Still Sick, Still Wrong

For ten years, "South Park" has been the crudest, stupidest, most offensive show on television. And the funniest

By VANESSA GRIGORIADISPosted Mar 22, 2007 12:34 PM

"Let's give them $150 for a spa treatment," says writer Jon Kimmel.

"They'll use it for crack!" scolds Parker. "Let's give them really nice engraved money clips and see if they'll go away."

"OK, that didn't work -- we've got to double the amount of money and crack," quips Stone.

Parker looks in the distance. "Oh, my God: The homeless are crossbreeding!" he declares. "They're starting to get jobs and homes. They're the hybrid homeless!"

"You mean like a Prius?" asks McCulloch.

"They're changing, evolving, buying homes," whispers Parker. "They're adapting!" He takes the voice of a South Park police officer. "We caught one." He lowers his voice. "He was about to buy a home."

Everyone laughs. "At the end of the show, we'll run a placard that says, 'there are thousands of homeless people in america, if you would like to help call this number,'" says Parker. "If you would like to help!" He giggles for a long time. "Oh, I don't care." Then he pretends to fart.

For the past ten years -- the show debuted on August 13th, 1997 -- South Park has satirized America's moral panic over issues big and small, from gay marriage to global warming to Lindsay Lohan's drinking habits. Taking the country to task for hypocrisies like the abandonment of the homeless is South Park's way, even though there's something uncomfortable about watching six adults make jokes about homelessness for a solid hour without ever once talking about solutions to the problem. It's the stupidest smart show on television, consistently pushing the envelope on scabrous humor with the perhaps unintended side effect of paving the way for dumber-than-dumb shows such as Family Guy. The silly parts of the show, say its authors, are the ones they really like. "I spend shockingly little time thinking about real-world stuff," says Parker. "As far as I'm concerned, I've got a computer, the Internet, an Xbox and PlayStation 3, so fuck off."

It's also the most ideologically opaque political show on television, fostering an open-ended dialogue on difficult questions like whether one has a duty to obey unfair laws or if there is a God in an evil world. Unlike The Simpsons, which is intellectual and pleasantly dumb in its portrayal of American life, using both to further a leftist agenda, South Park offers simple parables -- often with an optimistic message -- to take aim at all issues without ever showing its hand. "If Matt and Trey came out and said what they were about, all of a sudden people would watch the show with a map," says Penn Jillette, a close friend. "But you shouldn't have a map to look at during the ride. You must trust the art and not the artist. They'll never say what they're about."

After spending most of South Park's run also at work on movies -- BASEketball, Orgazmo, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and Team America, a $35 million marionette sendup of Jerry Bruckheimer and America's derring-do -- Stone and Parker have been almost exclusively focused on South Park in the past couple of years, with good results. Their tight production schedule allows them to respond to news quickly, churning out shows on topics such as the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case, Hurricane Katrina and a particularly scathing episode characterizing Scientology as a moneymaking scheme and portraying sect members Tom Cruise and John Travolta hiding in a closet. In March 2006, Comedy Central parent Viacom, which had pulled reruns of an episode featuring the Virgin Mary hemorrhaging blood, canceled the Scientology rerun allegedly as a favor to producers of Cruise vehicle Mission: Impossible III, also owned by Viacom. This infuriated Stone and Parker -- eventually, Viacom capitulated -- but they really lost it when Isaac Hayes, voice of the ribald school chef and a Scientologist, quit and issued a public statement calling them bigots. "There are reports that Isaac had a stroke and Scientology quit the show for him, and I believe it," says Stone. "It was a brutal, up-close, personal thing with Isaac. If you look at the timeline, something doesn't add up."

Stone is the guy who always argues with the network while Parker snickers on the sidelines -- he doesn't like confrontation. They don't argue much with Comedy Central, but the knives came out in April 2006 over a planned episode in the face of worldwide riots sparked by the depiction of the Islamic prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper cartoon, which is considered sacrilegious by Islamic law. Stone and Parker wanted to show the image anyway. "I really felt we had to do this," says Stone. "I know I'm a total pussy living a privileged life on the west side of Los Angeles while soldiers and policemen protect me so I can say things like 'fudge-packing faggot' on my television show, but this was our duty. Comedy Central wussed out because they thought their offices on 57th Street in Manhattan were going to get bombed." Says Comedy Central president Doug Herzog, "The guys were coming at us all week with questions like, 'Can we show some of Mohammed? Can his turban be showing? Can part of his turban be showing?' It was, quite frankly, retarded. But did we overreact by not showing the picture? Absolutely. At the time, nobody was ready to take the chance."


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