It’s pretty much your average animated movie musical about war, censorship and sodomy between Saddam Hussein and Satan. But even so, in this era of teen-culture paranoia, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut should give this summer’s edgy parents all sorts of reasons to lock up their kids. There have been rumors that Paramount, the studio releasing the movie, is scared of its subject matter. South Park‘s creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, are unrepentant and justifiably proud that some of the jokes that the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board ruled too rude for the multiplex have been recycled for the South Park TV show.
The walls of Parker and Stone’s large loftlike work space in West Los Angeles are covered with promising and profane descriptions of sequences in the film. They are willing to admit that the movie is a musical of sorts. “That will make the sixteen-year-old boys jump for joy,” Stone says with a laugh. They also confess that the relationship between the bizarre but fun couple Saddam and Satan is a curiously touching love story. And, unable to contain their glee, they preview the first single from the film’s soundtrack album — a wild punk-meets-Lord of the Dance rouser with the memorable title “What Would Brian Boitano Do?”
When the South Park computer-animation system crashes for a few hours, Parker and Stone take some time to walk outside and discuss their not-so-long but exceedingly strange trip through pop culture. Only a few years ago, they were struggling for meal money. Now, both still under thirty, Parker and Stone run a wonderfully crude cottage industry. Such quick notoriety, of course, rarely comes without a little backlash. Although recent reports of South Park‘s demise are greatly exaggerated, doomsayers point out that ratings for the first two new episodes this year were down forty-three percent from last season. Other observers have made much of the story that one of the young men picked up for questioning immediately after the Columbine killings was wearing a South Park shirt. Parker was relieved when a sheriff pointed out to the media that many of the kids being rescued were wearing South Park shirts, too.
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What have you two learned about Hollywood from the process of bringing South Park to the big screen?
Parker: Well, it was a clash. We had our system for doing things, the studio had its system. They’re like, “This is how you do a movie.” And we’re like, “Well, this is how you make South Park.” It was a constant battle. We were in a pretty good position of power, because our blessing — and our curse — is that we have to do everything. They can’t farm it out.
So is South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut really going to be totally uncut?
Parker: No, because the MPAA is in many ways way more strict than the TV people.
Are you concerned that post-Columbine, there’s a climate where our youth culture is under fire?
Parker: Yeah, and it’s amazingly strange, because that climate is what the movie is all about, and we wrote it more than a year ago. So when [Columbine] happened, we were like, “Wow.” What we wrote about in this movie came true in terms of people’s attitudes. The movie is also about war, and then that happened, too.
Have you ever had a moment when you felt maybe you were damaging the psyche of young America?
Parker: Not at all. Not for a second. We grew up with Monty Python, as fucked-up as that all was, and Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson and ultraviolence. People seem to forget that the world has been ultraviolent for a long time. Both of us — and all our friends — grew up in that culture, and we’re fine. There’s nothing about Marilyn Manson that says, “Pick up a gun and kill people.” And there’s nothing about South Park that says that, either.
Stone: When anything like the Columbine thing happens, everybody — us included — is so confused and saddened. People want an explanation. . . . And the explanation that some people are fucked-up — that’s a scary answer, but it is the answer. When someone older does something sick, it’s like, “What a psychopath, what a perverted sociopath, what a nut.” When someone under the age of eighteen does something, then we have a huge problem with youth culture.
Being from Colorado, did you know that high school?
Stone: My high school, Evergreen, played against Columbine. I think it’s been renovated since, but I took my SATs in its cafeteria.
Trey, when you gave the commencement speech at your high school recently, what was your opening line?
Parker: “What the hell am I supposed to tell you people?” The speech went over great. It was different from their normal commencements. I didn’t use any big words. I just talked to them pretty plainly and did a few voices.
Did you get handed a lot of résumés?
Parker: Actually, yes I did, but mostly by adults — teachers — rather than students. When I was doing the speech, I just wanted to get a read on our competition. So I said, “Who would like to see Wild Wild West?” And the place just erupted.
Stone: Wild Wild West can fuck off. I don’t even know about the movie, but that song and that trailer can fuck off seriously. It’s just a pure studio movie, like a concept — “We got Barry Sonnenfeld to do it, and Barry Sonnenfeld only does movies with Will Smith, so we’ve got to get him. Then let’s have Will do a song.” That pissed me off. Fuck that song, man. That’s one of my favorite songs, and he goes and cannibalizes it.
Considering that you were broke just a few years ago, is it surreal to find yourself being discussed in terms of your cultural impact?
Parker: It is. We get enough positive feedback, too. But as soon as we came out with South Park, the media were saying, “This is trite stuff; this won’t have any impact.” Now they bring us up when they talk about America’s youth and how we’re to blame. It’s like, “I thought we were trite and we would have no impact.”
You’re insignificant yet responsible.
Stone: They don’t pay any attention until there’s something bad.
What was your original goal for the South Park movie?
Stone: We wanted to do something worthy of a movie, not just a long episode or four episodes strung together. We wanted to do something bigger, just like the title implies. We wanted to justify the existence of a South Park movie.
Had you ever been disappointed by a film version of something you liked?
Parker: We were huge fans of Beavis and Butt-head, and huge fans of Mike Judge. We went to the premiere of the Beavis and Butt-head movie, and we wanted more. But they did the smart thing and made that movie for people who weren’t necessarily Beavis and Butt-head fans, and therefore made a shitload of money. I think it’s possible our movie is a little more inaccessible.
What would someone who’s been on a desert island for the past couple of years make of the movie if they were to wander into the wrong theater at the multiplex?
Parker: First of all, they’re going to say, “Holy shit,” but on the other hand, the movie is a very poignant story. Like I said, it’s insanely relevant all of a sudden. Scott Rudin — one of the movie’s executive producers and one of the biggest musical producers — thinks this may be the biggest movie musical to come out in many years.
Stone: It’s an R-rated, animated musical.
Parker: That just doesn’t happen a whole lot. We may just kill the genre right here. We would rather have someone say, “That was really fucked-up” than, “Oh, that was cute.”
Are you still fighting the ratings board?
Parker: It’s just scary — going through the trailer process and getting the notes back that say, “You just can’t fart.” It’s, like, the shot of the guy shooting the M60 and all these people getting shot — that was OK. But the guy farting has to come out.
Stone: Who ever died of a fart?
For better or worse, it’s probably safe to say there’s worse language heard in most high school cafeterias than in South Park.
Stone: Oh, God, yeah.
Parker: It’s nothing compared with what these fuckers are really talking about.
Then does the success of South Park actually make you more optimistic about America’s youth?
Stone: It gives me hope. If there’s an overriding message in South Park, it’s just to question authority. That’s the shit we make fun of.
Did you see a South Park backlash coming?
Parker: Back when people were first hearing about the show, Mike Judge basically showed us a diagram of how the popularity would go. He was like, “It’s going to be real popular; you’re going to hit a peak; then there’s going to be a backlash. Then it will go down, and it will level out. And before you know it, you’re going to be a sellout just by doing what you do.” I remember reading reviews that said we were sellouts when ‘Mr.Hankey the Christmas Poo’ came out. I was like, “What did we sell out?” Something is cool until everyone thinks it’s cool. Instead of saying that, it’s easier to say we’ve sold out. People see the merchandise and think that Matt and I are sewing dolls together, putting price tags on them and placing them on the shelves.
Has there ever been South Park merchandise you were uncomfortable with?
Parker: Oh, lots of things — lots.
Stone: It becomes a tidal wave.
Parker: The only way you can fight it is to spend days fighting it — days you don’t have.
Stone: That’s where you just have to go, “If the episodes are good, the rest will follow.”
How much life is left in the show?
Stone: We signed for seventy episodes, and we’re halfway through now. So another couple of years at most. We are psyched for more.
What did you learn from starring in BASEketball?
Parker: It was a completely positive experience. We got to see the whole process of a studio movie, but not from the director’s chair — to see what they do, how they fuck you. I learned a shitload. Universal made the mistake of thinking that people would come see us. They don’t give a shit about us. They care about Cartman and Stan and Kyle. I totally understand why. Also, there was no big emotional payoff in that movie — the funny thing about a movie like There’s Something About Mary is, simple as it is, you know what everybody in the movie wants. And in BASEketball, you didn’t really. That was a huge lesson learned.
What’s the most bizarre offer you’ve gotten since everything took off?
Stone: To star in a movie for Universal.
Parker: Yeah, what was that all about? This last New Year’s, I wanted to write down a list of all the things we had done in 1998. Like, we were on The Tonight Show, we recorded a song with Perry Farrell, met Elton John and Robert Smith, kissed Yasmine Bleeth, went to the Playboy mansion with Metallica there — like a list of a hundred weird things we never dreamed of doing one year earlier.
You kissed Yasmine Bleeth?
Parker: In BASEketball.
At the peak of South Park mania, were women throwing themselves at you like the rock stars you really are?
Parker: When you’re superhot, you don’t have the time to enjoy being superhot, because you’re working your ass off. By the time we will actually have time to really go out and screw around, we won’t be hot anymore.
Stone: Sad — God’s fucking cruel joke.