'South Park’ at 25: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Look, if creating a rude, amateurishly animated show about grade-school friends was easy, everyone would be cutting parka shapes out of construction paper. But not everyone is Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the anarchic comedy minds behind South Park, AKA the Show That Built Comedy Central.
As the show celebrates its 25th season, ComedyNerd takes a retrospective look at the good, the bad, and the ugly behind Colorado’s crudest kids.
The Good: The Spirit of Christmas
South Park began when a junior executive at Fox asked recent college grads Parker and Stone to make him an animated Christmas card to send off to friends.
The resulting video, which features an epic Santa Claus vs. Jesus Christ martial arts battle, soon became an underground Hollywood favorite. Before you know it, George Clooney was making VHS dubs in his basement and sending The Spirit of Christmas off to all his good-looking friends.
“I remember saying, ‘Hey, we need to be in business with these guys,’” says then-head of Comedy Central Doug Herzog. “I also remember thinking, ‘I’m not sure we can put that on TV.’”
The Good: Reintroducing America to Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes was a 1970s icon, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the man behind the most badass movie theme song of all time.
But even though Hayes wasn’t much in demand when Parker and Stone approached him about playing Chef in the late 1990s, he was wary about playing the part.
“He was very reluctant to do it in the beginning because I don’t think he understood it,” says his son, Isaac Hayes III. Lucky for us, young people around the legendary singer convinced him to do it.
South Park gained Hayes a whole new generation of fans, as well as a slew of voiceover work. It was an awesome relationship until it wasn’t -- Hayes, a Scientologist, quit the show after an episode poking fun at the religion.
Or did he? After Hayes suffered a stroke in 2006, he lost the ability to speak. According to his son, Hayes was in no condition to comprehend what was going on, but his assistants, who were all involved in Scientology, made the decision for him. “Isaac Hayes did not quit South Park;” says Isaac III. “Someone quit South Park for him.”
The Bad: South Park Takes a Shot at Steve Irwin
Generally, we’re in favor of South Park’s “nothing sacred” approach to religion, culture wars, and just about everything else. But there didn’t seem to be much else than cruelty to be gained from showing Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin in hell with a stingray stuck in his chest just weeks after his death in 2006.
Irwin’s widow was “devastated” by the episode, afraid that someone would share it with her young children. "Steve had as big a sense of humor as anyone,” said Terri Irwin, “but this goes too far too soon."
We like it better when South Park sticks it to people who deserve it, like Adolph Hitler, religious extremists, or Tom Cruise. (See “The Ugly,” below.)
The Bad: The First Three Seasons (according to Trey Parker, anyway)
When naming his favorite South Park episodes of all time, Parker makes clear which ones aren’t his favorites -- anything from the first three seasons.
“If I had to permanently erase anything from the library, it would basically be anything before season 4,” gripes Parker. “It's just embarrassing to watch. Okay, we were, like, 26, 27. But it's like, ‘Really? We thought that was funny? We thought that was well-written? Oh my God, this is terrible.’”
(We think there are more than a few good ones in the first three seasons. Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo, anyone? Hidey ho!)
The Ugly: Tom Cruise Wins Closetgate (At Least For a Minute)
What we do know: Comedy Central yoinked a rerun of “Trapped in the Closet,” an episode poking fun at Tom Cruise and Scientology, back in March 2006.
What we don’t know (or at least, what we don’t know for sure): Why?
Here’s what the “rumors” say: Tom Cruise was about to embark on a press tour for Mission: Impossible 3 for Paramount. Paramount was owned by Viacom, the same company that owned Comedy Central. Some little birdies whispered that Cruise refused to do publicity for the big-budget flick unless Comedy Central pushed pause on the rerun.
And that’s just what Comedy Central did, substituting the classic “Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls” instead. Of course, Parker and Stone fired back in a hilariously hyperbolic press release:
"So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!”
The message was signed “Trey Parker and Matt Stone, servants of the dark lord Xenu."
The Ugly: Parker and Stone at the 72nd Academy Awards
How much cleavage is too much cleavage?
Actually, we think the fellas look lovely, even though they were tripping balls. Parker and Stone, on hand because “Blame Canada” from the South Park movie was nominated for Best Song, decided to drop acid before the ceremony. That partially explains why they arrived dressed like Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow.
The two walked the red carpet, answering every single entertainment reporter’s question with the same answer:
“It’s a magical night tonight.”
The night’s ugliest moment? Parker and Stone had to come down from their high during an overly long Oscars ceremony with no statuette to take home for their trouble. “Losing just makes it horrible,” said Parker. “It’s terrible to lose to Phil Collins especially.”
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Top image: Paramount +