James Patterson for The New York Times
The Robertsons, stars of “Duck Dynasty,” include, from above left: Phil, Jep, Si, Jase and Willie in West Monroe, La. Jase Robertson, left, with a duck call. More Photos »
WEST MONROE, La. — The moments before a religious service begins are generally ones of quiet reflection for the congregants, but on a recent Sunday at White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ here something incongruous was going on two-thirds of the way back in the spacious hall.
The man was Phil Robertson, who along with his heavily bearded sons is famous in this part of Louisiana and, increasingly, all over the country. The Robertson family’s duck-call-making business, Duck Commander, has been an evolving media phenomenon, beginning years ago with videos aimed at hunters, then becoming the subject of a show on the Outdoor Channel and last March moving up to the much bigger stage of A&E.
That A&E series, “Duck Dynasty,” begins its second season on Wednesday night, now firmly established as one of the quirkiest, most enjoyable reality shows on television. The Robertson clan — Phil and his wife, Kay; their sons; the sons’ wives; weird Uncle Si; even the grandchildren — all seem to have a natural gift for deadpan humor.
They are busting the image of what might collectively be called backwoods TV, the ever-growing list of reality shows about wrangling alligators and catfish and wild hogs. Where most of those shows are one-note and aggressively low brow, “Duck Dynasty” has a varied cast of characters who fit together seamlessly, and any idiocy is deliberate. Sure, making an impromptu duck pond in the warehouse loading dock, as some of the guys did in a Season 1 episode, might not have been the most productive use of time, but it was pretty funny. And the show always leaves you unclear whether the whole extended family is just pulling your leg.
“Duck Dynasty” is loosely centered on the Duck Commander business, which is headed by Willie Robertson, 39, the third of Phil and Kay’s four sons. Very little duck-call making actually takes place in any given episode. Instead the focus is likely to be some harebrained project instigated by Willie’s older brother Jase, or Phil’s obsession with ridding his land of beavers, or Kay’s determination to open a restaurant, or Uncle Si’s efforts to give driving pointers to a young member of the clan, or some similar bit of frivolousness. Willie, the only man with obvious business acumen, is forever exasperated by his inability to get Jase and the rest of the Duck Commander staff to stop goofing off, although he too has been known to shirk certain duties — for instance, blowing off a career-day appearance at his daughter’s school to accept a $ 100-a-hole golf challenge from Jase.
The show has gotten better as it has found its natural voice, which in large part has meant letting members of the Robertson family be themselves. David McKillop, A&E’s executive vice president for programming, said the first step was realizing that the clan deserved more than a simple hunting show, which is how the series was originally pitched.
“When we looked deeper into the story, what we found here was a very unusual family,” Mr. McKillop said. “Why waste it as a hunting show when in reality this was a great family show?”
Then came a process of learning to just turn on the cameras and let the Robertsons go.
“When we first met with the production company,” recalled Korie, Willie’s wife, “they had an intern give us kind of a script they had written that was going to look like our show, and it was just so not us. It was like, the wives get up and go chase the varmints; it was just total redneck. That is not us. That’s not the way we live.”
That’s not the way they live because everyone in this family is smart and equipped with a keen sense of how to mine a sort of self-deprecating wisdom from the redneck caricature. So now the producers might suggest ideas or setups to get things moving, but what happens next comes largely out of the Robertsons’ heads.
“I think Willie coined it: guided reality,” Jase said. “But all the stuff we say is — I don’t know if I can speak for everybody, but all the stuff I say, I just say what I normally say.”
To spend a Sunday afternoon with the extended family in Phil and Kay’s kitchen is to realize that, yes, what you see on television is what you get in real life. Phil really does sprinkle his conversation with the catchphrase “happy, happy, happy.” Si, Phil’s brother, really does have a penchant for saying the unexpected and outlandish. Willie and Jase really do trade barbs almost nonstop. The wives really do look considerably better and often sound considerably savvier than their husbands.
Robertson family members and their biographies
- Phil Alexander Robertson (born April 24, 1946): Created the Duck Commander duck call in 1972, and incorporated the Duck Commander Company in 1973.Phil has become a legend in Louisiana and in the duck-hunting world in general.He played college football at Louisiana Tech University, starting ahead of Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, and was drafted by the NFL after his junior year. He turned it down and quit football because it interfered with duck season, and he was not interested in having “large, violent… men chasing me trying to stomp me in the dirt”.Phil is known for his dislike of modern technology (he proudly admits that he does not own a cellphone or a computer) and his concern that his grandchildren are becoming “yuppies”.
- Marsha Kay “Miss Kay” Robertson (born December 21, 1950) is Phil’s wife. She married Phil at age 16. She is the mother of Alan (who previously worked with Duck Commander before becoming a ministerbut has since returned to the company; he is not featured on the show), Jase, Willie, and Jep. She loves cooking, so always has her entire family over for a home-cooked meal after a hard day’s work.(The meal setting is featured at the end of each episode, with Phil praying beforehand and Willie talking about the events of the episode).
- Silas Merritt “Si” Robertson (born April 27, 1948) is Phil’s youngest brother, a Vietnam War veteran. He works at Duck Commander, making the reeds that go into every duck call.Si is known for his storytelling, his constant use of the phrase “Hey!” and his ever-present green plastic cup, which his mother sent him while he was stationed in Vietnam.
- Willie Jess Robertson (born April 22, 1972): The third son of Phil and Miss Kay, and CEO of Duck Commander. He used his business degree (Harding University) to take Duck Commander from a family business to a multi-million dollar empire.He is married to Korie Robertson, and they have five children. Willie does the majority of the narration on the show.
- Korie Robertson (née Howard) (born October 24, 1973): is Willie’s wife and business partner. She also graduated from Harding University. She is the office manager of Duck Commander. Korie and Willie have known one another since she was in 3rd grade, and he was in 4th grade. They married on January 11, 1992 when they were 18 (Korie) and 19 (Willie).They have five children: John Luke, Sadie, an adopted son named Will (called “Lil Will” on the show), Bella, and an exchange daughter from Taiwan named Rebecca.
- Jason Silas “Jase” Robertson (born August 19, 1969) is Willie’s brother (the second-oldest of Phil and Miss Kay’s sons) and is in charge of the manufacturing aspects of Duck Commander. Along with other employees, Jase tunes the duck calls by hand. Many of the episodes feature the laid-back, self-professed redneck Jase doing something to aggravate the gung-ho, business-savvy Willie (such as turning a warehouse cleaning into a ping-pong battle).
- Missy Robertson (born in 1973) is Jase’s wife. She is often seen helping Korie and Miss Kay with ideas to expand the Duck Commander women’s line. Missy and Jase have three children: Reed, Cole, and Mia.
Reed Robertson was born on January 24th, in the year 1995.
Cole Robertson was born in 1998
Jules Jeptha “Jep” Robertson (born in 1991 ) is Phil and Miss Kay’s youngest son. He currently films and edits DVDs of the Robertson family hunting for enthusiasts worldwide and is often seen at Duck Commander and at family dinners. He is married to Jessica and they have four kids.
- Jessica Robertson is Jep’s wife. She is often seen helping Korie and Miss Kay with ideas to expand the Duck Commander women’s line. Jessica and Jep have four children: Lily, Merritt, Priscilla, and River.
Robertson Family Tree
Other cast members
- Justin Martin is an employee of Duck Commander; he is often given grief over his large figure.
- John Godwin is an employee at Duck Commander. He has worked at Duck Commander since 2002, mainly building duck calls, managing supplies, and overseeing the shipping department as well as being the decoy technician.
- “Mountain Man” (real name: Tim Guraedy) is a neighbor, and is the only semi-regular cast member who is not a Duck Commander employee (he operates his own air-conditioning repair business and co-hosts a local radio talk show on KXKZ). He is known for talking very slowly. His real name has never been used on the show.
- Linda Hammitt is a secretary at Duck Commander.
- “Jimmy Red” is a family friend, featured on a few early episodes.
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