Now That's Awesome

by: Bill Engvall

Depending on who you talk to, Bill Engvall has made a lucrative career of either delivering a much needed dose of traditional values to comedy, or shamelessly sucking up to society's lowest common denominator. Even more than Jeff Foxworthy, Engvall has positioned himself as the anti-Seinfeld; just a regular good ol' boy trying to make it through this crazy ol' world with pickup truck and cold can of Pabst Blue Ribbon intact. He, however, is no throwback to Hee Haw and The Dukes of Hazzard. He represents a new breed of middle American populist: the financially stable, goateed Republican businessman who dresses casually in well pressed, late-'80s fashions and whose truck may just be a Toyota. In other words, Engvall is the perfect comedy equivalent of the Nashville new country "hat acts," with whom he shares a record label. These artists use the most basic sound byte-style trappings of a disappearing rural America, buff them to a sickening sheen, and serve them up to a public that, while still conservative, desperately wants to distance itself from the hick image of old. In this, he succeeds. On Now That's Awesome!, he performs before a large and enthusiastic crowd who is just waiting to cheer his every affirmation of their lifestyle. Unfortunately, although the party atmosphere is palpable, this kind of setting does not often make for good comedy. Like Steve Martin on his Wild and Crazy Guy album, Engvall is forced to rely on overused catch phrases and a sort of social equivalent to the worst kind of Pavlovian political rhetoric. To his credit, he avoids using profanity to get easy laughs. Unfortunately, however, he instead relies on a Budweiser commercial vision of sexual politics, one minute telling his audience how he'd love to find a naked Shania Twain waiting in his room, and the next admitting that men are dumb. In the end, however, Now That's Awesome! fails not because it doesn't aspire to something better, but because it's simply un-funny. ~ Pemberton Roach

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