You know you're on a hit TV show when... more than 26 million people tune in for its premiere, making it the most-watched series debut on any network in eight and a half years. TV Guide spoke with redneck comic and Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? host Jeff Foxworthy about the secrets of the Fox quizzer's success. (5th Grader next airs Thursday at 8 pm/ET.)
TV Guide: Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader is getting huge ratings. Are you surprised?
I feel like Cinderella. I'm used to having shows that the network tries to keep a secret, so this is really weird for them to actually be plugging me.
TV Guide: Why do you think producer Mark Burnett chose a blue-collar redneck like you to host a game show?
Last year, someone was trying to bring back Kids Say the Darndest Things, and I ran the show a couple of times. Mark Burnett saw it and said to me [affecting a heavy Australian accent], "You are so American." I was like, "I don't know what that means, but thank you." In this crazy business, I've hopefully been able to retain some normalcy. People think they know me.
TV Guide: Did they give you a pop quiz for the audition?
I think they knew I was an idiot going in, and I don't ever pretend to be Alex Trebek. I find that I'm right about 40 percent of the time. And only then because it's something that I've helped my kids study for.
TV Guide: Would your 12- and 15-year-old daughters whip your butt on this show?
We were sitting together watching it last night, and as soon as I asked a question, they would blurt out the answer, and immediately it was like, "Did you know that, Daddy?" And I'm like, "No, but I'm still the leader of this house!"
TV Guide: What kind of a student were you?
I always made As and Bs, but every comment on my report card said, "Jeff talks too much in class." In fact, the best note I ever got backstage at a stand-up show was from my high-school principal, who said, "I can't believe I'm shelling out money to hear the same kind of junk I used to try to put a stop to." I was in his office two times a week, and he would always say to me, "What do you think you are, a comedian?" Well, apparently I am.
TV Guide: What's been one of the show's dumbest moments?
One of the questions was a first-grade art question: "If you mix red and blue together, what color do you get?" And the adult said, "Brown." I'm thinking you really need to be on display at a state fair somewhere. You're making me feel better about my family.
TV Guide: Is the show a commentary on the state of our national IQ?
No. The stuff on this show — we deleted that file [from our brains] 30 years ago. I don't know why, 30 years later, I still know all the words to Gilligan's Island, but I have chosen to delete anything I ever knew about triangles.
TV Guide: What else do you have going on these days?
I just finished the third volume of The Redneck Dictionary. Nos. 1 and 2 were on the New York Times best-seller list, which I'm pretty sure is a sign of the apocalypse. And I'm down to the last page of a children's book. It's the hardest thing I've ever written because you have to make yourself be 4 years old.
TV Guide: So are you, in fact, smarter than a fifth grader?
[Sighs] No, I'm not. Well, maybe I am because I'm actually doing the same things I did in the fifth grade, and now I'm getting paid for it. I'm getting paid to make the class laugh.