Over the years, South Park has set the gold standard of offensive material on TV. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have refined controversy to an art form, much to the horror of parental watch groups everywhere. No subject is too taboo for their wicked brand of satire and no celebrity is safe from their wrath. Just ask Paris Hilton. Well, actually, don't. She thinks it was all a form of flattery.
Amazingly, the well hasn't even come close to running dry. South Park is not the phenomenon it once was, but it has quietly found a niche, recently surpassing 100 episodes. For those who've kept up, the show is as biting as it's ever been. It's almost like, as people have stopped worrying so much about what they're doing on South Park, Trey and Matt are pushing the limit even further.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone are easy to dismiss as immature morons and many surely do. The truth is they are exceptionally smart and the humor on South Park (for my money, still one of the best shows on TV) is clever and even thought provoking. Yes, that's what I said, thought provoking.
I had the rare treat of talking with Trey Parker and Matt Stone earlier this week over cocktails at the swanky Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica. As proven by the shows they've created and movies like Orgazmo and Team America, Trey and Matt aren't afraid of anything or anyone. We spoke to them about a wide range of topics, from the timeliness of South Park episodes to exactly what they were thinking the day they wore Gwenyth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez's dresses to the Oscars.
Q: Who's on your celebrity s**t list this week?
TREY PARKER: I think by now, after nine years of South Park and after this movie, I think just about everyone, or we're on their s**t list.
MATT STONE: No one's on our s**t list. We're on everyone else's s**t list. I went to a couple Academy Awards parties and I was definitely like, 'Whoa, no one will talk to me.'
PARKER: I almost bumped into Alec Baldwin and then turned around and Paris Hilton was standing there. And I was like, 'Look, it's stupid spoiled whore.'
Q: She says she's flattered.
STONE: That shows just how f***ed up she is. That's terrible that she's flattered by it.
Q: Will there ever be a proper DVD of the South Park movie?
STONE: Well, the thing about the South Park movie is there doesn't exist any deleted scenes; there's no other materials. So the only thing we could do for another DVD is a commentary.
PARKER: But we also hate that idea of, 'Let's put out this edition and try to make more money.'
Q: Weren't there deleted scenes in the trailer?
STONE: Maybe a shot or two here and there, but they don't exist anywhere. I think the whole deleted scene thing is weird because you delete scenes because they suck for the most part. I know they're an extra thing, but the South Park movie, the way we did that movie with computer animation, you just don't have a lot of deleted scenes. Or we had some scenes in the South Park movie that it's the same exact scene but with a different setting. In other words, what happened at the PTA meeting, originally the scene was outside. It's the same scene, they're just standing out on the street.
PARKER: I don't think it would be that interesting.
Q: Do you have interest in doing another South Park movie?
STONE: If we had an idea.
PARKER: Everything's idea based. We just promised ourselves we'd never make a movie for the sake of making a movie, which is why we never took a multi-picture deal or anything. If we have a great idea, we'll go, 'Oh, this could be a cool movie.' Or really for us, it's more like, 'Oh, this is a really bad idea. Let's do this. This seems really stupid.'
Q: On Team America, the MPAA freaked over the sex scene, but yet they almost always seem to disregard the violence.
PARKER: It was exactly the same on the South Park movie really too. There's lots of violence in that too, but it always came down to anything sexual… They don't care about anything else.
STONE: No, they don't care about violence.
Q: Have people given up on responding to things you do on episodes, like Terry Schiavo?
STONE: We got positive response from that because of the timeliness. No, I think we've kind of marked our territory. I mean, it's amazing – when we go back and look at the first season, which is now nine years ago, which got us on the cover of Newsweek; all this stuff was like, 'Oh my God, it's the end of civilization, here comes South Park.' And now those episodes are so tame by comparison.
Q: We don't hear as much of people's outrage.
STONE: They know. If you get mad at South Park, people go, 'Oh, whatever, South Park.' We've marked our space and it's not something that's... you stay away from it if you're sensitive to it. If you're into it, then you're into it.
Q: Where do you get your news from?
STONE: Pretty much the Internet, pretty much exclusively, which is why I don't know anything.
Q: What news sources do you trust?
STONE: I go to the regular stuff, CNN.com, check it out.
PARKER: Yeah, because we like to read it and be skeptical about it.
STONE: I think you need to be. I just get my news from the Internet.
Q: Are you surprised you've become icons for satire?
STONE: Yeah, because the first time I think I ever heard the word satire was somebody saying, 'Oh, you guys do satire' and I was like, 'What's that?' Since, we've discovered what it is.
PARKER: It's funny because I think a lot of it is simply… We've never considered ourselves satirists, but because we're on Comedy Central and because we're South Park on Comedy Central, we can do any topic we want. There is nothing we can't do. So it's just the fact that we're doing topics like that that other people, especially network TV, won't touch, that we're satirists.
STONE: I think we feel like it's a whole big fertile ground that other people should be exploiting, but they just don't. And we keep thinking those people are going to figure it out. You know what I mean? It's right there. You guys can make fun of it too. But just no one else will. I kind of feel lucky.
Q: Ever get confronted, besides Sean Penn?
PARKER: Sean Penn's really the only one stupid enough to put anything down on paper. It was hysterical... Matt showed me the letter, he's like, 'Dude, check this out' and he's laughing his a** off. And I read it and I'm like, 'You wrote this.' He said, 'No, no, no. Sean Penn really wrote this.'
STONE: We got the letter the day before, like he wrote a letter to us, but it had a PR fax, it had a PR company's phone number at the top. I got it the day before and I was like, 'Oh, wow. Sean Penn sent us a letter.' And we were reading it and we were like, 'This doesn't really sound like it's really to us. It sounds like it's to the world.'
PARKER: But before the movie came out, he had only heard about it. And he didn't realize in writing the letter he was saying the things he says in the movie. He was like, 'I've been to Iraq and I'll take you there.' That's all he does in the movie. 'I've been to Iraq so I know everything.'
STONE: Most people are pretty [cool]. Even celebrities, most people have a sense of humor. Most of the people we meet who we've done on the show, like it.
PARKER: The people who've come out, it's pretty amazing. I just recently got a letter from Stephen Sondheim saying it's one of his favorite movies of all time. We just got a letter from Russell Crowe saying he loved it. Elton John.
Q: Why does Trey always direct?
STONE: Because he's the director. You would not want to see a movie I directed.
PARKER: Everything, the way that Matt and I have done stuff from the beginning is, whether there'll be different people involved in South Park or whatever, but it's always been, in terms of directing/producing, it's really been sort of a director/producer relationship in terms of that side of it. In terms of the creative side of it, it's really been a thing where you come up with the funny stuff is usually at a bar or out talking to people or whatever. And then we'll sit around and talk about it because that's where it's really come about it. Talk about it, talk about it, and then I physically go write it and come up with the dialogue, and come up with the structure of the scene.
STONE: And then we change it. And then you write it again, and you change it and you write it again, you change it and write it again. But to us, its always made sense because when we came into town, we've always been this way, you just get it done. So a lot of times it's a co-writer kind of relationship. A lot of it is a producer/director relationship. But always Trey's the director basically. It's not some weird backroom deal.
Q: How often do you scrap an episode to do something more timely?
PARKER: It happened with the Terry Schiavo [episode]. We had an idea, and it ended up being the last show of the run, which was Jimmy getting an erection for the first time. And we were going on that, and I remember I came to the table and said, 'This thing is huge. We have this idea, the Jimmy thing, to fall back on. But let's spend an hour and a half of this meeting,' because this is Thursday, the show's going on the air Wednesday. 'Let's spend an hour and a half, see if we can't come up with a sweet idea for the Terry Schiavo thing.' And it just sort of all came out. Within an hour and a half, we were like, 'This is a great idea. We've got to do this.'
STONE: You could really do that every week but we try to just do it when it's really big.
PARKER: But it was pretty brutal. Then we went out to the animators, the lead animators like, 'We're going to do the battle between heaven and hell.' And they're like, 'What?'
Q: Was there already a PSP Heaven/Hell thing?
STONE: It all came out of just combining things. It also is like you have to make an episode that is viewable in five years too. As much as we try to make it timely, we also try to make a story that if you didn't know who Terry Schiavo was, it would be a cool episode to watch. So it's not quite just like, I mean, the real timely stuff is more the Letterman/ Leno, that's more their territory. We try to just take something that's going on and make this whole thing. I think that's kind of what makes those things impressive is like, 'Wow, that looks like something that could come out anytime and it just happens to do with this week.' It's not just like Terry Schiavo jokes, like Late Night in an animated form.
Q: Was there really going to be a Lemmywinks episode or was that a joke?
PARKER: There really was a Lemmywinks debacle. There's been many times we tried to fall back on it. We started this Lemmywinks thing.
STONE: We keep thinking Lemmywinks is going to be the best episode ever. We keep starting it.
PARKER: We got into it. We created all these other characters. It was going to be an Easter episode actually, a year ago. And it was gonna be that the Easter Bunny had been found dead with his balls stuffed down his throat. So all the critters of the forest got together and said 'We need a new critter to be the new Easter critter' and they voted on the Gerbil King and they go to find the gerbil king and we're like, 'This is great…'
STONE: [We had] this entire mythology figured out and everything…
PARKER: The badger prince was, of course, the backhanded one going, 'You'll never make it, Lemmywinks,' but Lemmywinks was never doing anything, just sitting there being a gerbil. And we started animating it and it's just one of those shows that happens. You start animating it and you get to Friday and you get to Saturday and you go, 'This is not funny, like we haven't figured something out, scrap it.' What actually ended up happening is we scrapped it and said, 'Okay, oh my God, it's Saturday, now we're really screwed. We've got four days to come up with an episode. Let's just do something simple on, like, Michael Jackson.' And we did a Michael Jackson episode that people ended up totally loving.
STONE: Luckily, Michael Jackson molested those boys so we had some good fodder. Luckily. That was fortunate for us.
Q: That could be a good DVD extra, the half of a Lemmywinks episode.
PARKER: Believe me, we still have it in the computer to fall back on at some point. It actually sort of became this episode that we did last Fall that became Critter Christmas.
Q: Why do you come out in these weird five and six episode segments and what denotes a season?
STONE: It's just Comedy Central. Now we do seven or eight episodes in the Spring and seven or eight episodes in the Winter. You know, it's been pretty regular for three years and it will be that way for the future. That's just Comedy Central.
PARKER: We used to do runs where it was like a string of four and then five and whatever. Now we have this very structured thing because two years ago we went to Comedy Central and said, 'We need big blocks of time in the summer to go make a movie' because we wanted to make this puppet movie, so we needed a big, huge chunk and now we have that chunk open every year to go make something else if we want. Or to go hang out in Europe and drink.
Q: Are you surprised which South Park characters took off like Butters and Jimmy and which fell by the wayside like Pip and Tweek?
PARKER: No, not at all.
STONE: There are good characters and bad characters.
PARKER: It's been a fascinating thing because we didn't really know how to write when we started South Park at all. It's been like, we've just sort of grown up a bit and it's amazing to just see how, if you take Butters and Cartman and put them in any scene, it works. It's this simple law, which every writer knows, of taking two opposites and putting them in a room together. I love anything with Cartman and Butters at the same time, it's great.
Q: Has there ever been any plans to put together a set of the South Park music?
PARKER: Yeah, actually, there may be one next Christmas actually. Just because, right after the South Park movie, we did this Christmas album that was called Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics and we really loved that album... We made this really dumb decision to put on the cover nothing from South Park but just a real life photo of a piece of pooh dressed up like Mr. Hankey, and a lot of people didn't, they didn't even know what it was. So we really feel like there's some great songs on there that should be heard by all. So we're considering doing a new Christmas album, because there's been Christmas episodes since then, and maybe finally do the version of "The Most Offensive Song Ever" with lyrics in tact.
Q: Who is supposed to be the special celebrity guest on "Lonely Jew" on that album?
PARKER: Neil Diamond.
Q: Did you use same development writing the songs for the South Park movie as the action scenes in Team America?
PARKER: No, writing musicals is the hardest thing in the world. And it was really funny, because I remember when the South Park movie came out, there were some critics that said, 'Well it's obvious that in order to get it to be 90 minutes they filled some time with music.'
STONE: Time fillers.
PARKER: It was just like, that is by far the hardest thing to do…
Q: Even using the Disney format?
PARKER: Yeah, to some degree, because not only that, but it's got to be funny. You know? And not only that, but you want it to move the story forward or tell you something about, you know, there's a lot of movies that try to do the music, like a Michael Bay thing, where it's just like 'Here now we're just going to do this MTV sequence and play this cool song.' You know, and it really doesn't have a lot to do with the movie. That's the trick to doing a good musical is that, if you take that music number out, there's less to the movie there. You would miss it.
Q: Do you have a favorite musical?
PARKER: My favorite musical? I don't. It changes all the time. I'm just a diehard, I'm totally old school, like I'll sit and watch, if they are re-doing Oklahoma in New York, I will be the first one there. No, I don't think it's my favorite. You know what, I'm totally cheesy too, I love Les Miserables. There I said it, it's on tape.
STONE: I think the South Park movie. Yeah. Although, you know what, Avenue Q. Avenue Q is about one of the best things I've ever seen. I think Avenue Q is totally brilliant.
Q: How drunk were you guys the day you wore dresses to the Oscars?
STONE: We weren't drunk at all, we were on acid.
PARKER: We were on acid that day. And not that we take, because we don't take a lot…
STONE: That's the last time I ever took it.
PARKER: That was the last time I've taken acid. And we hadn't done it for a few years before that, but that seemed like the right time to do it.
Q: Would you ever do something PG-13?
PARKER: My fear is that, as soon as I get married and have kids that I'll kind of do what a lot of people do and suddenly start making, 'Now I'm gonna make films for kids.' I really hope I don't do that. If I do that, kick me out of this town will ya?
Q: Would you let kids watch your work?
PARKER: I would let my kids watch this stuff way before I'd let them watch something like Full House that I think would make them stupid. (Laughs)
Q: What's Dian Bachar up to?
PARKER: I think he's working at a video store.
STONE: Sleeping on a couch in some kind of…
PARKER: He's still just a piece of s**t…
STONE: Being weird and creepy.
Q: When did you give up ideas for a That's My Bush movie?
PARKER: When we realized no one would make it.
STONE: It was a futile waste of time, I don't know.
PARKER: George Bush and the Legend of the Glass Tiger.
Q: Will That's My Bush ever make it to DVD?
PARKER: I hope so. I think it should. I thought it was a good show. Is that coming out on DVD? Yeah, I think they're working on it.
Q: Do you have any ideas for the upcoming season of South Park or is this too early?
PARKER: Dude, that's like October. We don't even, we have no idea…
STONE: I don't even know if I'll be alive then.
[ source: IGN ]