Since 1997, many of us have followed the exploits of four little kids from the town of South Park as they find adventure, get into trouble and serve it all up with a massive side of adult humor. The creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park has evolved over the years and become known for tackling sensitive and controversial issues through the comedic lens. This method has often left many people offended and the show labelled as inappropriate and tasteless. Yet, the fan base for this show remains solid after 18 years. What makes it so successful? It makes fun of everything and everyone. Through Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Eric, South Park has transitioned from a comedy show based largely on shock value to one which uses social satire.
Perhaps you’ve seen all the South Park episodes to date. Perhaps you’ve watched the movie 100 times and can even recite ‘Blame Canada’ word for word. Perhaps you’ve even finished the video game three or four times. We bet there are at least a few things you don’t know about this often controversial and always entertaining animated series. The following list looks at 20 South Park facts you just may not know. There’s a little of everything here, from episode and character creation to popularity and censorship. It turns out there is a lot more to the animated series about a small mountain town than most of us originally thought. So go on down to South Park and leave your woes behind.
20. The Spirit Of Christmas Started it All
Back in 1992 Parker and Stone created a very rough animated short entitled The Spirit of Christmas (aka. Jesus vs Frosty) which contained some of the elements we’d come to see in future South Park creations. In 1995, a friend who worked for FOX commissioned the two to create a new Christmas clip also titled The Spirit of Christmas (aka. Jesus vs Santa). The newer creation better resembles the South Park format we are familiar with today and eventually went viral, leading to requests that Parker and Stone create an animated series. With Fox refusing to pick up the show because it involved a talking piece of feces (Mr. Hankey), Parker and Stone found themselves signing a deal with Comedy Central. The pilot was released in August 1997 and the rest is history.
19. A Celebrity in Every Episode
Anyone who has watched a few episodes of South Park knows the show loves to poke fun at celebrities. From Ben Affleck and Taylor Swift to John Travolta and Kanye West, South Park has made a habit of building stories around the funny, bizarre and just plain stupid aspects of celebrity lifestyles we often read about online or in those trashy magazines at the supermarket checkout. Aside from lampooning the famous, Parker and Stone have also included more than a few celebrity voices in their series, including the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Radiohead, Elton John and Robert Smith. All in all, what this means is that since day one of the series, every episode of South Park has either mentioned or included a celebrity personality.
18. Tight Deadlines
Most of us live and work in a world where we have to meet deadlines of some sort. In many instances, these deadlines are extremely tight with no room for errors or lateness. For the writers and creators of South Park, this definitely holds true. In fact, each episode of the popular animated series is started only six days before it’s meant to be released. Starting from scratch on each episode (no scripts pre-written here) work starts on a Thursday and ends on Wednesday when the episode is sent to Comedy Central, sometimes just a few hours before the intended broadcast. The very short and frantic period of episode production was captured in the 2011 special 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park.
17. George Clooney and Jay Leno
Technically, this section should have been included with the rest of the celebrity discussion in #19, but we thought it deserved its own space because it’s a little different. Yes, George Clooney and Jay Leno are celebrities and, yes, they did do voice acting for South Park – just not in the way you might think. The movie star and stand-up legend each contributed to the show by doing the ‘voices’ for animals. Specifically, Clooney made all the ‘ruffs’ and ‘yelps’ for Stan’s dog, Sparky, while Eric Cartman’s cat, Mr. Kitty, received his ‘meows’ from Leno.
16. Kenny is Real
Oh my god, they killed Kenny! – For the first several seasons, every episode contained one comical or bizarre death involving the orange parka-wearing kid from the other side of the tracks. Over time, the show evolved away from this once central aspect (much like how The Simpsons evolved from being focussed so much on Bart in the early 1990s) and Kenny has become a more multi-dimensional character. That said, the character of Kenny McCormick is actually based on a real life person. It turns out Trey Parker was friends with a ‘Kenny’ in school. Kenny was the poorest kid, wore an oversized parka which muffled his speech and often skipped school which led to a joke among his classmates that he was dead.
15. The Term ‘Derp’ was Popularized by South Park
An internet meme, today the term ‘derp’ is generally associated with stupidity and awkwardness, often attached to images in which someone has a dumb looking facial expression or their eyes are pointed off to the sides. The first known use of the word was in the 1998 film BASEketball with Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In 1999, ‘derp’ found its way to South Park thanks to Mr. Derp, a character who temporarily replaced Chef in the school cafeteria and was known for being goofy and using dumb jokes. Derp, according to Parker and Stone, was a word to sum up ‘obvious jokes’ or something stupid.
14. The Simpsons are Coming
People tend to love it when shows crossover and characters from different programs appear together in one. The Power Rangers met the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Kramer (Seinfeld) enjoyed one of his Cuban cigars with Paul Buchman (Mad About You) and Travis and Laurie (Cougar Town) appeared on Community. When the two-part South Park episode ‘Cartoon Wars’ aired, it was notable that not only did it include a somewhat rough version of the Griffin family from Family Guy, but a character that was clearly Bart Simpson also showed up. Often referred to as the ‘Family Guy’ episode, the show poked fun at the writing style and jokes of Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane. The crew over at The Simpsons were so impressed they reportedly sent flowers to the South Park team.
13. The Scientology Fallout
Again, if you’ve ever watched more than a few episodes of South Park you know it makes fun of everything and everyone – religion included. A 2005 episode titled “Trapped in the Closet” poked fun at Scientology and some of its more notable followers, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta. The episode displeased the Church of Scientology and allegedly resulted in the organization spying on Parker and Stone so as to find some ‘dirt’ which could be used against them in a smear campaign. Apparently nothing turned up and South Park continues to make fun of Scientology (and all other religions) to this day. Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef and a Scientologist, was so upset by the episode that he left the cast – something Parker and Stone were more than a little hurt by.
12. Casa Bonita
It’s hard to watch the 2003 South Park episode “Casa Bonita” without wanting to head out to an authentic Mexican restaurant. The food, the music, the cliff divers – it’s all understandable why Eric Cartman convinces Butters the world has ended so he can take his place at Kyle’s birthday party which just so happens to be going to Casa Bonita. There are references made to Casa Bonita in several episodes and at one point it was even destroyed by Barbra Streisand. Of course, you’ll all be glad to know that Casa Bonita was not destroyed because it actually exists in Denver.
11. EA Recalls Their Games
The episode “Sexual Healing” was released in 2010 and satirized the Tiger Woods sex scandal. In that episode, a video game the kids played was a parody of the popular Tiger Woods Golf series by EA Sports – only you didn’t so much play golf as engage in combat using golf clubs with two characters which were obvious parodies of Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren. In a strange twist, years earlier EA had to recall ‘Tiger Woods 99’ because someone had slipped the Jesus vs Santa short onto the disc. All over America, computer savvy kids accessed the disc to play the clip. Apparently, parents became most displeased when they heard a string of profanity coming from the television – who knew?
10. You Can ‘Take’ South Park in School
Sure, South Park has been known to have its share of immature humor and inappropriate content. This has turned more than a few people off of the show over the years. Nonetheless, as the years have gone by the show has ‘matured’ and often makes rather clever commentary of current events and controversial subjects. In short, it makes difficult subjects more accessible by making fun of them. McDaniel College in Maryland has picked up upon this by offering a course which examines South Park episodes and breaks down the ‘real life’ issues they deal with. The class, titled ‘South Park and Contemporary Social Issues,’ offers students a chance to tackle issues like gay marriage, religion and race from a different angle.
9. Aliens Everywhere
If you ever liked the series of “Where’s Waldo?” books then you’ll like this next fact which may have you watching South Park a little more closely. The 1997 pilot episode of South Park saw Eric Cartman abducted by aliens. Ever since then, the lanky, white, giant-eyed aliens have appeared in every single episode of the series. That’s right, not including the introduction, there is at least one alien inserted somewhere in every episode. Some are pretty obvious, like standing in a crowd or in the background. Others, however, are far harder to find as they appear as watermarks or obscured behind tinted windows. Hidden aliens definitely adds a whole new element when re-watching those old episodes.
8. Europeans Love Chocolate Salty Balls
What’s big, salty and brown and should be put in your mouth? If you’re the creators of South Park the answer is apparently Chef’s salty chocolate balls. In season 2, Chef (Isaac Hayes) sings a song about the chocolaty (and salty) creation he has baked. The song, an instant South Park classic, was included on the December album Chef Aid: The South Park Album. Interestingly enough, the song which was full of innuendo became a hit in Europe. In Ireland and on the UK Singles Chart, “Chocolate Salty Balls” reached #1. In Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, the song broke into the top ten. The one European country it did the worst in? France, where “Chocolate Salty Balls” only made it #82.
7. Mr. Mackey is Real, M’kay.
Drugs are bad, m’kay. Mr Mackey, the South Park Elementary School’s well-meaning, yet awkward counsellor is known for slipping in more than the occasional ‘m’kay’ after a sentence. It turns out that, much like Kenny McCormick, Mr. Mackey is closely based on Trey Parker’s school counsellor, Mr. Lackey. According to Parker, Mr. Lackey would tell him to stop fooling around and get back to work – m’kay. I guess things are m’kay now, after all, as Parker said in an interview, he’s now “making millions out of him.”
6. Pokemon vs. Chinpokomon
Pokemon (meaning Pocket Monster) is a Japanese creation which is built around fictional creatures that humans ‘collect’ and battle with. Video games, trading cards, books, movies – you name it and the Pokemon franchise has cashed in on it. South Park entered this fantasy realm in 1999 with the episode titled “Chinpokomon” – an obvious reference to Pokemon which had all the South Park kids scrambling to collect the various bizarre toys and watch the corresponding bizarre television show. We bet most of you didn’t know Chinpokomon roughly translates from Japanese to mean ‘Penis Pocket Monster.’ I don’t think much more needs to be said here, m’kay.
5. Kyle Wasn’t Meant to Make it This Far
Having watched a few episodes of South Park you’ll quickly come to realize that two of the main characters who just can’t seem to get along are Eric Cartman and Kyle Broflovski. Eric is always making fun of Kyle, trying to win bets against him or exclude him because he is Jewish. Eric almost had his dreams come true early in the series when creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were seriously considering axing the green-hat wearing character from the show. It turns out Kyle (who is modelled on Stone) was deemed too similar to Stan and there were plans to drop him in season 5. Nevertheless, keeping Kyle has been a good idea as he’s been central to many storylines and is an excellent opposite to Cartman.
4. Bigger, Longer, Uncut’s Big F*#$?@$ Record
In 1999, riding a wave of ever increasing popularity (or infamy depending on who you are) Parker and Stone took South Park to the big screen. The movie was a box-office success and received significant praise from critics overall. Those who went expecting to see simply a longer version of the standard episode were more than surprised. In large part, what caught the attention of most viewers was the significant use of profanity throughout the film. In fact, Bigger, Longer, Uncut holds the Guinness World Record for most profanity in a film. In total, 399 swear words were used, including over 140 F-words.
3. Unlikely Praise
Over the years it has become common to hear of some political, religious or family group which has become annoyed with South Park. So, in 2007, when “Le Petit Tourette” aired and Eric Cartman pretended he had Tourette Syndrome in order to swear as much as he wanted, everyone expected complaints. Many likely expected the Tourette Syndrome Association (TSA) to lodge a complaint – an organization which expected the episode to be overly offensive even before it was shown. Interestingly enough, the TSA ended up praising the episode for its research and general accuracy. That said, they did feel the amount of profanity used was exaggerated, but to be honest, I think most people expected that.
2. The Absurdity of Censorship – Part I
Among the many issues and debates the South Park creators are known to enter into, censorship is one of the biggest. Indeed, creating a show which tackles sensitive topics and mixing it with a lot of adult humor and immaturity makes it a target for censorship to begin with. So, when Parker and Stone came up with the episode “It Hits the Fan,” an episode about the use of the word ‘sh*t’ on television, negotiation with the network started over how much could be allowed. Turns out that saying ‘sh*t’ only a few times was unacceptable, however, the network would accept it if the word was said many times. Parker and Stone complied and this particular episode made headlines by having the word ‘sh*t’ written or said 200 times.
1. The Absurdity of Censorship – Part II
Perhaps one of the biggest controversies to hit South Park, which continues to be significant today, was over the depiction of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. In July 2001, Muhammad had been depicted in the episode “Super Best Friends” without any major controversy or outcry. My how times change. The 2006 two-part episode “Cartoon Wars” contained a plotline about FOX censoring the image of Muhammad on Family Guy. In real life, Comedy Central blacked out the scene of Muhammad which was all the more ironic as this particular episode had the message that censorship can’t be applied a little – everything is alright to show or nothing is. In another two-part episode in 2010 (titled “200 and 201”), Muhammad’s name and the entire closing monologue, where the lesson learned is that violence and threats are the answer to everything, is bleeped over by Comedy Central. Nonetheless, as if to show the ridiculousness of Comedy Central’s censorship, while they worried about censoring specific content, they failed to notice that the cartoon image of Muhammad appeared in the opening title sequence of every South Park episode broadcast on syndication around the world.