How ‘King of the Hill’s “Meet the Propaniacs” Accidentally Predicted Meme Culture

propaniacs-king-of-the-hillA recurring theme throughout King of the Hill‘s run is that Hank and Bobby had little in common. The show made it clear that the pair loved each other, but Hank could never quite relate to his son, and Bobby couldn’t help but find Hank’s love of propane woefully boring. Then, in season 4’s “Meet the Propaniacs,” Bobby’s love of comedy and Hank’s love of clean-burning fuel come together when the two start a sketch comedy group dedicated entirely to the subject of propane. After a riot nearly breaks out when Strickland runs out of grills at a big sale, Bobby saves the day with his improvisational comedy. Perhaps more importantly, he actually makes Hank laugh. Hank has never cared for Bobby’s humor before, but when Bobby finds a way to make it about propane, Hank is finally able to appreciate his son’s comedic talents.

Hank and Bobby join forces with a few other Strickland employees (and Dale on keyboards) to form the Propaniacs (Peggy insists on calling them the Propane Maniacs), a sketch troupe that travels to various Strickland locations, performing bits and sketches that relate exclusively to propane. The group is a hit, but they blow everything when they catch the ire of the commissioner of the Texas Propane Association (they didn’t know he wore diapers). Unable to perform for their niche market anymore, they try their act at a food court. Sadly, it bombs because none of the people there have any particular interest in propane, so the material is lost on them. It ends up not mattering much, because Hank is still cracking up from behind the curtain, but it does signal the end of the Propaniacs.

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When I think of this episode, I can’t help but think of the equally hyper-specific memes that clog my Facebook feed. My high school friends become mechanics and nurses, and they invariably post memes that relate directly to their field — and exclusively to their field. I have no chance of relating to the humor being presented here, but it doesn’t matter, because a handful of that person’s Facebook friends will be in on the joke, and that makes it worthwhile, even if most of us will scroll past the meme without giving it a second thought.

In this sense, “Meet the Propaniacs” can’t help but feel surprisingly prescient. When it aired 17 years ago, that kind of niche comedy didn’t exist. If you wanted humor about your specific hobby or vocation, you had little recourse but to joke around with your buddies. Now, no matter what your interest is, there are hundreds of dank memes that relate to it waiting for you. Right now, the Nursing Memes page has over 95,000 likes, while a group called Mechanic and Car Memes is closing in on 400,000 members. The majority of Facebook users likely won’t get the jokes presented by these pages, but that doesn’t matter, because they have enough fans to be extremely popular, anyway. So, perhaps Hank and Bobby’s problem wasn’t that there was no audience for the gas-related gags of the Propaniacs, but rather, they were over 15 years before their time.

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