If you ever needed proof that time moves way too quickly, look no further than South Park airing its 21st season at present. That's right, it's been 20 years since Cartman got an anal probe in the very first episode. On the brighter side, it also means creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have given us two decades' worth of ingenious, no-holds-barred hilarity unlike anything else that's been onscreen.
It’s no secret the process of creating such an uncompromising series often lands the pair in scalding hot water, but where other daring showrunners have cowered or caved or even imploded, Stone and Parker seem able to convert obstacle and outrage into fuel and inspiration.
Stone and Parker vs the MPAA
In 1999, during the editing process for the film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Stone and Parker went to war with the Motion Picture Association of America. In fact, the duo carried out a preemptive strike by directly targeting the association in the actual film – criticising their tendency to scrutinise sexual or religious content while leaving all extents of ultra violence untouched.
As predicted, when the MPAA provided notes on the first cut of the film, they ignored the explicit gore of Kenny’s death-by-surgery, and picked at references to genitalia and foreign dictators. Instead of implementing the MPAA’s notes, Matt and Trey made superficial changes that gave the impression of compromise, but in many cases intensified the explicitness. Six increasingly disgusting recuts later, and the association caved and let the pair have their coveted R-rating. You can read the hilarious memo Stone wrote after receiving notes on the first cut here.
Stone and Parker vs Comedy Central
When the fan-favoured “Cartoon Wars Part I” and “Cartoon Wars Part II” episodes aired in 2010, Stone, Parker and their audience saw something they’d never seen before: glaring censorship of a South Park episode. The surreal moment was supposed to feature the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
The ironic gist of the episode is that residents of South Park are up in arms over an episode of Family Guy that planned to show Muhammad’s image, fearing retribution from Islamic extremists in the vein of the real-life Charlie Hedbo shooting.
At the end of Part I, we’re left with the cliffhanger: will the Fox network censor the image once the Family Guy episode airs? In Part II, Kyle convinces an executive to run it, uncensored. In a twist of circumstance, Comedy Central ended up censoring the image of the image.
Stone and Parker were befuddled over the fact that they were regularly allowed to include sacrilegious depictions of Jesus, yet couldn’t show a simple, unaffected image of the Muslim prophet. Parker's response? Buying a plane ticket to South Africa and presenting it to the head of the network, thus threatening to pull a Dave Chappelle, who had recently abandoned Comedy Central and fled to Africa.
Stone and Parker vs Paramount & Kid Rock
Music, and more specifically, musical theatre, is a pet love for both Stone and Parker. The cast of South Park regularly breaks out into song, the South Park movie was essentially a musical and Team America (2004) was dotted with show tunes. Heck, the pair wrote a Tony Award-hogging, record-breaking Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon. In other words, you don’t mess with the musical sensibilities of these blokes.
Paramount learned that lesson the hard way during production for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut when they attempted to dictate a particular song and music video be used to promote the film. And not just any old song, but a song written and performed by Kid Rock that’d cost the studio $300,000. During a talk at the Paley Center for Media, Parker recounted his reaction: “You don’t understand, that’s so anti-South Park."
Instead of engaging in continuous debate, the pair made an offer that Paramount couldn’t refuse – they'd foot the bill and make a video for one of the film’s actual songs. That’s right, $300K is how much it costs to ensure Kid Rock has nothing to do with your movie. Something tells me they would have gone higher if needed be.
To cap off this legendary story, Stone wrote the following equally legendary words in (another) memo: "Dear Paramount. We've found a way to make this video work – it's our formula for success: Cooperation + You Doing Nothing = Success!”
Stone and Parker vs Scientology
One of the most renowned takedowns to appear in a South Park episode came in the ninth season's Scientology opus, “Trapped in the Closet”. The episode lambasted the sci-fi roots of the religion, depicted Tom Cruise and John Travolta as living in both a literal and figurative closet, and resulted in the Scientologist who voiced Chef, Isaac Hayes, departing from the cast.
When the episode spurred an anti-South Park campaign by Scientology’s public brass, Stone and Parker didn’t fear the religion’s reach, instead releasing the following statement: “So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for Earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!”
Stone and Parker vs Yelp
“You’re Not Yelping” from South Park’s 19th season led to a hilarious, public to-and-fro between the creators and the famous reviewing site. At least, that’s what was initially reported. Yelp.com allegedly responded to the episode by threatening to sue Stone and Parker for 10 million dollars, claiming it was in “bad taste” to poke fun at Yelp reviewers as moochers and to compare them to “terrorists”. The pair allegedly responded to what they thought was a legit statement by giving it “one star” then going on to criticise the way it was constructed.
Turns out the entire saga was a fabrication – an exercise in parodist news-mongering. The great satirical duo are so accustomed to controversy that others can blow up the internet by satirising their satire. Go figure.
South Park airs Mondays at 8:40pm on SBS VICELAND. Watch the latest episode at SBS On Demand: