Editor’s Note: The following story contains profanity. Read at your own risk.
LOS ANGELES – “Alien Abductions, Anal Probes and Flaming Farts,” reads the oversized poster hanging directly above the welcome desk at the “South Park” animation studio in Los Angeles. Below the text stands the staple of the organization – four foul-mouthed third-graders named Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny.
In this animation studio, on this day – Sept. 21 – excitement is brewing for the 10th anniversary party that will take place that night. But creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone don’t have the luxury of partaking in the enthusiasm.
There is much work to be done.
“It’s the beginning of a new season, too, so all that we are really thinking about is that, in less than two weeks, we will have the premiere, and I don’t know what it is yet,” Parker says while looking at the ceiling as if searching for something up there that could save him from a night of glad-handing and taking pictures.
Stone interjects as he props his feet on the conference table to tighten his shoelaces.
“If you have a television show, and you think about what you will do on your 10-year anniversary, you won’t get to 10 years,” he says. “We only care about the next show.”
The conference room is big, but the ideas that have leaked from its closed doors are bigger. On the farthest wall hangs a blow-up poster of the Rolling Stone cover featuring the “South Park” children. Kenny is, of course, getting killed.
“I honestly am super not excited for tonight at all,” Parker says. “This whole week I actually had to get reminded. People are like, ‘Oh, Thursday is the big night.’ And I’m like, ‘What big night?’ They’re like, ‘The Party.’ And I was like, ‘Who fuckin’ cares about the party?'”
“We’ve got to come back to work on Sunday,” Stone adds.
Outside the conference room, a staff member tells another she was disappointed because Michael Keaton wasn’t coming to the party, while another expresses concern that amid all the anticipation, he wasn’t going to get any work done.
Parker seems slightly less enthused than Stone at the prospect of the interview, saying, “We definitely haven’t done the college newspaper before.”
Stone continues to fidget with his shoes as he explains how they had been interviewed the day before by a New York Times reporter who he describes as, “the worst, most boring, biggest piece of shit ever.”
This is not very encouraging to a student journalist.
I pull out the tape recorder, hoping I don’t make the same mistakes the other guy did.
Paying homage to their home state, Parker and Stone named their studio after Denver’s popular Mexican restaurant, Casa Bonita. The restaurant, famous for its cliff divers, haunted caves and live mariachi band, would later be the title of an episode in which the dastardly iniquitous Cartman locks Butters in a bomb shelter to steal his spot on Kyle’s birthday trip to Casa Bonita.
Every wall of the studio is adorned with a wide assortment of mementos including the Team America World Police marionettes and posters in French, Japanese, German and English, to name a few. Each poster represents a milestone in the Parker/Stone legacy.
The two don’t look like the wise-cracking, binge-drinking stooges from “Baseketball.” Stone no longer sports the curly disheveled hair that many still associate him with.
Likewise, Parker has traded in the scraggly bleached hair that was reminiscent of Kurt Cobain’s grunge movement for a higher, tighter cut to complement his receding hairline.
Stone, who is sitting just across the table from me, is all smiles. To my right, Parker looks like he was in the middle of a dream, and someone had awakened him. Both are much more obliging than Eric Cartman or Mr. Garrison.
It is intensely exhilarating to know that, at any moment, their kindness could succumb to the heartless insults that have made them famous. That is one thing that has changed in 10 years; most people from my generation would consider it an honor to be the victim of one of their jokes.
“‘South Park” was always like the punk rock show that was like on this little cable channel yelling ‘Fuck You!’ from the corner,” Stone says with both middle fingers in the air. “We are outside saying, ‘Fuck you!’ because we can’t get in the party. Well, after 10 years, we are the establishment. Somebody should be going ‘Fuck you!’ to us. It’s a weird position to be in.”
In its decade-long stint of instigating anger, humiliation and, most importantly, laughter, “South Park” has won some serious awards and, consequently, some serious backlash.
Parker was nominated for an Academy Award for the music from the full-length feature film “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.”
I made the mistake of bringing it up.
“That’s a kick in the balls,” he retorts.
“I remind him everyday,” Stone says smarmily. “Trey, you lost to Phil Collins.
There’s your morning kick in the balls.”
“That is a kick in the balls,” Parker replies with his head down.
The show won an Emmy for “Best Friends Forever” in which Kenny, like Terri Schiavo at the time, was in a vegetative state, leaving his friends to fight over his will.
The show was also nominated for five Emmys including last season’s “Trapped in the Closet,” which insinuated actor Tom Cruise was a homosexual and ripped on his belief in Scientology.
Last June, “South Park” was awarded the Peabody Award, broadcasting’s most coveted accolade. I met them in Manhattan where they came to pick up the award.
The 65th Peabody Awards judges wrote, “No aspect of modern society is exempt from the scathing satirical campaigns mounted by the raucous children of ‘South Park.’ Institutions, individuals and ideologies – all are targets.”
Parker and Stone live by this. There isn’t a single soul on earth that can escape the “South Park” whipping.
“I don’t think so,” Stone says, looking intuitive as he brings his index finger to his lips. “I can’t think of anybody. I don’t ever remember saying, ‘Let’s not fuck with that person.'”
There is no doubt the “South Park” team is proud of its latest feat, as evidenced by the consequent advertisement in the Peabody program that reads “‘South Parque,’ Congrats on your fancy-ass award.” But Parker believes such recognition can only be the calm before the storm.
“I think it means that the big backlash is coming any minute now,” he says. “There were just too many accolades. We’ve been through this enough to know something’s coming.”
And “South Park” is no stranger to controversy. If they aren’t battling Hollywood liberals or religious fanatics, they’re battling their own network for holding back images of the prophet Mohammed or reruns of Tom Cruise hiding in a closet while R. Kelly serenades him.
“There’s always a war to fight,” Parker says. “When we are working, we both want the same thing, which is to just get the fuckin’ show done in six days, and that’s really hard to do.”
They explain to me that getting the show done in six days enables them to keep up with current events, as witnessed in “Best Friends Forever” and “Trapped in the Closet.”
“You have to have a common enemy,” Stone adds. “That’s a good thing to have.”
Long before they were celebrities riding the tumultuous roller coaster of controversy, they were film students looking for the next thrill, making low-budget shorts whenever the funds were available.
With an overly introspective expression Stone says, “At the time, just a film or a TV show, that’s all we set out to do. It was just like, ‘Oh, I want to do that for the next six months or three months.’ Then, all of a sudden, we are here, but it’s not like we set out to do anything.”
“We actually made a bunch of short films,” Parker remembers, now leaning forward over the conference table, more interested than before. “I worked at the rental desk at the film school, so I had access to all the cameras and shit. Whenever we got a roll of film, we would make the shittiest, crappiest little thing we could make for like $200.”
While still attending the Colorado-Boulder, Parker’s pastime of making “crappy” shorts for personal amusement paid off in a big way.
“I did an animated short with construction paper cut-out, and I got a student academy award for it, which was ridiculous because it was just the crappiest piece of shit you have ever seen,” he says with bit of a smirk. “But I was like, well, people like something about that, so I said let’s try doing a new one but with sound, and that’s when we made the first “Spirit of Christmas” – really, the first South Park, which is this super-shitty, five-minute-long Frosty the Snowman versus Jesus short.”
It was the second rendition of “The Spirit of Christmas” featuring Jesus versus Santa that would be distributed throughout Hollywood, eventually giving them the opportunity to make “South Park” for a living.
In the process of creating the now famous “Spirit of Christmas” and other projects, Parker decided not to attend class altogether, a pitfall many college students experience.
I am curious. Was being so involved with making films and letting academics fall to the wayside worth it?
“I can’t put it all on that,” he says of making cartoons in lieu of graduating. “Part of it’s just I’m a lazy fuck. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m just so driven.'”
Although he never completed his degrees in music and Japanese, Parker greatly values his college experience.
“Everything that I did came from going to college,” he says. “I mean, I don’t have a degree, but I can’t say college isn’t important. I certainly couldn’t say that because it’s where I met Matt. It’s where I went to film school.”
Stone, who holds degrees in film and mathematics, agrees their accomplishments are a consequence of meeting the right people while attending school.
“Colorado, and not just in film, anything, it was like you met a bunch of people who are into the same things as you,” Stone explains as he paces the room. “That was like, you’re the same age, they’re people you can fuck up in front of and you’re not gonna get fired.”
It has been nearly 15 years since Parker and Stone called Boulder home. And things have changed.
“Now, it’s just basically we go to Denver to see family and have a nice dinner, and then go up to the ski areas,” Parker says. “It’s not at all my experience growing up because, in Conifer, there was nothing going on at all.”
It is surprising to see how unapologetically disconnected they both are from Colorado, despite its influence in their work with “South Park.”
“We’re definitely the California people that come to Colorado, you know, go to DIA, rent a car, buzz around town way too fast, talk about how it’s way too cold,” Stone says, pointing out the fleece he has been wearing throughout the interview. “It will be like 50 degrees. It’s fuckin’ dry, nosebleeds. We are totally lame.”
“I just don’t consider myself a Coloradoan anymore,” Parker says flatly. “That’s what we knew. That’s who we were. Now, if somebody came to us and said, ‘You have to come up with an entirely new animated show right now,’ it would probably happen in Los Angeles because that’s what we know.”
And it has been a long time since Parker, 36, and Stone, 35, have represented the old Colorado stomping grounds.
I can’t help but wonder if they truly understood what an impact their work has had on my generation and me personally. I tell them that when they started “South Park,” I was 9 years old.
“That makes us feel super old,” Stone says with a hint of annoyance.
“It’s insane how much life accelerates the older you get,” Parker says. “Life starts going faster and faster and faster and it is just like suddenly a total Pink Floyd moment. You just close your eyes and you are fuckin’ 40. It’s like, holy shit! When did that fuckin’ happen?”
Both feel they have embraced the next steps in their lives. “Aging with grace,” they say, is important in Hollywood.
“If this gets out, it could be the end of us, but we’ve actually both taken up golf,” Parker says ashamedly. “We just went from zero to old. There’s nothing we’d rather do than, ‘let’s hit the golf course.'”
Zero to old, maybe. But none can deny the impact this irrefutably offensive and aging duo has had on comedy and American culture.
“I remember doing a line in Mr. Hanky, the first Mr. Hanky in our first year, and having Mr. Garrison say, ‘Can we get rid of all the Mexicans?’ as a side bar,” Parker explains. “And people were like, ‘Holy Shit! You can NOT say that.’ By today’s standards, it’s like whatever, but back then, whoooo.”
There is no doubt that 10 years of “South Park” and their varying other projects have all but eliminated the notion of political correctness in comedy.
“When you were nine,” Stone says, laughing at my youth once more. “When we started ‘South Park,’ political correctness was a real thing. Political correctness really did fuck with comedy for a long time. It wasn’t just us. A few other shows really started rebelling against it. It was a real thing. Edgy comedy was like ‘Comic Relief’ with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal.”
Being the gracefully aged superstars they are, Parker and Trey reflect on how they reached this point, rendering a bit of advice to an aspiring novelist/photographer and journalist.
“That’s the message that no one ever gives ya,” Stone says authoritatively. “There is a time to give up on your dream. If you haven’t done it by 30, 35, just get out. That’s the harsh reality.”
I knew by now: There is no sugar coating with these two. But Parker interrupts to add a bit more optimistic advice.
“Since I was a kid, I had big dreams to be an entertainer, and I always wanted to be a director and I was making films when I was 8 years old, doing it every weekend,” he says with fatherly assertiveness. “But I didn’t go into college saying, ‘OK, I want to be a director. How can I become a director?’ I just loved to do fun shit, fucked-up shit and having people see that.”
I’m pretty sure this was the Trey Parker-version of the old adage, “Find a job you love, and you will never work again.”
The next step for Parker and Stone is to do what they say most rich people in Los Angeles do: start their very own production company. They plan to call it “Important Films.”
This comes largely after the creation of “Team America World Police,” which they say nearly killed them.
“Being on set, for the most part, fuckin’ sucks, and we both fuckin’ hate it,” Parker says as we begin to wrap up the interview.
“We’re both getting old and we’re getting tired, so we are trying to come up with things we can be less involved with but make more money from,” Stone says jokingly. “I want to come to work from like 4:30 to 5:30, and then eat lunch with the crew and say, ‘Oh, cool. Make that funny right there.’ And then leave, speed off in my Porsche.”
“Tell everybody they’re stupid and then leave,” Parker adds.
Before giving me a sneak peak of the show they and the crew have been working on, which is a spoof on the “World of Warcraft” epidemic, “South Park”-style (hilarious, I might add), Stone turns to me and says, “I think you did a much better job than the New York Times reporter. He would have gotten a ‘D’ minus, and you get an ‘A’ minus.”
“No,” Parker interrupts. “He got a check minus, and you get a check plus.”
Staff writer J. David McSwane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.