Four Jokes from the First Season of ‘South Park’ You Now Need Wikipedia to Understand

The top topical punchlines that aren’t as recognizable today as they were in 1997
Four Jokes from the First Season of ‘South Park’ You Now Need Wikipedia to Understand

Thankfully, kids these days still know what’s funny about the phrase “anal probe.”

Despite the fact that South Park has been on TV for longer than all but the oldest members of Generation Z have been alive, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s obscene animated masterpiece is a surprising hit among the younger generation of comedy fans. Every day in America, some teenager stumbles upon the series that made their parents’ parents clutch their pearls back in the 1990s, usually through some clip on TikTok or a GIF of the “Make Love Not Warcraft” guy posted out of anger in the middle of a Twitter argument.

For new South Park fans looking to start from the beginning, many of the pop-culture references from the show’s earliest episodes may be inaccessible to anyone with no memory of a time before smartphones, so let us explain the most topical jokes of 1997 one hastily summarized Wikipedia entry at a time…

David Caruso Is A TV Actor Whose Career (Briefly) Fell Off A Cliff

When Kyle shouts at his adopted Canadian baby brother Ike to “Do your impression of David Caruso’s career” before the baby enters a freefall, he was referencing a string of commercial and artistic failures that the former NYPD Blue star had put out in the years leading up to the South Park series premiere “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe,” which included the unsuccessful un-thriller movies Kiss of Death and Jade and the doomed legal drama show Michael Hayes. Of course, Caruso would reach greater heights than ever before when he signed up for CSI: Miami in 2002. But even that show might need an explanation for some younger audience members.

To summarize: YEEEEEAAAAAHHHH!!!

Geraldo Was A Trashy Tabloid Talk Show That Was Perfect for People Like Cartman

Back in the 1990s, exploitative talk shows featuring buttoned-down hosts who pretended to care about topical issues while giving the trashiest, most unfortunate and most watchable miscreants in America their 15 minutes of fame were all the rage. Perennial Fox commentator Geraldo Rivera had such a show, on which a bunch of skinheads one broke his nose after a brawl broke out while Geraldo was trying to host a summit between a bunch of Klansmen, the Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, Black activists and Jewish activists.

So, when a naked, 4,000-pound Cartman asks Geraldo, “When is this gonna be on the air?” in “Weight Gain 4000,” he was honestly underselling the lowbrow spirit of Geraldo.

The Episode “Volcano” Is Based on A Piece-Of-Shit Movie By the Same Name

Another pop-culture trend in the late-1990s was the revival of the disaster film genre, which peaked all the way back in the 1970s and slowly made a resurgence with the rise of CGI toward the end of the decade. In 1996, two massive hits, Twister and Independence Day, inspired Hollywood studios to inject the genre with computer-assisted spectacle as they funded some of the most unwatchable and unintelligible films of the decade. In 1997, Parker and Stone saw two such films, Volcano and Dante's Peak, which were so awful that they inspired the South Park creators to do a disaster story right with “Volcano.”

Stone would later say of the disaster episode on the first seasons DVD commentary, “If you watch this episode and then go watch Volcano, this makes more sense than Volcano does.” “Volcano” also featured the first-ever appearance of an eyebrow-less Randy Marsh, who has since caused so many disasters that were far more watchable than Volcano.

The Turkey War Is One Big Braveheart Parody

Younger South Park viewers might only know Mel Gibson from his phone call work, but long before anyone knew that the actor/director was moonlighting as a viciously racist and anti-Semitic drunk driver, he was best known for playing William Wallace in the 1995 historical epic Braveheart. The South Park episode “Starvin Marvin” featured the first-ever direct movie spoof in South Park history when the town unites to fight against a horde of genetically engineered turkeys and both sides assign themselves the roles of the Scots.

“Starvin Marvin” nearly featured a cameo from 1990s superstar Jerry Seinfeld, who contacted Parker and Stone about appearing on South Park but was put-off when they offered him the opportunity to voice one of the turkeys. For Gen Z fans, long before he made Unfrosted and whined about cancel culture, Jerry Seinfeld used to be a comedian.


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