"On camera anyway," adds Nancy Travis, who plays Bill's wife.
Sitting next to Bill Engvall, snuggled up close on the couch is eleven-year-old Skyler. "Body noise?" he questions and then the light bulb goes on. "Oh! I know!"
And it all looks and sounds just like a real family having a typical family discussion, except that these people aren't really related and the couch is on a Hollywood sound stage.
We're on the set of "The Bill Engvall Show," but it really feels just like home. The show came back for its triumphant return June 12.
Most people know Bill Engvall from his days on "Blue Collar TV" and "The Blue Collar Comedy Tour." (Here's your sign.) But for the past year, Bill has been forging a new niche with his wholesome family sitcom on TBS.
Beyond blue collar
"What you see here is what you would see at home. I love it. When TBS came to me, they wanted that guy who was on "Blue Collar TV," either that or they thought he's not good enough to stretch, so let's let him play himself. It's like I am at home, sometimes I try to be funny and sometimes I screw up."
On the series, Bill is the father to three kids, Lauren (Jennifer Lawrence), Trent (Graham Patrick Martin) and Bryan (Skyler Gisondo). But unlike many sitcoms where the kids rule the roost with a smart mouth and Dad is clueless, this show goes for functional family dynamics instead of dysfunctional.
"One of the changes we made was to veer away from any language that might be offensive to some people. I didn't want the smart-ass kids who ran the house and mom and dad don't know what's going on. I don't think that's real. These," he motions to the three young actors who have happily joined us all in the living room set, "are real kids. They're great about being kids on the show and that brings genuineness to this family. We laugh about the same things families laugh about when we're not on camera.
Jennifer adds, "Nothing that happens on the show is something that hasn't happened to one of our families. What you guys are watching, that's our family, our real family and that's what you see on TV. I think it's awesome. On and off camera, it's the same."
More than a TV dad
It's clear that she feels right at home with her on-screen mom and dad. She fondly reports that it was Bill who taught her how to parallel park and then the two of them launch into a story about how Jennifer once wrote Bill a ticket for parking his studio golf cart too far into her space. Bill counters with some ribbing of his own and again it feels like a family barbeque and not a press junket.
And like any normal family, they have their mix of personalities. Jennifer is opinionated and talkative and has no problem grabbing the spotlight away from dear old "dad." Skyler, like his character, is proud to show off his TV production knowledge all the while looking to Bill for approval and encouragement. Graham, the middle child, is quite happy to let his "brother and sister" do all the talking. He sits on the floor by his on-screen mom, shyly responding only when the conversation turns to fan mail.
"I got letters asking for pictures and stuff and that was pretty exciting," he says, with a genuine enthusiasm that makes me want to start a letter writing campaign for the potential teen heartthrob.
"Did you get any from prisoners?" Nancy asks.
"I did," Jennifer replies proudly.
"Prisoners aren't really picky," Bill counters but she won't be swayed.
"These two boys wrote to say they had my picture hanging in their locker room and then my brother told me what that means and ruined it for me."
It takes a moment and then young Skyler pops in with, "Ah! I get that one!"
"See," says Nancy, "dirty without profanity."
"I hope the show runs a long time," says Bill. "Because this is going to be a hard one to walk away from, I love these kids. Ding dong here," he gives Skyler's hair a muss, "was running across the street one day and fell and scraped himself. We got him up and I looked at him and said, 'what did we learn? Not to run, right? Not to run.'
"Last week, knucklehead here (Graham) looked me in the eye and said, 'thanks a lot dad' and I really felt like I'd hurt his feelings."
"Nancy and I had a mother daughter scene and she cried," says Jennifer.
"I missed that," says Bill and Nancy comes right back with, "You were sleeping in the set."
That's right. This soundstage is so much like home for Bill and the gang that he can fall asleep in a bedroom that's missing its fourth wall while dozens of workers move lights and gear in preparation for the next scene.
"The first day when we walked on the set for the second season it was like, good we're home now." Bill settles further into the couch and pulls his TV kids in close. "Everyday I drive on the lot and look at the stage door and it's amazing. It's the greatest thing in the world, a dream I had since I knew what TV was."
To that, the director points out a banner that is hanging below the audience seating, facing the actors as they work. It says Bill Engvall: Living the Dream.
"If I have a pipe dream for the show, I would like this to be the impedance to bring the family sitcom back. It's a show everybody can watch and not worry about it. And it's not stupid laughs. I hate the obvious spit takes and the walking into the door. It's good humor. That's what we're trying to do."
Forget "trying" Bill, you've already got it down pat.
Watch "The Bill Engvall Show" with the whole family, Thursday nights at 9:00 on TBS.
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