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 one-time 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.’ ”
S outh 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.
By facing the ugly truth that our inner children are baby-faced sadists with big eyes, the show has broken our sweetest taboo and revealed childhood as a dangerous and obscene place. As the warning before the show explains, “The following program contains coarse language, and, due to its content, it should not be viewed by anyone.”
“That’s how we pitched the show when we went around town,” says Parker. “There’s this whole thing out there about how kids are so innocent and pure. That’s bullshit, man. Kids are malicious little fuckers. They totally jump on any bandwagon and rip on the weak guy at any chance. They say whatever bad word they can think of. They are total fucking bastards, but for some reason everyone has kids and forgets about what they were like when they were kids.”
“It’s a total projection of what I remember,” says Stone. “I remember making the poor kid eat the worm. I remember thinking, ‘What’s the meanest thing I could possibly do here?’ ”
As the success of The Simpsons, Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill demonstrates, hard truths go down more comfortably in cartoons. “I think it’s definitely easier to take the truth in animated form,” Parker says. “It might be hard to make live-action little kids dying funny. That would be difficult to do, even with special effects. But since it’s a cartoon, we can control these kids in a way you never could with a real kid. We can make them act the way real kids act. A kid actor would try to be all sweet, and then you get Webster, and who needs shit like that?”
The sweetness of South Park is hardly conventional. For instance, sensitive Kyle always takes the time to notice all of Kenny’s passings. “We really focused on what the world looks like when you’re in third grade,” says Brian Graden, now program chief at MTV. “Which is kind of surreal and fucked-up.”
“We figured out pretty early having heart makes it all the more subversive in a way,” says Parker. “There was some funny stuff on Ren and Stimpy, but I could never get into it because it was like, ‘Here is something fucked-up, and here is something fucked-up, and here is something fucked-up.’ But if you do something with a little heart and character, it’s 10 times worse because it sucks you in.”
Parker and Stone credit Comedy Central vice president Debbie Liebling with understanding their vision. Other TV executives were telling them that their show couldn’t work without the potty language that marked The Spirit of Christmas. But Liebling saw that the show could be more than a “fuck”-fest.
“There were places that wanted it,” recalls Parker, “and there were places that were like, ‘Spirit of Christmas is great, but you can never make the show funny without them saying “pig fucker.”‘ We didn’t believe that, but after you hear that enough, you say, ‘All right, let’s pack it full of language.’ Making the pilot, we went through a lot of changes. At first we said we just have to put in dildo and every word we can get away with. After the pilot, we started to let it be more natural. We don’t have to force it.”
For that reason, Stone says, “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride” — a cry (or fart) for tolerance in a harsh world — is their favorite South Park episode, beating out such enduring classics as “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe,” “An Elephant Makes Love to a Pig,” “Starvin’ Marvin” and “Mr. Hankey — The Christmas Poo.”