South Park's Evil Geniuses

And the triumph of no-brow culture

February 19, 1998
South Park
South Park on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Illustration by Trey Parker and Matt Stone

It was Trey Parker's big slab of meat that first attracted Matt Stone. (A juvenile lead, sure, but did you catch the talking turd on the Christmas show?)

All pooled up like some long-lost members of Slaughter, Parker and Stone, the creators and executive producers of South Park, are sitting in the back of a black stretch limousine, talking about the origins of their suddenly successful union. The limo packed with pals, colleagues and girlfriends past and present – is heading from Westwood, Calif., to the NBC studios in Burbank, where the duo will make its mass celebrity debut – its first-ever Tonight Show appearance.

The 50 Funniest People Now: Trey Parker and Matt Stone

Stone, 26, wearing tight black leather pants, is tall and rock-star skinny, with a dark, slightly wild 'fro – he's the inspiration for Kyle, one of South Park's few Jews. The 28-yearold Parker – who inspired South Park group leader Stan – is more solidly built, blond and mildly leading-mannish.

The duo first met back in the early '9os, making student films at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Stone would responsibly graduate with a degree in math and film. Parker, the more artistically driven of the two, got booted out for missing too many classes; he was already directing his first feature, 1994's Cannibal: The Musical, a $125,ooo production whose budget he scrounged from friends and family.

"My film was called Giant Beaver of Southern Sri Lanka," Parker says, recalling the film he was making when he met Stone. "It was sort of a Godzilla thing, but with a huge beaver. I had a little girl dressed in a beaver costume rampaging a town."

This is where that aforementioned slab of meat enters their misty memories.

"I went over to Trey's apartment, and there was this huge roast on the counter," recalls Stone as his friends check out the limo beverages. "So Trey starts cutting off big slices of roast and handing me pieces, and I thought, 'This is cool.' Everyone else at college has little dishes of beans and rice, or noodles."

Seven years later they've dazzled Hollywood with scissors and construction paper, creating South Park, the only TV show from the latter half of 1997 that made a dent critically or commercially. The cable smash instantly upgraded Comedy Central's ratings and, according to the network, has moved more than a million T-shirts and $30 million in merchandise since the show debuted last August.

Comedy Central is claiming that the Christmas episode drew a 50 share of 18- to 24-year-olds and that ad rates for South Park sell for 6 times the network's standard prime-time rate. "South Park is the Michael Jordan of basic-cable series," says Comedy Central president Doug Herzog.

Not too shabby for an uncompromisingly hilarious and curiously affecting show featuring hard-cussing, crudely animated third-graders, flaming flatulence, gay pets, a lusty lunchroom soulman, alien anal probes, a Hitler Halloween costume, a character (Kenny) who dies in almost every episode and, yes, Mr. Hankey, the world's funniest turd. Set in the Colorado county that is the supposed alien-abduction capital of the world, South Park is far more scatological than logical. Adults are jerks, Jesus is reduced to hosting a community access show called Jesus and Pals, and Patrick Duffy turns up as one leg of a monster called Scuzzlebutt.

South Park has established Parker and Stone – who say they don't get Woody Allen but love Jerry Springer – as the kings of a new, nonsnobby but bluntly smart fin de siécle comedic sensibility. Neither highbrow nor lowbrow, it's a sort of humor that's distinctly no-brow – an edgy, rude point of view that can get pretty trippy. "We did an appearance at UCLA recently," Parker says. "All these kids asking, 'Where did you get the idea for this? And where did you get the idea for that?' And we were like, 'Acid. Acid and, uh, acid.'"

South Park has proved intensely popular with critics, teens and college kids, and has even become something of a cause célèbrecwith assorted showbiz big shots. Early booster George Clooney was willing to bark the small role of Sparky the Gay Dog in the moving "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride" episode. When the two attended a KROQ Christmas concert in Los Angeles, they found themselves treated like real stars by assorted alterna-icons such as Fiona Apple and Beck. Tiger Woods has volunteered his vocal services, and, according to Parker and Stone, Jerry Seinfeld's representatives expressed interest in Jerry's playing a role on South Park. The Seinfeld people were put off, though, when offered the Turkey No. 2 role in the Thanksgiving episode. As Parker recalls, "The manager said, 'This is Jerry Seinfeld. Call us back when you have something bigger.'" How about Turkey No. 1?

South Park is just the beginning of the pair's wise-ass world domination. Up next is Orgazmo, an uproarious but shockingly sweet film recently screened at the Sundance Film Festival. In the movie, Parker stars as an earnest, soon-to-be-married, martial-arts-obsessed Mormon who gets caught up spending boogie nights in the porn game in order to pay for a church wedding; Stone effectively plays a dopey, horny porn stagehand and photographer. And last month, Parker and Stone went into production on Baseketball, a new comedy by one of their idols, David Zucker of Zucker brothers fame (Airplane! and The Naked Gun). Parker, Stone and longtime pal Dian Bachar star as pioneers of a new sport mutation that takes over America.

As if that weren't enough, Parker and Stone also have a band. I've seen rock & roll future, and its name – for the time being, at least – is DVDA. "It's a reference from Orgazmo," frontman Parker explains. "We learned that as a female in porn, you get paid for different things you do. If you do straight, you get so much. If you do anal, you get so much. If you do double vaginal, double anal – well, that's the highest thing you can do."

"As soon as we heard that, we said, 'That's our name,'" says drummer Stone.

Though their schedule leaves little time for rehearsal, DVDA are the greatest and certainly the funniest band you've never heard of. Their originals include the hairy anthem "I am Chewbacca" and the protest number "Fuck That Guy From Bush" (which decries the fact that he's "fucking that girl from No Doubt"). It seems unlikely that DVDA – featuring South Park audio producer and onetime Cher sideman Bruce Howell on guitar – will stay unheard for long. A recent gig at the ultragroovy Spaceland in L.A.'s Silver Lake drew a gaggle of record execs bidding for the South Park soundtrack. Of course, there may have to be a band-name switch first. They're toying with Dude, That Middle Part Kinda Sounded Like Deep Purple.

Two years ago, Stone says, "We were seriously starving. Down to a meal a day." Salvation came in the form of The Spirit of Christmas, one of the least likely big breaks in Hollywood history. The obscenity-laced five-minute short was commissioned by booster Brian Graden, then a Fox executive, as a Christmas card. He gave the pair $1,200 to spend. "They pocketed half of it," Graden says. The result found Jesus and Santa Claus kicking each other's asses and featured memorable lines like, "Dude, don't say 'pig fucker' in front of Jesus!"

Passed around within and without the industry, The Spirit of Christmas became an underground smash. "Right after The Spirit of Christmas, it got to the point where we were doing three meetings a day and getting offered multipicture deals from every studio," Parker recalls as the limo pulls onto the NBC lot. "I got a call from my agents saying, 'Trey, you've been offered to direct a picture for a million and a half dollars.' And I said, 'Wow, what's the movie?' And they said, 'It's Barney: The Movie.' I said, 'Who the hell wants me to direct Barney: The Movie?' They said, 'They want it to be a G-rated thing, and they saw that you can make really funny stuff with kids since you did The Spirit of Christmas.'"

South Park is a poisoned place in the heart, a taste-free zone where kids say the darnedest, most fucked-up things. If Seinfeld made television history by positing that adults are petty, nasty, self-serving beasts, South Park has, during its nine-episode history (four new episodes are due this month), suggested that such lousy behavior doesn't begin at the age of 18.

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