TO MOST OF THE TV NATION, Arlen’s Hank Hill is the star of the most watched cartoon show on prime time, Fox’s Emmy-nominated King of the Hill. To us Texans, Hill is one of the most recognized good ol’ boys in America, the common- sense, no bullcorn, plain-talking embodiment of suburban Texas, circa 1997. A kind of EveryTexan. Of course, Hill has had some help from series creator, writer, and fellow Texan Mike Judge, who also created Beavis and Butt-head. And the Sunday evening time slot between The Simpsons and The X-Files hasn’t hurt any. Since King of the Hill debuted in January, the show’s characters have entered the pop vocabulary, with people mimicking Hill’s twang, Dale’s redneck paranoia, and Boomhauer’s comic mumble.
My recent efforts to interview Hill, which resulted in a thorough screening from his publicist and his subsequent demand for a written Q&A, gave rise to the belief that Hill, propane salesman and family man, had gone Hollywood and gotten the swole head after only twelve episodes. But I came away impressed. Within his carefully measured responses lurks a guy who actually seems to live up to his billing, a Texas star a helluva lot more real than Larry Hagman. Just how real? You be the judge.
You’re perhaps the most recognized Texan in the world and now you’re a Texas Monthly Texas Twenty. Does this place a great burden on your shoulders?
It’s more of a pain than a burden, and in an area due south of the shoulders. Being recognized, I mean. Not the part about the Texas Twenty. I consider that a great honor.
In its first season your show tackled a number of topics that resonate far beyond Texas, such as race relations, constipation, getting along with relatives, guitars and golf, and smoking. Was it your idea to bring up these sensitive issues on national television? Do you plan to discuss similarly sensitive issues in the coming season?
Do I seem to you like a person who wants his constipation “resonating” far beyond Texas? Heck, I didn’t want it going past the bathroom door. Unfortunately, these things happen in our house, and that’s what our episodes are based on. Personally, I wish we were doing this show back in the fifties, when “sensitive issues” were things like Bobby getting stuck up a tree or Peggy ruining an apple pie. Now that was television. But the times have changed. Today, if Bobby got stuck up in a tree, it would probably be with a transvestite drug pusher, and Peg’s pie would get her picketed for endangering an old-growth apple orchard. So you can expect more of these “sensitive issues” next season. But, for Pete’s sake, don’t expect me to discuss them.
In a recent issue of The Weekly Standard, political commentator Daniel Wattenberg describes your point of view as that of a social conservative: “The Hill family … live in fictional Arlen, Texas, a plain-vanilla, middle-class suburb … [they’re] the kind of middle-American family that Hollywood has made sport of for a generation from the Bunkers in the 70’s through the Bundys of the 90’s.” Do you agree with his assessments?
First of all, this Mr. Wattenberg had best hope he never breaks down in Arlen, Texas, because the folks around here don’t appreciate having their town called fictional. As for the rest, so long as Mr. Wattenberg doesn’t assess lawn mowers, I’ll reserve my political commentaries for the arena where they belong: the alley behind the house.
Oh, yes, and one more thing. My wife, Peggy, who was voted Substitute Teacher of the Year in 1996, says that sentence”made sport of for”is awkward and that if Mr. Wattenberg was in her class, she’d ask him to rewrite it.
Do you prefer Wranglers, Levi’s, Lees, or Dickies for casual pants?
Sir, those are all good brands, but the label I look for in pants is the one that says “Made in America.” And I don’t mean just the labelI read somewhere that most “Made in America” labels are now made in China. Well, that’s not good enough for me. I don’t want to wear pants made in some dirty, dangerous Third World sweatshop. I want my pants made in a dirty, dangerous American sweatshop.
For your barbecue pit, do you use charcoal, gas, or wood? If wood, what kind of wood? If gas, why is gas so good?
We have a saying in my business: “A barbecue without propane is like a day without sunshine.” It’s based on an old Roman saying: “A day without wine is like a day without sunshine.” I know a lot of folks like to cook with charcoal and mesquite, and I suppose that’s okay if you don’t mind polluting the atmosphere, destroying the ozone layer, and throwing away your children’s college fund on expensive carbon-based fuel.
Who do you think was our best president and why?
There can only be one answer to who our best president was: Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. They both stood up against the communist menace and protected free enterprise so that the rich could get richer and buy more propane.
Who are your heroes in Texas history?
Well, this may sound trite, but my heroes have always been Cowboysespecially during the sixties, when I could name every player on the team. Of course, back then, players didn’t hop around like these free agents today. If you were drafted a Cowboy, you stayed a Cowboy until you retired or they carried your remains off the field. My other Texas heroes are Willie Nelson, Bum Phillips, all those guys who died at the Alamo, and of course, our town namesake, Leland “Goose” Arlen. Senator Goose, as he liked to be called, was the Tri-County’s most distinguished legislator. He served forty years in the statehouse and, after his conviction, another ten in the big house. Most people remember him as a drunk, a womanizer, a liar, and a thief. But he was more than just a great Texas politician. He was also a man of vision: If he hadn’t bribed the Beltway Commission to build an exit ramp onto the land he swindled from the farmers, Arlen wouldn’t be here today. So he’ll always be a hero to us, and I’d say that even if I didn’t supply the propane for his eternal flame at the ROTC Veterans Cemetery.
As we enter the twenty-first century, what challenges do Texans face?
Killer bees, crabgrass, and finding a replacement for Troy Aikman.
How in the Sam Hill do you understand what Boomhauer is saying?
It’s not that hard, really. The trick to understanding Boomhauer is to listen to what he means, not what he says. And having a couple of beers under your belt doesn’t hurt either.