The ‘King of the Hill’ Episode With the Least Laughs Is the One Where Bobby Tries Too Hard to Be Funny

The ‘King of the Hill’ Episode With the Least Laughs Is the One Where Bobby Tries Too Hard to Be Funny

Any late-season sitcom is bound to wade into some unconventional plot lines, but, man, I don’t think any King of the Hill fans pre-2005 thought the show would ever resort to devoting entire episodes to extended slams on commedia dell’arte.

At the end of the day, picking the least funny King of the Hill episode is a lot like choosing the worst football player in the NFL — whatever you choose will still be leagues better than the vast majority of alternatives. Though King of the Hill’s quality certainly waned in its final few seasons before cancellation, it never dropped to the level that, upon its ending post-Season 13, the plug-pulling felt like a mercy kill. And unlike some other animated comedies about white, middle-class families on Fox, King of the Hill never fell too far into the trap of Flanderization, or the tendency of writing rooms on late-season comedies to hyper-focus on one or two established traits for a character and escalate them to obnoxious extremes — though King of the Hill certainly got close a couple of times.

Bobby Hill’s affinity for comedy is one of his core motivations throughout King of the Hill, but in Season 10, it took center stage in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Clown” when Hank encouraged Bobby to enroll in a pretentious clowning class at the local community college. In the King of the Hill subreddit, some fans recently labeled this dud as “one of the worst King of the Hill episodes ever” — but at least it’s funnier than French mimes.

“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Clown” revolves around the relationship between Bobby and his domineering and pedantic clowning mentor Professor Twilley, played by Paul F. Tompkins in what was one of the first of many voice acting gigs the BoJack Horseman star would go on to score. Professor Twilley teaches a hyper-intellectualized, philosophically focused and entirely tedious method of humor, and Bobby’s eagerness to entertain coupled with his naiveté leads him to devote himself to the study of stuffy European clown practices, including commedia dell’arte, an early form of improvised comedy that was popular throughout Italy starting in the 16th century.

While the episode’s writers clearly had an ax to grind with some past theater teacher who bored them with lessons from Jacques Lecoq or Philippe Gaulier, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Clown” ironically made the same mistakes as Bobby did in the episode in assuming that anyone not already familiar with antiquated forms of comedy would find any jokes about it funny. 

Still, that doesn’t mean this episode is all bad. It did give us one of the most quintessential Hank Hill quotes in existence when, as Hank arrived at the dinner table early in the episode, he announced, “I thought I smelled corn, and this confirms it.”


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