It started without much fanfare on a Wednesday night in August 1997. A new animated series debuted on Comedy Central - but this was animation that gloried in its crudeness, animation created not with computer programs but with construction paper, scissors and glue. On the screen, four primitive creations - third graders, they were supposed to be - stood around a bus stop talking. One of them called another a dildo. When somebody asked, "What's a dildo?" a kid in an orange parka explained - but his parka was pulled so tightly around his face that you couldn't understand a word he said. When the most obnoxious of the four (Eric Cartman, a hefty kid who insists, "I'm not fat, I'm big-boned!") told about a dream he'd had of alien visitors, the other kids decided that aliens had abducted Cartman and given him an anal probe - or as one of them delicately explained it, "Aliens stuck stuff up your ass!"
That was the beginning of South Park, and the beginning of an un expected ride that has been by turns gratifying, infuriating and remunerative beyond the wildest imaginings of the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. A five-minute animated short they created as a lark turned into an unlikely television show; that show turned into a huge hit, and one of those pop-culture litmus tests that come along only every few years.
In South Park, the kids have foul mouths but (mostly) good hearts as they try to cope with the outlandish, the insane and the offensive. The show slams celebrities and celebrity, it pushes every hot button it can, and it borrows from the cut-and-paste animation style of Monty Python's Terry Gilliam to be as profoundly low-tech as possible. (Computers now do the work, but Parker and Stone are determined not to alter the show's crappy look.) South Park also happens to be as hilarious a half hour as can be found on television, and it has put Comedy Central on the map and made stars out of Parker and Stone- who reaffirmed their clout with last summer's movie South Park: Bigger Longer and Un cut. They also became two of the first film-makers to sign lucrative Internet contracts. Their new deal with Shockwave.com gave them a large equity stake in the company.
In all matters South Park, the two men are inseparable. But there are differences: Parker who turned 30 last October is the tall blond one who does the voices of Cartman, Stan and Mr. Garrison, among others; Stone, 29, is even taller, the afroed one whose voices include Kyle and Kenny. Parker is the inveterate filmmaker who has been heading for a showbiz career since he was in high school; Stone is the buddy who's gotten sidetracked, swept up by and sucked into his pal's passions.
They both grew up in Colorado, in the suburbs near Denver. Parker was raised in Conifer, a mountain community outside Denver; Stone was born in Texas but raised in Littleton. Parker made movies on the week-ends from the time he was 14, was active in his school's choir and theater department, and wrote and recorded an album of funny rock songs while in high school. Stone, meanwhile, was a math prodigy of sorts in grade school and high school.
The two met in film class at the University of Colorado. Students were required to work on one another's projects. Invariably, Parker and Stone would gravitate toward each other and spend the time doing funny voices and talking about future projects. While in school, they made a full-length musical about Colorado pioneer Alfred Packer who was convicted of cannibalism; Parker wrote, directed and starred in Cannibal: The Musical while Stone produced it. They figured they'd sell the video rights to the movie (which is completely amateurish, surprisingly charming and funny, and stupid in just about equal measure) for $1 million or so, pocket the $900,000 profit and wake another movie. Instead, they found themselves with a little industry heat after some guerrilla screenings of the film at the Sundance Film Festival, so they came to Los Angeles and in short order acquired a lawyer, an agent and a script deal with high-powered producer Scott Rudin. The next couple of years consisted of lots of promises but little else. One fan, then-20th Century Fox executive Brian Graden, threw them $1200 to make a video Christmas card he planned to send to friends and business associates.
Besides featuring a battle between Santa Claus and Jesus for dominion over Christmas, the video introduced the animation style and main characters that would become South Park. Graden thought the hysterical but scatological piece was too rude to send to business associates, but he mailed it to a few friends, and bootleg copies started showing up all across Hollywood. On the basis of the video, Parker and Stone made a pilot episode for Comedy Central: when the network waft fled, they went off to make Orgazmo, about a Mormon porn star. While they were shooting that movie, South Park was picked up.
Throughout the fall and winter of 1997- 1998, the buzz grew. So did the ratings: One week South Park would be Comedy Central's highest-rated show of the week, the next it'd be the highest-rated show in the network's history, the next week it'd be the highest-rated show on basic cable, then it would beat one of the broadcast network's Wednesday night offerings – and so on.
The perks, they learned, were great. Parker and Stone went to the 1998 Super Bowl courtesy of Comedy Central and watched their beloved Denver Broncos win. They also met idols like Elton John, Robert Smith of the Cure, and the members of Monty Python. During a party at the Playboy Mansion to celebrate the release of Orgazmo, Metallica played for them in a tent set up on the grounds.
The growth couldn't continue, and it didn't. Ratings began to slip in the 1998- 1999 season, while many critics dismissed the show as a fad that had run its course. It didn't help that Parker's and Stone's major- studio acting debuts in BASEketball (which they'd agreed to do figuring that South Park would long since have been canceled) were widely panned and that the film did little business. It got to the point they say, where the summer movie previews all said essentially the same thing: "Star Wars Episode One: The Force is with it! The Spy Who Shagged Me: It's shagadelic! The South Park movie: who cares?"
But when the dust had cleared, South Park: Bigger; Longer and Uncut opened to much bigger business than expected, and to far better reviews. The New York Film Critics Circle voted it the year's best animated film, the LA Film Critics Association gave Parker and composer Marc Shaiman an award for the year's best score, and no less an authority than Stephen Sondheim sent Parker a letter congratulating him on creating the best musical in years. (This from a work whose songs include the deliriously obscene Uncle Fucka, the inspirational What Would Brian Boitano Do? and the Oscar-nominated Blame Canada.)
Previously sure that they'd be thrown out of Hollywood after making the movie, Parker and Stone were instead reinvigorated by the reception. They took a short break, then threw themselves back into South Park episodes, hoping to make the new season their best yet. And after years of dividing their time between television, movies and music (they've made three South Park-related albums, and they have their own band, DVDA), they've focused their efforts on the television show.
To catch up with the overworked bad boys, we sent freelance writer Steve Pond, who first interviewed Parker and Stone for PLAYBOY during the initial season of South Park. His report:
"From the start, Parker and Stone displayed their usual disregard for the niceties of showbiz etiquette. They gleefully showed off the bad scripts and pathetic pitch letters that had been sent their way, tried to give me gifts that had been presented to them by Comedy Central and never let diplomacy get in the way of a good anecdote. And when an assistant asked if they wanted lunch before we sat down for one of our sessions, they opted for takeout from two joints that don't register on the list of Hollywood power dining spots: Trey asked for an Enchirito from Taco Bell while Matt requested an In-N-Out burger.
"We conducted the interviews in their office at the South Park headquarters, a brick building in an office complex on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Inside, the walls are painted in a Polynesian jungle decor, cardboard cutouts of the South Park characters hang over the cubicles, and the office that Parker and Stone share is an actual hut - a one room structure in a corner of the warehouse with stucco walls, a thatched roof and bam boo window frames. Amid a haphazard jumble of South Park merchandise, musical instruments and other paraphernalia of the creative life, the two gleefully profane (but decidedly moral) provocateurs go about the business of upsetting as many applecarts as they possibly can."
PLAYBOY: In recent episodes of South Park, Rod Stewart, Andy Dick and Sally Struthers have joined the long list of celebrities you've made fun of. How many of those people do you hear from?
PARKER: A lot of them. We're almost at the point where we know what will happen. We'll rip on someone, and the next day we'll get a call from their publicist saying, "So-and-so saw the show last night and just loved it, and really loves South Park and you guys. Thank you."
PLAYBOY: Do you buy it?
PARKER: They're trying to put out a fire, you know? Because they know they can call and say, "Fuck you," and then we'll rip on them more. Or they can say they love the show, thinking we'll be like, OK, that's cool, let's leave 'em alone. And it usually works. Because except for Barbara Streisand, there's really no one we rip on because we hate them. We really are just deconstructing stardom. That's why it's just any random celebrity - we don't go for the Backstreet Boys, because that's too easy.
PLAYBOY: But they can still sit at home and think ---
PARKER: Why do they hate me? But it's even funnier when there's no reason to rip on them. We're not saying fuck that person, we're saying fuck stardom, fuck actors and actresses being touted as kings and queens. That's really what the show's about. Except for Barbara Streisand.
PLAYBOY: Why Barbara Streisand?
PARKER: It's a Colorado thing. In the early Nineties there was this whole Ammendment Two [an antigay amendment] thing in Colorado. It was a big fuckup, and it turned out later that half the state didn't even know what the law was saying; they thought no meant yes and yes meant no. It was very confusing. But when it passed, Barbara Streisand went on one of her big crusades, because she's got a fucking $4 million condo in Aspen. She goes, "I am boycotting Colorado." And we were all like, "Fuck, yeah. Get your fucking ass out of Aspen.
STONE: She said, "If you don't change the law, I am never coming back to the state again." And it wasn't said like, "I'm not coming back because of this and this and this" It was like, "If they don't do something, they're going to lose me.
PARKER: She fucking sucks, man. When we did Spooky Vision, that was the best. We did a Halloween episode, and all week we advertised, "Spooky Vision, Spooky Vision. All Spooky Vision was, is that in every corner of the TV you saw Barbara Streisand's face.
PLAYBOY: Speaking of celebrities you've ripped, you recently went to the Sundance Film Festival, where your band, DVDA, played a song called Robert Redford Fucks Babies in honor of Sundance's founder. Was that really necessary?
PARKER: Why the fuck not, man? The thing is, he started it. I've been to Sundance nine years in a row now, starting when we were film students who would drive there and sleep on the floor and try to make connections. We made a feature in college and sent it to Sundance and it got rejected. But after South Park, Sundance wanted to show our films. And we were like, "Where were you when we fucking needed you?"
STONE: The first year we went, Reality Bites was at Sundance. We were in this bar, and Danny DeVito and Winona Ryder were there. And we felt like, Why the fuck are you here?
PARKER: Sundance should be for 23 year olds who go there with a film from college and no other way of getting it seen, not for Ryder's latest film because they can get her to show up. So we talked about that to the press, and we went to Sundance every year to sort of stir shit up. And then last year our friend Jason started Lapdance, where you watch a short film and you get a lap dance while you're watching. The press interviewed Robert Redford and misinterpreted it and said that Lapdance was our thing, and they asked how he felt about that.
STONE: He said we were the lowest of the low. We're filmmakers, just like he is. Why are we the lowest of the low? We're not the ones who are putting out the Sundance fucking pottery catalog. I mean, he might have started the thing with the best intentions, but now it's just grown into this big fat pig. Basically, it's a bunch of people going, "Isn't this awesome? We make films and we're rich and we're in the snow."
PLAYBOY: So you put Redford in an episode of South Park.
PARKER: Yeah. We had him bring his festival to South Park, and then he drowned in shit. That's probably why he's a little upset. I think he was pissed off, too, because we drew him with a big, pockmarked, wrinkled pizza face.
PLAYBOY: Your career has been full of controversy. Didn't Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butthead, sit you down when you were starting out and tell you what was going to happen?
PARKER: Yep. And it has followed that completely.
STONE: Almost exactly.
PARKER: He said, "There's going to be this big rise, and then everyone will hate you. You just ride it out and do your job, and you're just a show." And we're finally there, because of the movie. Before the movie we were crashing down, and now we've leveled out. It's a good place to be, because there's not as much pressure. Once you go up and down, you realize it's all a bunch of bullshit.
STONE: The hype is bullshit, the crash is bullshit. Now we just sit around and do the show.
PLAYBOY: But the show's ratings are down quite a bit from the first season.
STONE: The whole thing about the ratings drop is bullshit too. They took the highest-rated show ever, when we revealed who Cartman's father was, which got astronomical numbers. But also, that was when we were on the cover of Rolling Stone, we were on the cover of Newsweek and we had a huge article in Time. We were the thing for that month, right? And that kind of press buys you numbers. There were a lot of people watching the show who probably had no business seeing it. So now we're back down. It still gets great ratings for Comedy Central, makes them tons of ad money.
PLAYBOY: Is the process of fame really as predictable as Judge makes it sound?
PARKER: Oh yeah. I was just watching the Behind the Music marathon on VH1, and it's so funny how everyone goes through exactly the same shit.
STONE: Except for "Weird Al" Yankovic. You see "Weird Al's"?
STONE: "Weird Al" is like, “Nope, I'm a pretty happy guy. Nothing's really going on-“
PARKER: See, that's why they can't do one on us. Because it would be like, "And then they started taking drugs, and things got a lot better" [Laughs]
STONE: "And then they made a lot of money, and they took more drugs-"
PARKER: "And now they're happier"
PLAYBOY: Maybe you owe your future biographers a resounding crash.
PARKER: We're waiting for that. I had a friend who went to work on Behind the Music, and he said that the stretch from the 30-minute mark to the 45-minute mark is called the Price of Fame. And whatever it is, they gotta find the POP. Our POP is coming, and I'm really nervous about what it's going to be.
PLAYBOY: At this point, what has been the biggest price of fame for you?
PARKER: The hardest time for me was a period from about April of last year until the movie came out. We were way over worked doing the series and the movie at the same time. But more important, it was the most stressed out I've ever been because that's when all the critics started saying, "South Park is over the ratings are down, it's over." They were saying, "Oh, they're making a movie, but the show's over, the movie's going to suck, who cares?" I'd like to say it didn't bother me, fuck the press and everything, but I can’t. It was hard, because we knew this movie had better fucking rock.
STONE: You start to doubt it. You think, God, maybe this is a dumb idea for a movie. But in a weird way, that might have helped the movie be better, because we were angry. I really felt it was our suicide note. We felt like, they're going to cancel the show after this movie comes out, but we're going to fucking do it our way. It'll be a big middle finger to Hollywood, and then everyone will hate us and we'll go back to Colorado.
PARKER: That was totally the idea.
STONE: You know how, when you're going to commit suicide, you get really happy the day before?
PLAYBOY: Not personally, no.
STONE: [Laughs] Well, you read about people who are so happy the day before they commit suicide, because they're free. That was how we felt: We're free, we're going down, fuck it.
PARKER: And then it was that much more satisfying when the movie came out and everyone was so shocked.
PLAYBOY: But you had also completely alienated the studio, Paramount, by that time.
PARKER: Oh, yeah, we sure had. Paramount was like, "You guys won't have a career in this town." And we were like, "We don't fucking care."
STONE: We burned so many bridges, especially with their marketing department. The production people at Paramount were great to us, and our producer Scott Rudin was a big reason why the movie turned out as good as it did. But then you had marketing battles, legal battles, all these battles. It was such a perfect lesson in why so many bands come out and their first album is really great, and then their sophomore effort sucks. Even with the clout of having this huge franchise that had earned Viacom hundreds of millions of dollars, the studio did everything they could to beat us down and beat the spirit out of the movie.
PLAYBOY: Can you give some examples?
PARKER: The best was the trailer. They made this trailer for the movie that was so bad. It was basically like [sleazy announcer voice], "Get ready for the laughiest movie of the summer!" It was what South Park is completely against. We told them we didn't like it, and they said they were going to make changes. But they kept sending us the exact same trailer. So the third time, we broke the tape in half, put it back in the envelope and sent it back to them.
STONE: It was war. They were saying, "Are you telling us how to do our job?" And I was going, "Yes, because you're fucking stupid and you don't know what you're doing."
PARKER: Finally, Matt wrote a memo titled 'A Formula for Success," and it said, "Cooperation + you doing nothing = success" [laughs]. And we fucking faxed it to everybody.
STONE: We were humongous dicks about it. Just humongous. They threatened to sue us.
PLAYBOY: Over what?
PARKER: They took the songs from the movie and did a video. And because it was for MTV, they cut all the R-rated parts out and edited it into this horrible little medley. All the funny shit was gone, and you watched it and you're like, "What the fuck is this?" But it was being made in our studio, so we just took away the tape.
STONE: Their people worked 24 hours a day all weekend to get it to MTV on Monday so MTV could put it on the air on Wednesday. So I put the tape in the trunk of my car and went home.
PARKER: Even Scott was saying, "You know, you're burning every relationship you have in this town." But we thought, either we're out of this town after this movie comes out, or the movie does really well and no one gives a fuck what we did. Which ended up being the case.
PLAYBOY: Did the movie's success make things better with Paramount?
STONE: No. They don't like us.
PARKER: But it doesn't matter. If we had sucked their balls, it would have been the same thing.
PLAYBOY: Doesn't Paramount still have the film rights to any future South Park movies?
PARKER: They do, but now it's a two-way street. In their eyes, a movie couldn't make enough money to be worth it to them to work with us again. And in our eyes, they couldn't pay us enough to work with them again.
PLAYBOY: Do you think you'd find it better at a different movie studio?
PARKER: No. I don't think I want to make another movie. TV has sane people, especially at Comedy Central. Those fuckers at movie studios are insane, and they don't give a fuck about anything but money. It's scary.
STONE: I figure, people who make movies have sex once a year and people who make TV have sex three times a week.
PARKER: And the thing is, Paramount's only one of our big obstacles. I think the main one would be the ratings board. We fucked them so hard and they got so burned by us that if we tried to go through them again they would just slobber over the fact that we were coming back. So we already know we're kind of fucked.
PLAYBOY: Besides the fact that they gave an NC-17 rating to your movie Orgazmo and initially gave an NC-17 to South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, what's the problem with the ratings board?
STONE: It borders on antitrust violation. You have the seven big studios, which is the Motion Picture Association of America, controlling the creative content of all movies, whether it’s a studio movie or not. It was a total shame that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman didn't stand up to them in memory of Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut.
PLAYBOY: But Jack Valenti would argue that the MPAA doesn't control the content of movie - it simply advises parents of that content.
STONE: That's bullshit. When Orgazmo got an NC-17, we were stupid enough to think, OK, we'll see what we have to change. We got on the phone with the MPAA and they're like, "We don't give specific notes." The only note they gave was: NC-17 due to its "overall sexual nature." And we're like, "Well, what do we cut out?" "We can't really tell you what to cut out." "OK, is there something we can leave in the movie that would assure us an NC-17" "No, we don't go into that." So we went back and basically did a re-cut on the movie, tightened up some stuff we wanted to tighten up anyway. Sent it back. "NC- 17, overall sexual content." We were just like, "Fuck it. We're not going to sit here and butcher the movie." And to October Films' credit, they released it NC-17 - and took a bath on it. Then we did the South Park movie and sent it into the MPAA and it came back NC-17. We're like, "Why?" And they're like, "For this, this, this, this-"
PARKER: They gave Paramount a hit list.
STONE: They gave Paramount specific fucking notes. To an independent distributor, they wouldn't give any notes. Why? Because they don't get any money. They wouldn't even return your phone calls when you're putting out a Happiness or an Orgazmo. But when you are in a Schwarzenegger movie, they'll bargain with you.
PLAYBOY: You're saying they actually made deals with you and Paramount?
STONE: We submitted it seven times to the MPAA. The last submission we got back was NC-17, two weeks before release. And one of the marketing guys from Paramount calls and says, "Matt, Trey, you need to cut this again, because we need an R." So I called Scott Rudin and freaked out. Rudin called somebody at Paramount and freaked out on them. Somebody at Paramount called some body at the MPAA and freaked out on them. And the next day the movie was rated R. Not one frame of the movie changed. That's what fucking bullshit it is. And we have it all documented. They can't take us to court for libel because it's fucking true. It is such a fucking shame that no one in this town has the balls to stand up to them. And we're stupid, and I'll probably end up dead in a fucking ditch tomorrow.
PLAYBOY: Assuming the MPAA lets you live, would you really prefer government regulation of movie content?
STONE: You know, I used to definitely be on the side of Hollywood when I'd hear Al Gore and all these politicians say we need to do something about violence in movies. I used to be like, "Fuck you, First Amendment, blah blah blah." But when you start examining how fucked up the self-regulation in this industry is, then you start to see Al Gore's point of view. All he knows is that his kids can go see The General's Daughter and see all that depraved bullshit in a fucking terrible movie. Al says, "Hey, can you do some thing about violence in movies?" And Jack Valenti walks up with a little martini and says, "We're doing it, don't worry." They want kids to see R-rated movies, that's the bottom line.
STONE Because they make a lot more R rated movies, and they need kids to see them. People don't understand that the MPAA isn't just this cool not-for-profit holy organization. The MPAA is the studios. Jack Valenti is paid by them. It's a trade organization, it's a lobby, and he's a fucking hack. He paints himself as this moral arbiter this guy who stands for the parents of America, and he's a fucking politician.
PARKER: And he is sucking the dicks of so many studio execs.
STONE: That's his job, to suck their dicks. His job is to protect Hollywood from Washington, not to protect the American public from Hollywood sludge.
PLAYBOY: At one point in the movie, you have one of the characters come out and says, “Just remember what the MPAA says: Horrific, deplorable violence is OK, as long as people don't say any naughty words."
PARKER: Oh yeah, it all ended up going into the movie. The movie became a whole story of what had happened over the last year. That's what's beautiful about South Park, that we could change things at the last minute.
STONE: We were able to put in a mention of Jar Jar Binks at the last minute. We're both huge Star Wars fans, and to watch that Phantom Menace atrocity was so depressing.
PLAYBOY: Trey, did you really go up to George Lucas at a party and say, "I haven't seen your movie yet, but every body says it sucks"?
PARKER: I didn't quite word it like that [laughs]. I was drunk. I had met him before and he's such a nice guy that I fucking feel bad. He said, "I haven't seen your movie yet," and I said, "Yeah, I haven't seen yours either, after, you know, everyone said it's not really worth seeing." Or something like that. And then I just felt like, Oh fuck, what did I say?
STONE: Yeah, because he's George Lucas. He's not supposed to hit a home run every time. He's allowed to kind of miss it a few times, you know?
PARKER: [Laughs] He did not "kind of miss it," dude. It's a fucking shitty movie. I think he's just gone insane. And that's fine. It doesn't take away the trilogy, which is the Last Supper of fucking movies, and will be forever. But god damn it, that movie fucking sucks.
STONE: Yeah, it's terrible.
PARKER: That's scary, too. When you're having success, you think about getting old. You wonder are you going to become George Lucas? I don't want to be that fucking old guy still trying to do shit that's not working, you know? I want to go away before that, get a farm or something. It's so pathetic. There are a lot of people in this town who really should have left a while ago.
PLAYBOY: Late last year you turned 30. Was that a traumatic birthday for you?
PARKER: It was, and it still is. I guess I've always equated it to being a rock star maybe because that's my own little fantasy. But I think in a lot of ways you have your best shit to say when you're in your 20s. Not your most intelligent shit, but you've got your edge and you don't give a fuck about anything, and that's why it's cool. And now, for whatever reason, suddenly I feel like it'd be nice to have some kids. Things are going on in my head that had never been in my head before. You just get older, you start caring about things. That's gay, but...
STONE: [Laughs] You have to.
PARKER: Unfortunately we all have to start caring about shit.
PLAYBOY: So what do you care about now that you didn't care about five years ago?
PARKER: Well, I'm not saying I do yet. I'm still kind of cool, so I don't really care about much. But I'm starting to care. I'll know it's over the first time Jewel says something and I think, Yeah, that's true.
PLAYBOY: Isn't there anyone you can look to who's sustained creativity into their 30s or 40s or beyond?
PARKER: No, and that's what scares me and makes me sad. I think creativity does go away. It's just like muscle tissue. I mean, just look at Sting's new song, Brand New Day.
STONE: Sting was the coolest. I'm the biggest Police fan in the world, it was my favorite band. The guy's gone downhill.
PARKER: And you can't say, "Well, he's just creative in a different way." How can he think that's a good song? He's lost it, whatever it is. I think it's just a fact of life. Even physicists, you know, most of the brilliant ones came up with that shit in their 20s.
STONE: Einstein did his special theory of relativity when he was 26, I think. Godel did his incompleteness theorems when he was 24 [laughs]. You had Elvis being sweet when he was young. Arnold Schwarzenegger did Conan, that was sweet. End of Days, that's lame. And all the bands that were good either had youth or drugs. Led Zeppelin was great, and now they're old, they don't do drugs, they're all clean-and they kinda suck.
PLAYBOY: Are you advocating drugs as a creative aid?
PARKER: Not at all. Actually, one thing we thought could easily destroy South Park was if people thought we were total pot-heads. I haven't smoked pot in 10 years and I don't like it. I think it makes me stupid, and I don't like being around people who do it, because it makes them stupid and I have nothing to talk to them about. You can't do shit smoking dope.
STONE: Or drunk, or anything else. You can't do shit when you're fucked up. We say that in jest a lot of times. Somebody will ask, "Where do you get the ideas?" "Drugs." But I don't think any of the show's content is affected by drugs.
PARKER: You can't work this hard and party at the same time. And I definitely won't say I haven't had some great fucking times on drugs. I've had some great times, and I still do. But I wasn't doing anything when I was 13 and 14, when I didn't know what the fuck I was doing. That's actually one of the things I'm proudest of that I had Chef say in an episode: "There's a time and a place for everything, and it's called college." I totally believe that. That's what I'd tell my kid: "Do whatever you want, just wait till college because you don't know what the fuck's up right now."
PLAYBOY: When South Park started getting popular, there must have been times when you partied like two kids in a candy store.
PARKER: There were. Especially, for me, with women- I fucking love women. I definitely got out of control in that arena, and I still have out-of-control binges in Vegas and shit. But again, I see some 40- or 45-year-old dude who is still going to clubs, and that's really when I start thinking, I need to get married- Because I don't want to become that fucking guy. You know, I don't want to become the guy who's still using his name to pick up chicks every night [laughs]. I'm stoked that I had the opportunity to live that lifestyle, but I don't want to be fucking Bill Maher, you know?
PLAYBOY: So you can see settling down and having kids sometime soon?
PARKER: Maybe- And if decided I wanted to get married in the next year or two, I wouldn't take another TV deal. Because I know, creatively I would be a very different person. And I don't want to see the shit I make when I'm that little fucking faggot pussy. Because when you have a family, then it's "I need money for my family." I'll do 1-800-Collect commercials, and you can say all the shit you want, but my son's going to fucking Princeton.
STONE: It's like when you see Austin Powers 2. I love Austin Powers, and I think Mike Myers was the genius comic of the Nineties, but to see Austin Powers 2, to see him milk the same things, was just sad. As strong as that character is, he almost ruined it.
PLAYBOY: You've complained about celebrities doing commercials, but you're in front of a three-foot Cartman doll. And there's lots more South Park merchandise where that came from.
PARKER: Oh yeah, definitely. Actually, the dolls are the one thing I was stoked about. But man, there was nobody in this world who hated the South Park merchandising more than the two of us.
STONE: We do make money off it, but not that much. And I would give back double the money if it all had never happened.
PARKER: That's what people don't understand: Comedy Central owns South Park, we don't. Comedy Central can go do whatever the fuck they want with these characters. Luckily we do the voices, so they can't have them sell Burger King unless we agree to do it. And they've made all this shit and these video games that we fucking hate, and that's been an other big thorn in our side.
PLAYBOY: But after the show was a success, Comedy Central renegotiated your contracts to give you more money.
PARKER: Oh yeah. But compared with network money, with The Simpsons' money, we're still nowhere near it. With everything we do on the show, we don’t make remotely near what a voice person on The Simpsons makes.
STONE: But we don't bring in what The Simpsons does. The Simpsons gets six times the audience.
PARKER: And in terms of what we know Comedy Central can afford –
STONE: In terms of what Comedy Central can afford, it's good money. More money than I ever thought I'd be making. And now I totally understand the pressure that Mike Myers feels. If you're rich and you get poor again, you're the biggest dipshit who ever lived. So you get an irrational fear of being poor I really don't live that extravagantly, but now I feel like I need more money because I can't ever be poor again. Not because I need a Lexus or any of that shit, but because everyone would think I'm a total dick. And they'd be right. I'm more scared of people laughing at me than I am about being poor.
PARKER: And people think we're set for the rest of our lives. No fucking way. If we stopped doing everything, we'd be fucking broke in five years, easy.
PLAYBOY: But you do have a valuable franchise now.
PARKER: That's why we've changed, in a way. Before South Park, we felt like, we don't give a fuck, we'll fail like mother fuckers, because who cares? Who are we? And now all of a sudden we don't want to fail because we have our little place in time, and we don't want to fuck that up.
STONE: It's definitely a weird feeling of, like, bam, you're old, you dick. You're a pussy now.
PARKER: It's really funny - I wonder if we'll be 40 and read this article about us talking about how fucking old we are at 29 and 30. We'll just go, "What the fuck were we talking about?"
STONE: [Laughs] Yup. They'll use these quotes against us when we're making Patch Adams 3 -
PLAYBOY: Let's back up; One of the central themes of South Park - and you've said this in the past - is that kids are little bastards -
PLAYBOY: Were you like that when you were kids?
PARKER: Yeah. Everyone I knew was, too. You're a completely selfish, self-centered asshole, and that's just the way it works. It's not until you're an adult that you really understand, wow, it really is about sharing things. It isn't about me getting presents at Christmastime; the feeling of giving other people presents really is cool. You don't know that shit until you're like 20. The kid world is all about "Give me your toy," and beating up the other kid.
PLAYBOY: Are we to conclude that you two were on the playground beating up other kids?
PARKER: Well, I was a pretty good kid, mostly because I was really shy. I got decent grades. I was in honors classes and stuff. I drank once when I was 18, and not again until I was 21. I just happened to find a group of friends, and we made movies every weekend.
PLAYBOY: What were you like, Matt?
STONE: Especially at math, I was super duper-duper-duper-duper smart. I'm not kidding. I think I was as smart at math in sixth grade as I was when I graduated from college with a math degree. I basically never took a note in my entire life. And I always got Bs, because I wouldn't turn in my homework.
PLAYBOY: Were you popular in school?
PARKER: I had a real fucked-up situation, because I was head of the choir, and at my school that was the cool thing [laughs]. Evergreen High School was nationally known for its choir. We were shitty at every sport, so you were not cool if you played sports. And by the time I was a senior, I had the lead in all the plays, and was the head of choir, and then I was prom king. Of course, you go to college and say, "Yeah, I was in choir," and they start laughing at you.
PLAYBOY: We assume that the choir kids weren't cool at your school, Matt.
STONE: No way. If you were in the choir, they probably called you a fag. Which was too bad. I honestly don't think I would have been interested in choir or theater anyway, but that wasn't even on the list of options, because if you did that you were considered a big gaywad. Everyone likes to say, "Oh, I don't care what other people think about me." But of course I did. And now a bunch of high school people are going to call me and say, "I'm a fag. Fuck you, dick."
PLAYBOY: If you weren't interested in the arts, Matt, what did you plan to do after you graduated?
STONE: I was going to become a logician.
PARKER: [Laughs] Like Siegfried and Roy?
STONE: I read someplace that there were guys who made all this money doing high-level theoretical math for AT&T and I thought that sounded kind of glamorous. That was my last thought before we did our first film. And now I'm sitting here with you, and I have no idea how I got here.
PLAYBOY: Did it seem accidental to you, Trey?
PARKER: No. I've been pretty driven since I was about 15 - I was definitely the typical big-dream kid. My dad got me a video camera when I was 14, and every Saturday and Sunday for four years I made movies with my friends. It didn't seem like too much of a mistake to me.
PLAYBOY: But you also envisioned a career in music, didn't you?
PARKER: Yeah, exactly. Around 17 I turned toward music. But it was always about being funny. And I'm so glad I got into that whole music world, because of what I was able to do in the movie. To watch a fucking 50-piece orchestra play Umcle Fucka was probably the highlight of my entire life.
PLAYBOY: You made lots of different films in school, some of which are now selling on eBay.
PARKER: Really? That's too bad. It's funny, because we had to do foreign press recently, and this Swedish guy says, "Tell me about your first film, Giant Beavers of Southern Sri Lanka." And I was like, "Dude, I was 20, and it's a three-minute fucking thing. That's not my first film." I don't think most directors have to deal with that.
PLAYBOY: Did you know you were onto something when you started working with construction-paper animation?
PARKER: Yeah. It made me think, there's something, on a very basic level, that's appealing about this look. It was some thing kind of new in its crappiness. You see construction paper, glue and scissors, and you immediately are in third grade again. And it's about third graders. I think that was a big part of it. And still, I think South Park is total eye candy.
PLAYBOY: Didn't you first use the technique on a college short called American History?
PARKER: Yeah, it was for animation class. It was the biggest piece of shit that you've ever seen, but somehow everyone laughed at it and I won all these awards.
PLAYBOY: Including a Student Academy Award. What was that like?
PARKER: They fly you out to Los Angeles, they put you up at the Century Plaza Hotel, they drive you around in limos and you get your mini-Oscar. And I remember sitting in this auditorium filled with 1500 people, this big black-tie event, and I'm just going, "How the fuck did I get here?" Because I didn't even submit the fucking thing. Someone else did. And there are all these Cal Arts kids behind me who had submitted these beautiful watercolor and pencil things. And here's my shitty construction-paper thing-which makes South Park look like Disney, by the way, and they're all fuming. But I think, if I remember right, that I stiffed the Academy for a $500 bar tab.
PLAYBOY: Apparently, though, they've forgiven you. Trey, how surprised were you when you and Marc Shaiman got an Oscar nomination for writing the song Blame Canada?
PARKER: Pretty surprised. It's funny, because getting nominated for an Academy Award is like going to the Super Bowl. Everyone's excited and everyone congratulates you - but then if you lose, you're just another chump. Once you lose, you're the Atlanta Falcons.
PLAYBOY: So much for that old line, "It's an honor to be nominated." Still, the nomination itself must have been satisfying in some ways.
PARKER: I have mixed feelings about it. What it comes down to, it's not just a group of random old people sitting around deciding to give you the nomination. In that category, it's a group of composers. So if I think of it in that way, it's a bit more flattering. But I don't have any illusions. I mean, Aerosmith got nominated last year If Aerosmith can be up for a fucking Academy Award, then it doesn't mean a whole lot.
STONE: There's a lot of stuff in the Academy Awards that are important achievements, and well deserved. But when it comes to songs, it's Aerosmith and Celine Dion and all that shit. Those are little gum-commercial moments-they have nothing to do with filmmaking, you know? You can't compare the amount of effort that goes into making a full-borne musical as opposed to putting an Aerosmith song under a scene starring Ben Affleck.
PLAYBOY: Did any of the other awards you won for the South Park movie mean more to you?
PARKER: Well, the letter I got from Stephen Sondheim is worth 20 Academy Awards to me. And the New York Film Critics Circle Award was really flattering, because those are people whose writing I respect. The Academy Awards are just a spectacle. You think, Why is everybody watching this, and why does everybody care so much? So yeah, it was nice to be nominated, but there's still a part of me that totally wants to say, "Fuck this whole thing."
STONE: That's what I feel, too [laughs] - I know I'm never going to get one, so fuck them. You've got to be like the kid who can’t play basketball because he sucks, so he's like, "I wouldn't want to play that fucking sport anyway."
PLAYBOY: Speaking of basketball, let's move to your major-studio acting debut, BASEketball, which was a commercial and critical flop. Looking back, was it a mistake to make that movie?
PARKER: No. I wouldn't go back and not do it.
STONE: Me neither If we had to do it today, would we do it differently? Yeah, probably. But I don't regret doing it. And you know why BASEketball was sweet? Because it was a fucking stupid idea for a movie. That's what's so cool about it.
PARKER: It's not like this marketing machine saying, "It's Adam Sandler and an adorable little kid, and this will work." It was like, here are some shitty actors no one knows. Here's a stupid idea for a movie. There you go.
PLAYBOY: Who are your comedy idols?
STONE: Monty Python, definitely. Meeting them was one of the highlights of my life. Terry Jones wrote his home phone number on a napkin, and Trey framed it and put it over his fireplace.
PARKER: I was watching Python in third grade, when I was eight years old. It was like another planet. They even talked different. And in third grade, I thought they talked that way to be funny.
PLAYBOY: Do you feel any kinship with other animated television shows, like The Simpsons or Beavis and Butthead or Ren and Stimpy?
PARKER: Well, The Simpsons is such a great show that everyone is at least impressed by it. When Beavis and Butthead was first on we were in college, and we watched it all the time. But stylistically it's obvious that we're most influenced by Terry Gilliam. Because by the time Beavis and Butthead and The Simpsons were out, I was kind of shaped.
PLAYBOY: Then again, Ren and Stimpy's creator, John Kricfalusi, says you stole the character of Mr. Hankey, the talking poo, from his show.
PARKER: I honestly had seen like half of a Ren and Stimpy episode, and I just didn't dig it. I can't get into that thing where there's really nothing to care about. My favorite parts of South Park are the moments where you're like, "Oh, poor kid.' You never feel that way watching Ren and Stimpy, because those characters are so over-the-top. And I hate those cartoon voices, and hitting people, even that style of drawing. I was into Beavis and Butthead completely, but Ren and Stimpy I never got.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever envision concentrating on animation?
PARKER: Well, I always did little cartoons. I was always drawing fucked-up stuff. But it's never been, "Here's our goal: We want to be filmmakers," or "We want to be animators." We're just two creative people, especially when we're around each other. We did music. We did films. We went to bars and made people laugh. There was never really an agenda, and I think that helped us when we came out to LA, because we ended up not pigeonholing ourselves. People were like, "What do you guys want to do?" And we were like, "'Whatever."
PLAYBOY: What were your first meetings here like?
PARKER: They were big. We met this lawyer who was married to someone at William Morris. We gave him the video tape of Cannibal. He watched it and loved it. Showed it to friends, and then showed it to his wife at William Morris and got us a meeting there. And then William Morris gave it to Scott Rudin, who saw it and loved it and brought me in. So we came in and had these big meetings, and we were like, "Here we fucking go."
STONE: And then, nothing. People still think we lucked out, and they say, "Hey I wish I could do what you did." OK, here's what you do: Move to a new town with nobody except one or two friends, have no idea what you're going to do tomorrow, watch all your friends get jobs and get dental plans and health plans while you're sleeping on couches, give up any kind of relationship with anybody of the opposite sex, have no money and no security, have the faith of your parents tested. Do that for five years, and that's my life.
PARKER: Matt slept on his dirty laundry for, like, a year because he didn't have a mattress. We were sleeping on floors thinking, Wow, another two weeks and we're going to be fucking rich. And pretty soon two weeks turns into two months, and two months turns into two years, and you definitely stop listening.
PLAYBOY: So you weren't encouraged when The Spirit of Christmas, the video Christmas card that introduced the South Park characters, turned into a hot underground tape in Hollywood?
PARKER: No, not even when people were calling us after The Spirit of Christmas came out, going, "We want to make this a TV show, we want to make a big deal with you-" We'd heard it a fucking million times. A big deal turns into six shows, turns into a pilot, turns into nothing. That's how things were working.
PLAYBOY: Even after South Park was a success, you kept doing other things: Orgazmo, BASEketball, albums, outside script deals- Did you say yes to too many things?
PARKER: Absolutely. Our philosophy was, sign every deal, because only one is really going to happen. And even when the show took off we were like, "OK, while we're hot, we've got to take every fucking deal we can." So rather than focusing on the show, we were taking all these other things. But the show persisted. And it's weird, because right now we are in a position where we are going to decide the next three or four years of our lives. We've never been in the situation where we choose and it happens.
PLAYBOY: Are you still writing the script for a prequel to Dumb and Dumber?
PARKER: We'd rather keep it quiet, but we gave the money back. It was another thing we took at the beginning of South Park. And they were really patient with us, but when the South Park movie happened, I felt like, for the first time, I could define what a Trey Parker-Matt Stone thing was. I could say, "Here's what we're about." And we felt that doing Dumb and Dumber was a big step-not necessarily backward, but in a different direction, after we had worked so hard to define our style.
STONE: We felt like we just weren't 100 percent into it, and that we were going to dick over [New Line chief] Mike De Luca, who we respect and adore in every way, or the Farrelly brothers, or Jim Carrey. If we weren't going to go into this a hundred percent, then we're just gonna disrespect the last movie and make this piece of shit.
PARKER: And people were whispering in our ears, "Hey, people do this all the time. Get another writer, pay him, and you guys still get your fucking $2 million." But fuck that. We just wrote them big fat checks and gave them all the money back. And this is the best decision I ever made.
STONE: Our agents get on us and say, "People get paid in this town for doing nothing all the time." And we're like, "Yeah, but we don't." If someone pays me, I want to do something to earn the money.
PLAYBOY: So even with your newfound clout, the two of you haven't gone completely Hollywood?
STONE: Well, I worked as a production assistant four or five years ago. And I’d just be sitting there picking up trash and looking at some 30-something asshole producer who thinks he’s so fucking smart, walking around with his cell phone. We had this shoot a while ago that Trey was directing. I was there to maybe throw an idea or two, but I really didn’t have a lot to do. And instead of helping out and trying to be cool and meeting everyone, I was on my cell phone the whole time, sitting in my chair with my sunglasses, going, “Yeah, maybe we should sign that deal.” I turned into the fucking total typical asshole producer. And I could see the PAs looking at me, going, Fuck you, dude.
PLAYBOY: You have one hit, and look what happens.
PARKER: Yeah. We suck, man.
STONE: I totally suck now.
PLAYBOY: You say you suck, and you've said your work habits are terrible-
PARKER: Oh, absolutely. We have a bad work ethic. Give us two months to do something, and we'll hang out for six weeks and do it in the last two.
PLAYBOY: But the image of being sellouts who don't care about the work is really just a shield, isn't it?
PARKER: Oh, we care. I am absolutely fucking driven. Anyone will tell you I'm a control freak. When it comes time to actually do it, I sit and fuck with every frame of the show. Given seven days to do something, we'll hang out for six, and then on that last day we will work harder and with more care than anyone in the fucking world.
STONE: Sometimes we get this slacker label put on us. Where the fuck did that come from? If you look at the sheer volume of work that we've done since we came on the scene, you'd be hard- pressed to find other people's names on more shit. Not that every moment is golden. But we've done 40 half-hour TV shows that we've written and produced and done all the voices for. We've done Orgarmo, which we produced and Trey directed and wrote and starred in. We've done a studio movie, acted in another studio movie, done three albums. To any journalist who uses the word slacker, I’d say, “Let’s compare notes. What have you done in the last three years, motherfucker?”
PLAYBOY: Let's talk about another stereo type of the show: that it's all about foul language and bratty, obscene little kids. Some people were surprised to find that under all those vulgarities, the South Park movie contained the pretty honorable message that parents should speak to and listen to their kids.
STONE: What's amazing to me is that a lot of reviews said, "The biggest surprise is that the movie with the biggest message - this year is the South Park movie." And for us that was like, You're surprised by that? Have you ever watched the show?
PLAYBOY: In the midst of these insane situations, a lot of your main characters, from Cannibal, Orgazmo and South Park, have a real innocence and goodness about them.
PARKER: When we say that our thing is trying to take a fucked-up story and make it normal, that's the main way of doing it. In general, our boys, perverted little fuckers that they are, are good boys. Except for Cartman, they all do the right thing. And they are constantly telling adults what's right. Again, it goes back to the Ren and Stimpy thing. Yeah, you can be over-the-top and vulgar, but it's just noise unless you have something to ground it with. And I try to ground it with this sense of sweetness. You know, those boys are better people than I am.
PLAYBOY: If you had kids, would you let them watch South Park?
PARKER: Yes, I would. I would not let my kid watch most sitcoms on TV; just be cause they would make him stupid. I would let my kid watch South Park. But that's me. And that's the thing: I want it to be my choice as a parent. That's what we've said about the MPAA. I don't want the fucking MPAA telling me, "Your kid can't see this movie even if you accompany him." That's bullshit.
STONE: The MPAA tells us, "You can't see Tom Cruise's weenie in the Kubrick film." Fuck you.
PARKER: I want to see Tom Cruise's weenie.
STONE: But we don't want parents to think South Park is a fucking Saturday morning cartoon. It's not that we're trying to hide anything from parents, and that's the biggest misconception. We're trying to make stuff for people who understand, and we want people to know what they're in store for.
PLAYBOY: Have you been back to Colorado much since the shootings at Columbine High School?
PARKER: I haven't been back in over a year. There's a vibe there that really freaks me out, especially since Columbine. They were always a very uptight people. I mean, Colorado is so average. It's in the middle of the country, middle income, everyone's middle. It's so desperately average that it just makes people insane. And rather than embrace us because we grew up there and we're doing a show about Colorado, the media there take every fucking chance they can to rip us.
STONE: Two of the worst reviews for the South Park movie and the two worst reviews for Orgazmo and the two worst reviews for BASEketball, by far, were from Denver papers. Vicious. If you don't like BASEketball, fine. It's not the best movie ever. But the reviews in Colorado were like, "Fuck Matt and Trey. They're two fucking assholes. Their 15 minutes are up. Who the fuck do they think they are?" It was just all about us, and that we were shitheads.
PARKER: I've sort of disowned Colorado. I won't go back. I'm like Barbara Streisand. I'll boycott it. It's not my home anymore. That was a bad, shitty fucking thing that happened there, but they've responded to it in a really weird way.
PLAYBOY: How have these various tensions affected your relationship? The first time you spoke to PLAYBOY, Trey, you said it was inevitable that you'd end up hating each other.
PARKER: I probably said that jokingly, because I don't think we ever really believed that. But people have been telling us that from the beginning. Really, after the third episode, everyone was like, "So are you guys starting to hate each other?"
STONE: I just don't think either of us cared that much about it. Honestly, if it came to a point where the show had to end or our friendship had to end, the show would end. We care about it, obviously, but I don't care enough to get in a big fucking fight with my best friend.
PARKER: And for every moment we're kind of like, OK, I've had enough of you for a little bit, there are a hundred more moments where I'm like, Thank God Matt's here. Everything from having to go on fucking Leno to having to deal with Paramount Pictures to going out and drinking.
STONE: I find it hilarious that bands like Guns n' Roses get to the point where they don't even talk anymore. That's stupid. So now they break up, and they suck. They could have stayed friends and sucked.
PLAYBOY: On the movies you've made, Trey has been the director, the writer and the lead actor. On South Park, is your collaboration more 50-50?
STONE: It changes. Every project we do, we take on different roles. It's about keeping that energy or that vision intact. People ask, "What do you do?" and I'm like, "I do all sorts of weird shit, you know?"
PARKER: I would not and could not do South Park without Matt. I still can't put my finger on it, but it intrigues me. I'm different around Matt than I am around my other friends, and we laugh at different stuff than we do with our other friends. And what we laugh about together, that becomes South Park.
STONE: And I'm not really funny around my other friends. Over New Year's I was hanging out with all these people and they were like, "You're not funny."
PARKER: I just went to Europe with my parents for two weeks, and it was shocking: When I'm with my family, I am the quietest, most straitlaced guy you've ever seen. And, absolutely, South Park is whatever this energy is between Matt and me. We could do stuff on our own, but it wouldn't be South Park. It's like, David Lee Roth and Van Halen fucking rock. And then David Lee Roth goes off and fucking sucks, and Van Halen with-out him fucking sucks.
STONE: It's like, you take dogshit and cat vomit and you stick 'em together, and you get rad pizza that tastes really, really good.
PLAYBOY: Who's who in that equation?
STONE: I'm dogshit. Trey's cat vomit.
PLAYBOY: You've got less than a year left on the deal you signed to make 73 episodes of South Park. After you finish those shows, do you envision making more?
PARKER: No. I mean, we could probably tell Comedy Central that we want to renew our contract for another five years and get the same amount of money, and they would do it in a second. But we're done. And it's going to be sad. When we start getting down to three or four shows left, we're going to be thinking, Cartman's never going to say anything any more. It's pretty fucked up.
PLAYBOY: You could relinquish some of the control, turn the show over to your staff the way Matt Groening did with The Simpsons, and keep it going while you're free to work on other things.
PARKER: Yeah, but I don't want to see it become this bastardization. I don't want people to look back and think, Then they got into the third season and handed it over to somebody else, and it became rehashes. The thing that keeps me going is knowing that someday this is going to exist as 70 shows, and I want every one of them to be ours. And again, it comes from being such fans of Python, and watching what they did. You could see that they were losing interest at the end, so they just said, "Fuck it, let's blow this thing up." And that's definitely our mentality. Let's become weird and inaccessible. We'd rather have it blow up in our face than peter out.
STONE: We'll blow it up somehow.
PLAYBOY: Do you have plans after South Park?
PARKER: Kind of. We have one idea for a show that's pretty rad. But it's been a weird few months. You've probably heard this before, but I never even thought of it: You spend our whole life going, "This is what I want to do, this is what I want to achieve, this is my dream-"
STONE: And then you do it
PARKER: And then all of a sudden you do it. And you think, Now what do we do? [Laughs] I don't even really know what I want to do with my life. But I know I don't want to be 40 years old doing pig fucker jokes. Not because I don't love 'em, because I do. I just don't think it'd be sincere anymore. When I do fart jokes now, I do them because I really think they're funny. And I don't want to be - - - No, I'll still think they're funny when I'm 40.
STONE: Oh, yeah. I'm gonna be 80, on my death bed, farting and laughing.
[ source: PLAYBOY ]