As he heads into Season 3 of The Bill Engvall Show, series costar Tim Meadows (a Saturday Night Live & Second City alum) recalls how a Talking Heads movie convinced the one-time "Ladies Man" to exorcise his shyness and pursue a career in comedy.
Becoming a professional comic was the furthest thing from young Tim Meadows mind while growing up in the Detroit suburb of Highland Park. The timid and unadventurous pre-teen practically had to be forced into interacting with other human beings, and the notion of trying to entertain his peers or make them laugh was simply out of the question. “I was not funny at all while I growing up, in the least bit,” recalls the 48-year-old costar of The Bill Engvall Show. “I wasn’t the class clown or anything like that. I was painfully shy as a kid. All I used to do was watch a lot of television. I was always a fan of comedy, so I loved sitcoms and any kind of comedy on television. But I was very shy. When I got older, I distinctly remember having conversations with my mother about needing to overcome being so introverted. She used to tell me, ‘You need to go outside the house. You need to make friends. You need to go out and play sports or something like a normal kid.’ I tried, but I was more focused on comedy, but I didn't think I could make a career out of it. I just keep wondering how I could make it play a part in my life.”
It would take more than his mom’s caring words and heavy-handed coaxing to force Meadows to pull his head out of the proverbial sand. Oddly, a concert film filled with live performances of Top Ten hits like “Burning Down The House” and “Take Me To The River” would end-up helping Meadows jump-start his career as a highly successful comedian (with a ten season gig, 1991-2000, on Saturday Night Live, a lengthy stint as a Second City comedy troupe member and the star of several hit motion pictures – Mean Girls, Walk Hard -- and primetime comedy series, including the highly-rated sitcom The Bill Engvall Show).
“It took something really unexpected to make me come out of my comedy closet,” confesses the creator of the iconic Saturday Night Live character Leon “Ladies Man” Phelps. “When I was older, I went to see the concert movie Stop Making Sense by the Talking Heads, at the Art Institute in Detroit. I remember watching it and thinking ‘Those guys are artists and they are living the lives that they want to live. And I don’t have anyone to blame but myself if I don’t do this. I don’t want to ever look back and regret not trying. I really want to do this. I want to be an actor. I want to an artist. So, I’m going to do it.’ As I walked out of the theater, I said out loud, ‘I’m moving to Chicago and joining Second City.’ So, I guess I have the Talking Heads to thank or blame for my career. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.”
Tim Meadows & Bill Engvall
At the moment, Meadows is on the soundstage that houses the hilarious and heartwarming family-friendly sitcom The Bill Engvall Show, preparing to film another laugh-filled episode for Season Three of the popular cable series (which premieres July 18, 9:00/8:00p.m. EST/CST on TBS). The brainchild of Engvall, a Blue Collar Comedy Tour survivor, The Bill Engvall Show is a clever comedy for the entire family. Re-joining an ensemble cast that also includes Nancy Travis, Tim Meadows portrays Paul DeFrayne, a hair-replacement specialist and the best bud of family counselor Bill Pearson (Engvall). Over the past two seasons, the all-knowing Paul, a de facto member of the Pearson family — Bill, wife Susan (Travis) and their three kids — has garnered a reputation for talking a bigger game than he can actually play. Although Paul is Bill’s closest pal, he is constantly pushes the boundaries of their friendship. Somehow, Paul always manages to get himself and Bill tangled up in one uproarious, sidesplitting scheme — from tricking a neighbor to put up his garbage cans to keeping a secret about lost baby pictures — after another.
In 2007, during its first season, The Bill Engvall Show set cable-TV ratings records to become the number one original sitcom of all time (among adults 25-54). In Season Two, it averaged several million viewers each episode and ranked as ad-supported cable’s Number One show in its time period (among adults 18-49). With impressive numbers like that, Meadows is more than confident that the series will increase, if not double, its viewing audience for Season Three. “I’m really excited with the new season because I think it’s going to appeal to an even bigger audience,” Meadows admits. “With the new season, viewers can expect to see it focus more on the family, because it’s moved away a lot from the workplace. That’s going bring a lot more people to the show. This season, there’s more story-lines involving the kids, and Bill and myself. Audiences watching it this year are going to be seeing a big difference from last season. Mainly, because I think it’s a lot funnier. The heightened comedy comes from the fact that we, as a cast, have really gotten used to our characters, and we’ve really started to gel with each other, and the writers, too. Honestly, I think it’s going to be a really good season.”
In a television landscape filled with dozens of boring or crass sitcoms, Meadows believes what sets The Bill Engvall Show apart from the others and makes it so endearing to millions of television viewers is the charisma and charm of its leading man. “I already have the job, so I can tell you the truth about what makes this show so appealing,” Meadows says with a chuckle. “Although you probably thought I was going to say it's me, it’s Bill. I think audiences really love him and his unique brand of comedy. You feel comfortable watching him. It’s like The Cosby Show, back in the day. You’re not going to see something too edgy, instead you’re going to see something that’s real, funny and likable. Without a doubt, I would watch the show with my kids, and I have, actually. I don’t watch it as much with my kids as I used to — my kids are six and eight so they understand it’s pretend — because sometimes it feels too weird for them to see me on the show.”
Tim Meadows of The Bill Engvall Show
When queried about what he's found most challenging, so far, about Season Three, Meadows jokingly answers, “Just learning my lines is my biggest challenge,” he says with a laugh. “Seriously, though, because my part has gotten bigger this season, the biggest challenge is I do more than one scene each week, which I did last year. Now, I do three of four scenes a week, so I actually do have a lot more to learn.”
After years of doing stand-up on the comedy club circuit, fine-tuning his improv skills at Second City and going live for laughs on 189 episodes of Saturday Night Live, Meadows admits he often finds working from a script a wee bit nerve-wrecking. “I don’t know why, but I get really nervous performing scripted in front of an audience,” he confesses. “Once I get it going, I’m fine. That’s just what we do. Right before the show, I’m nervous and asking myself ‘Why did I ever pick this profession?’ Really, I do, ever week. Then we go out there and do it. I know that even if I make a mistake, we can reshot a scene and nobody’s angry, but still I want the audience to see it in its perfection, not with the mistakes and everything. I feel more comfortable and less nervous doing improv.”
Once again, Meadows will get to show off his improv skills when he hosts a series of stand-up shows that are scheduled to air in November on TBS. “During the Comedy Festival in Chicago, TBS put thirty comics together, and we did a show over two nights, and I emceed it,” he explains. “The show will be like going to watch stand up. It’s me and four or five comics per show. I do stand-up or I talk to the audience or do a comedy bit and then I introduce the comics for the night. The comics are really funny. It turned out really well, so I’m very happy with it.
“Don't get me wrong, I love being on a scripted show like Bill Engvall, but I really do prefer performing in front of an audience,” he adds. “I feel more comfortable doing improv and performing live for an audience. I think that’s where I’m at home. I know that’s where the Talking Heads were at their best — live, onstage — so I guess I’m just reliving my comedic coming out.”
Bill Engvall & Tim Meadows
The Bill Engvall Show — Saturdays, 9:00/8:00p.m. EST/CST on TBS