets to this theoretical, all-encompassing redneck who enjoys hearing someone famous talk as if they’re from his hometown, White told personal stories that wove his sardonic point-of-view through tales of barroom brawls and arrests while never talking down to his audience or pretending to be anything he wasn’t. Now that he’s saying goodbye to touring life, it’s worth admitting at last that White was the best part of a cultural phenomenon that defined comedy during the George W. Bush honeymoon phase (such as it were).
But as sad as it is to see White go, it’s even sadder to know that Jeff Dunham is somehow still filming specials.