Internet Life's Managing Editor Stevan Keane chats with Trey
Parker, cocreator of "South Park," about the characters
who inhabit his cartoon world, his real world, and the Web.
SK: How does doing the show affect your work on the stuff
for Comedy Central's "South Park" Web site?
TP: It's weird -- doing the show is so time consuming that
we'll just get on there to make sure they're not doing anything
completely different. But with all the merchandising and the
Internet stuff, and the books that they're trying to do now,
Matt and I are trying not to get too caught up with it, because
doing the show is such a chore, that's really what we're focusing
SK: Have you seen the Palace chat site where you can go on
as the little "South Park" characters?
TP: I actually just did it a week ago. People told me, "You've
gotta get on, you've got to see what it's like." And
I got on and I couldn't believe it. But my username was "treyparker,"
so I kept going into rooms, and people were just like, "Yeah,
you wish." And I'm trying to talk to people and no one
would talk to me because they thought I was being a jerk.
SK: Really, no one believed you?
TP: No one believed me.
SK: There's really some strange characters in there. How do
you feel about that, the devotion of these people?
TP: It's very weird. It's weird too, because y'know when I
was screwing around in there, I would just start chatting
with people, and saying, "What do you think of the show?"
And people were saying "What show?" There were tons
of people who hadn't even seen "South Park" who
were just doing the Internet stuff.
SK: I guess they just drifted in there because it's one more
Palace chat room . . .
TP: There's still a lot of places in the country that don't
get Comedy Central, so these kids kind of know what they are,
but not really. A lot of the people didn't even really know
what "South Park" was, and there they are in the
world. It's pretty funny.
SK: How about the fan sites? Do you ever take a look at any
TP: Yeah, it's crazy. In early summer when we were first gearing
up, when it first got out that we were doing [a TV show],
this friend of mine said, "Here, dude, check it out --
there's a 'Spirit of Christmas' Web site." So we looked
at it, and we're like, "Wow, that's so weird." Then
the whole thing went from, like, two fan club sites to 600
of them. Now there's 600. It's so bizarre
SK: Do you remember the timing of that? When were you were
picked up by Comedy Central?
TP: That was almost a year and a half ago.
SK: As early as that?
TP: Yeah, we hadn't finished our test, the pilot, we were
just finishing it this time last year.
SK: But "Spirit of Christmas" was . . .
TP: That was the Christmas of '95.
SK: How about the sites devoted to the show? There's a lot
of commitment to solving what Kenny says in the theme song.
TP: There is. It's fun. In animation you can create so many
little mysteries. And right after the show started airing,
we were reading stuff in the bulletin boards. Its a great
way for us to develop the show to people's liking. And we
were reading them, and people were like, "Did you notice
that in episode 2, on the cafeteria chalkboard it says that
there's Salisbury steak for lunch, but did you notice . .
." And we're going, "Dude, they pay this close attention?"
So all of a sudden there was all this new pressure. We were
looking at shots and going, "Oh, people are going to
notice this, we'd better make it funny."
SK: So every single time anything like that comes up, now
you have to put a gag in there.
TP: Or we try to at least make it interesting, knowing that
people are taping them and watching them over and over for
the little things like that. So we try to put little things
in all the time.
SK: Do you want to put people's minds to rest here, and just
explain what Kenny says in the theme song?(.wav, 94K) TP:
I can't because they'd make us take it off. (laughs) The only
way we can get away with it is that even Comedy Central doesn't
know what he's saying. If it got out, they'd say, "Oh
no, you've got to change it." (laughs)
SK: I haven't really seen any shows in this kind of style.
I mean, I sort of vaguely recognize Kenny, the background
is pretty authentic. Is that what it was like?
TP: Yeah, growing up. I was just reminded, I was back home
for Thanksgiving . . . and we got 2 feet of snow, and that's
the way it was, when you were going to school, you were just
totally bundled up, always wearing your winter clothes, your
moon boots, y'know?
SK: That was you going to school, Stan and Kenny. But what's
Cartman? He's the fat kid in the class?
TP: Yeah, he's just like the proverbial fat kid who everyone
picked on, but he still hung out all the time.
SK: What about his voice?
TP: It just sort of came from...doing Stan's voice but adding
a lot of fat to it. (laughs)
SK: How about some of these other characters, the teacher
and Mr. Hat? Is he, as I suspect, the doll that they use in
child abuse cases?
TP: Let's see . . .Mr. Hat I actually had in kindergarten.
I had this teacher who would just put Mr. Hat -- it really
was Mr. Hat -- she would put it on her hand and put a record
on the record player, and that was your lesson for the day.
She would just sit there, and move her hand so that she didn't
really have to teach. Seriously, you just watched this puppet
all day telling you whatever the lesson of the day was --
insane. And I mixed that with this teacher I had in college
in a British lit class. That's who Garrison is based on.
It was a British lit class, so the first thing we were learning
about was Beowulf. And this is college level, and he would
say things like, (.wav, 108K) "Well, Beowulf is a big
silly isn't he?" Big silly? What do you mean by that?
And he was kinda gay, y'know, he was always bringing out the
gayness in Chaucer and everything. It was hysterical.
SK: And the other characters, are they sort of from childhood,
the same kind of thing?
TP: Yeah, they're partly that. But also, Matt and I in the
seven or eight years we've known each other, that's sort of
what we've always done: create characters. We start talking
in voices because we realized we could both do a lot of voices.
SK: And how do you go from saying, "Wouldn't it be cool
to get Isaac Hayes to play Chef?" to getting the impossible?
TP: It was the same as when we said, "OK, dude, we've
kinda got a TV show now, we should ask our favorite band ever
to do the theme song. Why the hell not? So next thing we know,
a week later, we're talking to Primus on the phone, and just
going, "Oh my God, dude!" and freaking out. It was
the same with Isaac. Well, we'd love to have Isaac Hayes.
And next thing we know, (they said) "All right, Isaac's
going to do it. You guys need to fly to New York and hang
out with him."
SK: And how was that?
TP: Oh, it was great, it was awesome. I was totally nervous
at first, we were nobodies, and didn't totally know what we
were doing. We thought we'd have to go there and really convince
this guy: "Oh this'll be fun, it'll be funny, we promise."
But he was just like, "Whatever, it's cool," and
now he loves it. That's one of the highlights of doing the
show: We get to record Isaac and talk to him.
SK: What about celebs that you pick on? In anything like this
you're going to have a continuity, you'll pick on the same
type of films, or the same type of celebs, but so far . .
. I mean Brian Boitano, first time out . . .
TP: (laughs) We knew we didn't want to do what "The Simpsons"
does, which was like, "Oh, look who did a voice this
week." And there they are being them, and being glorified.
You know say here's the celebrity, but let us (.wav, 56K)
do their voices so we can kill them and rip on them and everything.
That's definitely the fun part. And now that the show's working,
we're like, (.wav, 52K) "All right, now who do we really
really hate, that we can really bury."
SK: Before you were talking about a couple people who were
lining up, who actually wanted to do it . . .
TP: Well, once (George) Clooney did it . . . now we just heard
from Tom Cruise's agent, who wants to do a voice. And Jerry
Seinfeld wanted to do a voice and (.wav, 221K) we told his
agent we said, "That's cool, we want Jerry to be a cat,
and it's this cat that's really sick." And the manager
didn't get it, he was like, "Well, this is Jerry Seinfeld,
he should have something really substantial." (And we
said), "No, that's it dude, that's what we do. George
Clooney was a gay dog, and Jay Leno's gonna be a little bird."
If we really do get a celebrity's voice, it's going to be
totally minimal, because that's the joke.
SK: You're not going to get Jerry Seinfeld, are you?
TP: No, because we don't want, "Oh look here's this character
by Jerry Seinfeld, here's the 'Seinfeld' in 'South Park.'"
We don't want to do that, so now we just kind of rip on him.
SK: In a way it's the same way that years ago, you were guessing
who was on "The Simpsons." That was their version
of a guest star walk-on, like Ida Lupino walking onto the
"I Love Lucy" set. In a strange way it's following
on that tradition.
TP: Yeah, and then we do this little parody with Elton John
in one scene, where the elephant's trying to make love to
the pig, and Elton comes out. And (.wav, 119K) I am a huge
Elton fan, I grew up with Elton, learned to play the piano
watching him...but I can still kinda rip on him. It was never
really this conscious thing. Except for one episode that's
upcoming, where we were said, "OK, we have to rip on
this person." Other than that it's never a really conscious
SK: How far ahead are you at the moment?
TP: Oh, we're like 2 or 3 days ahead. (laughs) Behind, I should
SK: I'm wondering about chat, and about communicating with
some of these people online. Are you up for any of that, do
TP: Yeah, we could be. We just did our first sort of big public
appearance. We went to UCLA, and a bunch of the students came
to meet the creators of "South Park" and ask questions.
And it was weird. We were ready for a bunch of film students
who wanted to know a lot of technical stuff, but they were
all questions like I'm sure an Internet thing would be. It
was all: "Now in the episode where Garrison says this,
what exactly does he mean?" And we're like, "Uhhhh,
I don't know." They ask, "Where'd you come up with
the idea for this, or where'd you come up with the idea for
that?" and rarely can you answer that and say, "Oh,
this came directly from this," because you just don't
know. Especially doing these episodes. It's not like doing
a movie where you spend years on a script. Now that the show
is going, and more have been ordered, Matt and I are cranking
out scripts as fast as we humanly can. Where does it come
from? We don't know. A lot of times we'll watch shows and
say, "Dude, that's really twisted." We forget what
we did on it.
SK: How about the Net? Is the Net going to make an appearance?
TP: Yeah, that's been a very popular spec script that we've
gotten. A lot of the writers that want to write for the show
send us spec scripts where the boys get on the Internet
SK: Gee, I wonder where they're going to look.
TP: Yeah, that's the thing, we don't want to do anything too
obvious, we want to figure out a way to make it really f---ed
up, then we'll do it.