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Ever since South Park premiered in August 1997, the show has fielded complaints from concerned parents and advocacy groups who’ve occasionally asked Comedy Central to pull the cartoon from air. For decades, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have laughed and shrugged it off. (“People have been talking about cancelling us for 22 fucking years,” Parker says).
Now the naysayers will have some more time to complain as South Park has just been renewed by Comedy Central through 2022. “In this day and age, it is more of an achievement than it was before, the fact that we are still going,” Parker notes. Yet even after all they’ve had to endure through the years, the duo agrees “cancel culture” is different and something that deeply irks them.
After their first meeting Tuesday for the upcoming 23rd season (premiering Sept. 25), The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Parker and Stone at their Marina del Rey studio (named Casa Bonita) to discuss how long they want to keep doing South Park, some plans to make a (non-South Park) movie for the first time in 15 years and the rise of cancel culture.
“It’s new,” Stone says of cancel culture, the term used to refer to boycotts started (usually via social media) when a person or group is offended by a star or brand. “I don’t want to say it’s the same as it’s always been. The kids are fucking different than us. There’s a generational thing going on.” Currently, Dave Chappelle is in the crosshairs for his latest Netflix stand-up special, Sticks and Stones. “I know some people have been canceled for genuinely, like, personal behavior, but Dave is not getting canceled anytime soon,” Stone says, joking that South Park and Chappelle are “grandfathered” out of the culture.
Stone also shared his theory as to why critics were so hard on the latest Chappelle special, while viewers seemed to enjoy it far more. “I feel bad for television critics and cultural critics,” he explains. “They may have laughed like hell at that, and then they went home and they know what they have to write to keep their job. So when I read TV reviews or cultural reviews, I think of someone in prison, writing. I think about somebody writing a hostage note. This is not what they think. This is what they have to do to keep their job in a social media world. So I don’t hold it against them.”
On Tuesday, the duo — who met and bonded decades ago at the University of Colorado Boulder, where they crafted a VHS short of four construction-paper foul-mouthed kids, which snowballed into a cartoon empire — was feeling good. In the past, the initial meeting to kick off a new season sometimes had been a rough one. “You hope when you get back that you laugh a lot, and we did today,” Parker says. “I laughed harder today than I have in probably six months.” Adds Stone, “I’ll sleep better tonight. It really is like this big release.” The two reveal they have a plethora of ideas that have been collected in notes throughout the year. Stone jots on his phone, whereas Parker does voice memos in character, most are as Eric Cartman.
The decision to renew their show for a few more years did not involve a long discussion. There has never been a ritual. “I don’t think we have ever had an ‘OK, let’s sit down and decide if we are going to keep going,'” Parker says. Stone adds, “I am 48. Trey turns 50 this year. So I will say that I don’t think we will be doing this show when we’re 60.” (Parker points out they said in old interviews they’d stop when they hit their 40s.)
The upcoming season will be produced the same as it has in years prior, each episode planned and executed the week of air. That said, South Park will hit a milestone in October — its 300th episode. Are there any grand plans to mark the occasion? Not likely.
“Well, we did the 200 two-parter, and that was a disaster,” Parker says, clearly still irritated over the situation nine years ago when their shows “200” and “201,” which poked fun at the prophet Muhammad, were heavily censored by Comedy Central and only aired once. (They’ve never been available for streaming). “We’ve learned the past few years to let the momentum of the season take us.”
Pressure to get an episode done in a week is where they and their team thrive, but pressure to do something special for commemoration’s sake has never been conducive to their process. “I think we felt the heaviness of the 20th season, some show-defining thing,” Stone says. “We’ve tried that. I like the past couple of seasons where it’s like, take the pressure off and let the thing be what it is. And we’re better at doing that.”
Plus, they have other projects on their minds right now. They are champing at the bit to make another film, their last being 2004’s Team America: World Police. Stone says, “We think of ourselves as filmmakers, and it’s like, everyone is doing TV now. It’s like, movies, even though the movie business is all fucked up. And everyone will tell you don’t go into movies. We just want to do a movie.”
The two are tight-lipped about their plans, but Stone assures they’re “really fucking killer ideas” that are not South Park-related. Still, they have little to no interest in a film for streaming purposes. “Theoretically, I would like it to be in theaters so people have to watch it together,” Stone says. Parker says, “And we really like premiere parties.”
Circling back to the previous season of South Park, Parker and Stone say, yes, of course the plot arc with ManBearPig (a creature used as a metaphor for global warming) and Al Gore was an attempt to atone for episodes years ago in which they joked about the former vice president’s charge for climate change action. And, yes, they are aware Gore praised them for their efforts last year when he dropped by The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.
“We just felt like, of all of our episodes, that one has not aged very well,” Stone admits. “And we came up with a funny idea how to use ManBearPig as a parable. I always felt like if we were going to rewrite that or comment on it or atone, whatever you want to call it, it’s in kind. In other words, we didn’t want to say in some interview, ‘Well, we don’t feel so great about that episode.’ It doesn’t feel as good as ‘Fuck that, we’ll do a whole two-parter.’ And it is not just atoning. We beat ourselves up pretty good.” Parker notes, “We could just do an entire season atoning. It’s been fucking 22 years. We’re pretty different people now.”
One of the most notable aspects from last season was the lack of any political dealings, specifically the nearly total absence of Donald Trump via the Mr. Garrison persona. “It was nice for us,” Parker says. “It was nice to not come in and talk about Donald Trump. And I think it was nice for people to watch and go, ‘Oh, yeah, there is still comedy outside of fucking Donald Trump. There is still funny shit as the world goes on.’ And you can get your Trump comedy on so many other shows.”
Stone concludes, “We can make a funnier show with Garrison and that whole story, but there is other stuff that is more fun. But then again, if we came up with something tomorrow, we’d do it. We don’t have any rules.”
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