When we come back home after a long day at work, school, or a combination of both, we just want to sit down and relax, clear our heads, and focus on something that has nothing to do with the tiresome grind of daily life. People spend whatever free time they can get doing all sorts of things, like playing video games, reading, watching internet videos, or going out for a fun evening with friends. But the most common and easiest thing to do to pass the time is watching television. For over 60 years now, television has been offering people the kind of entertainment that truly allows a person to pass their time, due to the fact that you can watch shows, movies, sporting events, award shows, and even some concerts on the TV screen.
Television has evolved so much over the decades that every genre imaginable can be found, including the animated sitcom genre, which has produced acclaimed and iconic shows like Family Guy, The Simpsons and Comedy Central’s immensely popular series, South Park. As a show, South Park focuses on four boys: Kyle, Cartman, Stan and Kenny, who have bizarre adventures which take place in their Colorado town, and it is known for its dark and surreal humor. South Park was created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and aired its first episode in 1997, and in all that time, it remains one of the highest rated shows on Comedy Central, and will be on the air until at least 2019. This year, South Park celebrates its 20 year anniversary, so to commemorate this milestone, here are 15 things you may not have known about South Park.
15. The KFC Dispensary Is Real
In South Park’s fourteenth season, there was an episode titled Medicinal Fried Chicken in which Stan’s father learns that the KFC fast-food franchise has been entirely replaced by medical marijuana dispensaries, which leads to him trying to give himself cancer in order to get weed. What is funny about this episode, is that Matt Stone and Trey Parker actually based this store on a real medical marijuana dispensary they saw while in Los Angeles, which went by the name, Kind For Cures, which has the letters K, F and C, in bold caps. After this episode aired, the owners of the dispensary were so thrilled and grateful for their store’s “appearance” on the show, that they hung up a mural from the episode in the front window, placed cardboard cutouts of the characters in the store, sold some South Park merchandise, and now even sell certain strains of marijuana which are called South Park Kush, and Stan’s Wet Dream.
14. George Clooney Guest Starred
The Simpsons have been around for almost three decades now, and as many people know, the iconic animated show has managed to land a multitude of celebrities to voice one-off characters in special-guest roles, but they are not the only animated series to have famous guests in it. As a show, South Park is nearly twenty years old, and in that time, the show has had its fair share of celebrity guests, including Henry Winkler, Bill Hader, Jennifer Aniston, Brad Paisley and Jay Leno, but the show also had a male celebrity guest appearance that hardly anyone even knows about because of the character he played and the voice he offered. George Clooney is an Academy Award winning actor and producer who is considered to be among Hollywood’s elite, and he appeared in South Park’s first season where he played the role of Stan’s dog, Sparky. This role saw Clooney simply make barking noises, and you cannot tell whatsoever that it is him doing the voice, but he is indeed credited with the voicing role.
13. The Show Had Its Own Video Game Server
There are those who consider video games to be distractions or as something that only people with no social life do to pass their time, but in reality they are very social experiences which sometimes offer a level of entertainment which rivals that provided by television and film. One of the most popular video games in the world is the role-playing game known as World of Warcraft, which has a monthly player-base of several million people, and in season ten, the show had an episode titled, ‘Make Love, Not Warcraft’, which poked fun at both the game and those who play it. What was really surprising about this particular episode, is that Blizzard Entertainment, the company who makes the game, actually supported and helped the creators to make the episode, by making in-game character models and providing the show with its own private server to use during filming. The server turned out to not be all that private though, as an ordinary player managed to get into the server and proceeded to kill all the characters that were present, which was ironically the plot of the actual episode.
12. Influenced Game Of Thrones Writers
Ever since its first season, Game of Thrones has essentially been the epitome of television, as its characters and storytelling are light years ahead of most of the other television shows in terms of pure quality. As good as Game of Thrones is, it is a show which is still open to being parodied, which is why one of the best South Park episodes to come out the last few years happened to be a parody of the hit HBO series which took place on Black Friday. In this episode, which had the kind of violence Game of Thrones fans love, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker made it a point to emphasize just how much time the HBO show spent in scenes which took place in a garden, by having lengthy yet hilarious garden scenes of their own. When this aired, the show-runners of Game of Thrones took notice, and upon viewing it, they decided to now limit the amount of time they spent filming in gardens, which is an adjustment they admit to making in the commentary section of the show’s fourth season blu-ray set.
11. Imaginationland Was Almost A Movie
In 1999, the world was given the South Park movie which went after both censorship and bad parenting, while also parodying Disney movies and musicals, and it happened to be quite successful as it made over $80 million with a budget of just $21 million. Since then, fans of the series have desperately wanted to see a new movie, but instead, they have so far been satiated with two hilarious looking video games; but fans were almost given a second full feature film in 2007 with Imaginationland. This storyline encompassed three straight episodes in the show’s eleventh season, with the first episode taking more than six days to make (almost every episode is done in about three days), but Parker and Stone had actually started working on the episode three months before its airdate because they originally planned to release it as a movie. As the deadline approached, they decided that presenting this storyline as a movie did not feel right, so they split the plot into three episodes. It all worked out though, as the episodes garnered the show an Emmy, and the episodes were all later reissued together as a ‘movie’ anyway with an uncensored cut and bonus unreleased material.
10. Investigated By Scientology
No matter your belief system, or lack thereof, most of us can agree upon the fact that our world is filled with some truly odd and strange religions, and as it happens, Scientology is one of those religions. South Park is not a stranger when it comes to parodying religion, and even though they receive negative reactions from religious groups, nothing compares to what the Scientologists did after the episode which poked fun at their religion was aired. After it aired, members of the church wanted to take down Parker and Stone, so they launched an investigation which entailed identifying who their friends are, going through their public records, and even digging through their garbage. In the end, after these Scientologists were done combing through their phone and bank records, as well as identifying what alcohol they drank and what prescriptions they took, their crazed investigation turned up nothing even remotely damaging. Then fittingly, Parker and Stone mocked them some more (above).
9. Cartman’s Inspiration
Of all the characters on South Park, Cartman is most likely every fan’s favorite, simply because of his aggressively arrogant, narcissistic, and prejudiced persona, and at times psychopathic and manipulative behavior. As Trey Parker has said before, Cartman was inspired by a character known as Archie Bunker, who was the main character of the 70s sitcom All in the Family, a show which is probably one of the top five sitcoms of all time, especially considering that the show’s subject matter and language cannot be found anywhere on network television nowadays thanks to political correctness. The Archie character started out as a bigot who came into conflict with his liberal son-in-law every week, but over the course of the series, he himself gradually becomes less and less bigoted. Cartman is a bigot, but because he is a child, people seem to not mind as much, and although he was based on Archie, Cartman has not changed his ways, as over the course of the show he has committed terrible acts such as animal abuse, arson, armed robbery, child abuse, murder, and even forced cannibalism.
8. Inspired Major Scientologist To Quit
We have already discussed South Park’s Scientology episode on this list, but that entry dealt solely with the reaction of the church by filing lawsuits, and the actions taken by some of its members to try and ruin Parker and Stone’s lives, but the church also suffered a bit as a direct result of the episode. It takes a fair bit to convince a person to leave their religion, and that is exactly what happened in 2005 when Jenna Miscavige, the daughter of a high ranking church official, left Scientology because South Park revealed some of the more outlandish beliefs of the faith. What many people do not know about Scientology, is that not all the details of the religion are made readily available to its followers, as they only gain this knowledge after years of learning and counseling. In the episode, several of Scientology’s secrets were revealed, including those having to do with aliens, spaceships, and an alien lord known as Xenu, and when Jenna learned that these were the secrets of her religion, she said bye-bye for good.
7. “Sh*t” Said 162 Times In One Episode
Censorship on television is oftentimes viewed as a hindrance, primarily due to the fact that networks have to refrain from airing shows with swearing and nudity, and one of the great hallmarks of South Park, is that the show intentionally pushes the boundaries on censorship. The premier episode of the show’s fifth season, was called ‘It Hits The Fan’, and the purpose behind this episode was for the creators to see if they could get away with saying sh*t on the air, which was a proposal that Comedy Central initially rejected. This rejection came with the pitch that the word sh*t would be said only a few times, but when they said they would say the word an obscene amount of times, the network became intrigued and agreed to give them the green light. When this episode aired, Comedy Central gave it a mature rating, and provided viewers with an on-screen counter to keep track of how many times the word was said; and when the episode ended, sh*t was said a grand total of 162 times, and because of its excessive use, the censors were forced to let it air as is.
6. Tourettes Episode Received Official Praise
As we all know, South Park is known for its dark and profane humor, as well as its satirical and sometimes insulting approach in regards to certain topics that most other shows would not depict in a comedic nature. One of the topics which South Park has covered is Tourette Syndrome, a mental disorder which causes individuals to have specific facial or vocal tics, and the show brought up this disorder in season eleven when Cartman pretended to have Tourettes so that he could say whatever he wanted to people without any repercussions. In most cases, whenever South Park tackles such an issue, the show is met with some kind of backlash from various organizations, but with this episode, they actually received praise from the Tourette Syndrome Association. In regards to the actual episode, the organization said that the disorder was “surprisingly well researched” and that “there was a surprising amount of accurate information conveyed”, and believed that the episode was a fun way to make audiences aware of the disorder.
5. An Alien Is Hidden In Every Show?
In terms of science fiction, aliens are almost always a constant entity, and many movies and television shows have revolved around extraterrestrial species either entirely or partially, and in regards to South Park, aliens are actually an important part of the show’s history. South Park’s very first episode saw Cartman being abducted and probed by aliens, and another episode stated that the Earth was nothing more than a reality show created by aliens for their own amusement; but those are not the only instances where aliens have appeared on the show, as most of the time they have been relatively hidden. There exist many episodes, where the show has actually hidden aliens, to the extent that they are either mixed into a crowd of ordinary people, or woven into the background scenery. As of now, there are more than 100 different examples of hidden aliens in the show, and although some believe that there is an alien in every episode, these appearances occur randomly instead of on a weekly basis.
4. The Creators Don’t Remember Every Episode
Excluding those who are gifted with an eidetic memory, everyone is forgetful at times, which is completely natural considering all the things we cram into our brains on any given day, so it is not surprising for South Park fans to not remember every single episode that has aired; but what is a bit surprising is the fact that the show’s creators forgot making one of those episodes. The episode in question, is called ‘Sexual Harassment Panda’, which aired as the sixth episode of the third season, which dealt with Mr. Garrison dressing up as a panda to teach the kids about sexual harassment. The reason why Parker and Stone have no memory of this episode is because they were working on the movie while simultaneously working on season three, and by the time they were done with the movie, they were so stressed and mentally drained that the making of this episode felt more like a dream state to them than reality.
3. Kyle Was Almost Killed-Off
No matter the show, it is always sad to see one of the main characters get killed-off, primarily because you have grown so used to seeing that character, that the show no longer feels the same after they are gone. South Park though, took this kind of sadness and turned it on its head with Kenny, who they have purposely killed off and brought back 103 times just for comedy sake, but by the time season five came along, Parker and Stone wanted to kill-off someone for good, and they somewhat did that with Kenny who died in the fifth season finale, and went on to not appear at all during season six. Kenny came back of course, but originally, the creators had planned to kill Kyle for good, due to the fact that they believed he and Stan were far too similar, and because they started to love the Butters character who they wanted to replace Kyle. A few weeks before the episode was supposed to air though, they changed their minds and went with Kenny instead, simply because they grew tired of killing him every episode and wanted to take a break from it.
2. Kenny Is Based On A Real Person
Kenny McCormick is hands down one of South Park’s most lovable characters, especially since he offered fans of the show so much laughter, especially in the early seasons when he would die virtually every episode. Like all of the show’s main characters, Kenny is based off of a real person, and in his case specifically, he is based off of one of Trey Parker’s childhood friends, to a somewhat eerie degree. The Kenny character is known for wearing an orange parka which makes him incredibly hard to understand, for being poor, and for of course dying and inexplicably coming back to life. When it comes to Parker’s aforementioned childhood friend, this boy also wore an orange parka which muffled his voice, and this kid also happened to be poor, and because he was poor, whenever he would not show up at school for a few days, Parker and some other friends would joke that he died until he returned looking as if nothing had happened to him.
1. Making The First Episode Cost $300K
With every show, each and every episode requires a certain amount of time in order to be fully shot and edited, as well as a set budget, and in most cases, a show’s pilot episode is usually the longest and most expensive episode that a show shoots, and South Park is no different. Every episode of South Park currently takes only a couple of days to animate digitally thanks to computer programs, but the show’s pilot episode is the only one not shot in this manner, and it is still currently the longest and most expensive of all series’ episodes. For the pilot, Stone and Parker used hundreds of cutouts made from construction paper and shot the episode by using thousands of pictures taken from an above angle. The pair did all of this work out of a small office in Denver, and after everything was all said and done, it took a whopping three-and-a-half- months and $300,000 to complete the pilot. It is fair to say that based on the show’s continued popularity, all that time and money spent on the pilot was absolutely worth it.