We recently looked at some little known facts about The Simpsons, so it seems only fair that we do the same for what is arguably the second greatest cartoon series – South Park. The adult animated sitcom debuted in 1997, and they are now in their 19th season, which is a remarkable run. Due to the length of the show, the enormous ensemble cast, the subject matter, and the wit of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, there are dozens of fascinating facts which you might not know about. Today, we are shining a light on the hilarious and controversial show.
10. “You bastards!” is Directed at Trey Parker and Matt Stone
In the earlier seasons of the show, one of the most famous trademark jokes was having Kenny killed in every episode and then appearing in the next as if nothing had happened. Along with this, every time Kenny was killed, Stan would say “Oh my god, they killed Kenny!” to which Kyle would respond “You bastards!” Although Kenny was sometimes killed off by other characters, often it was by some other method which made this seem like a slightly strange thing for Kyle to say. As it turns out, “you bastards!” is actually directed at Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as if they are omnipresent within the show’s universe. The gag is so iconic on the show (particularly early on) and it is so heavily quoted, yet many do not realize that Kyle is actually insulting the writers and not whoever or whatever killed Kenny.
9. The First Episode Took Almost Three and a Half Months to Animate
Although now episodes are made in just a few days and all done digitally, this was not the case when they first started out. The very first episode, “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe”, was animated entirely using the traditional cut paper stop motion animation technique. This took them between three and three and a half months due to the fact that this technique requires creating hundreds of construction paper cutouts (for mouth shapes, characters in different sizes etc). Although South Park has retained its amateurish animation as part of its charm (although it has improved drastically in recent times), this first episode is notably different with characters who are not speaking also not moving. From the second episode onwards, they used software which emulates the paper-cutout technique which makes it much easier and faster to animate.
8. The Tourette Association of America Complimented the Show
Due to the fact that no topic is off limits for Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park constantly causes controversy and upsets many. However, people often grab their pitchforks before even watching an episode. This is a shame, as South Park is often intelligent show that highlights the flaws of society. Many were sharpening their pitchforks prior to the episode “Le Petit Tourette”, which sees Cartman pretend to have Tourette syndrome (TS) so that he can say what he wants without getting into trouble. The Tourette Association of America (TAA) also expressed their concerns prior to it airing. However, after the episode aired, the TAA complimented the show on how well researched it was and how several elements “served as a clever device” for providing accurate facts about TS. Their only qualm was that it perpetuated the misconception that most people with TS have coprolalia (involuntary swearing).
7. They Had a Backup Plan If John McCain Won the 2008 Presidential Election
As the show progressed, what quickly became so impressive about it was how fast the episodes could be created, allowing the show to explore issues that were happening in the world at almost real time. They manage this by starting to make an episode just six days prior to its air date, and they have missed this deadline just once (when the studios lost power). Perhaps most impressive was the episode “About Last Night…”, which was about the 2008 Presidential Election and aired less than 24 hours after election night and even included quotes from Obama’s speech. That would be too fast even for South Park, so they had made the episode a few days prior and were simply hoping that they were right (Parker even bet money on it). If John McCain had won, they planned to do drunken Mystery Science Theatre 3000-esque commentary over the completed version.
6. The Credits for “Trapped in the Closet” List Only “John Smith” and “Jane Smith”
One episode which ruffled a few feathers in the celebrity world is “Trapped in the Closet”, which sees Stan join the Church of Scientology (which they tear apart in the episode). This ultimately lead to Isaac Hayes (the voice of Chef) to leave the show (he is a Scientologist). The episode also upset Tom Cruise, with the episode parodying him and indirectly calling him gay as his character becomes literally “trapped in a closet.” Cruise has a history of litigation against others involving rumors as to his sexuality, plus the Church of Scientology are also known to sue. This is referenced at the end of the episode, when the celebrities in the closet threaten to sue Stan, which he dares them to do. The closing credits then only name John Smith and Jane Smith as a reference to their reputation for suing those that offend them.
5. The Church of Scientology Investigated Parker & Stone
Following on from the notorious “Trapped in the Closet” episode, the Church of Scientology were not happy with how their religion was portrayed and they were looking for a way to take down Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Shockingly, this saw the church hire investigators to spy on Parker and Stone. A former church member stated that people were hired to look through their phone records, bank records, prescriptions, how much they were drinking, and what they were eating, with a lot of this coming from looking through their trash. They were searching for something to blackmail them with, but the investigation only revealed that they were two pretty normal people with not much dirt on them. The Church of Scientology seem to be the biggest targets of South Park and it all stemmed from this famous episode and the controversy it caused.
4. There is a Hidden Alien in Almost Every Episode
It is not unusual for aliens to appear in South Park, and even the very first episode is centered on them, when Cartman is abducted by aliens. Interestingly, there is an alien in nearly every episode somewhere. In many cases they will be in involved in the narrative or in a large crowd, but more often than not they are hidden in the background somewhere and blended into the scenery. This can make them difficult to spot, but fans have noticed one in a very high percentage of the episodes (which could mean that they are in all of them but not been discovered yet). They poked fun at this in the episode “Cancelled”, where a receptionist is clearly an alien in a wig which they then dramatically remove. These aliens are known as “Visitors”, and they are exactly the same as they appeared in the first episode.
3. The Simpsons Sent Flowers After the Family Guy Parody
While many people love Family Guy, and it is certainly funny in its own right, a lot of people would not put it in the same league as The Simpsons, South Park and a few other cartoons. The major criticism is of the writing, and this is referenced in the episode “Cartoon Wars.” In the episode, Family Guy plans to air the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a character, leading to many wanting the episode pulled due to a fear of retaliation. Surprisingly, Cartman is the one leading the charge as he believes it is offensive to Muslims, but it is revealed that really he just hates Family Guy and how his (and essentially South Park’s) humor is “not one interchangeable joke after another.” As it turned out, this was a view shared by the team at The Simpsons, who sent flowers to say “thanks for calling Family Guy out.”
2. Kyle Was Nearly Killed Off in Season Five
Whilst the audience were used to seeing Kenny killed off in every episode early on, there was always the knowledge that he would be back in the next episode as if nothing had happened. The creators actually had plans to kill off Kyle in season five, and this was so that they could make Butters a primary character. Instead, Kenny dies and does not return till the end of season six. Kyle was the character up for the chop up until a few weeks prior to the episode, and he was chosen due to the fact that he is so similar to Stan. Both Stan and Kyle are the “everyday men” who you relate to the most, but differ slightly and both serve important individual roles on the show. Fortunately they changed their minds and Kenny was brought back later on, and the excellent character of Butters became a primary character.
1. George Clooney Made a Guest Appearance as the Homosexual Dog ‘Sparky’
Nearly all of the celebrities on South Park are (poorly) impersonated, but they have had some impressive guest stars. Brilliantly, this includes George Clooney as Stan’s dog Sparky in the episode “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride.” Clooney was a huge fan of the show from the star and sent “The Spirit of Christmas” short to his friends, and he inquired about guest starring on the show. Hilariously, Trey Parker and Matt Stone offered the legendary actor the role of Stan’s homosexual dog, Sparky, which he accepted. The role had no lines, and only barks (brilliantly delivered by Clooney). Much later, he was given a speaking role in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. Similarly, Jay Leno has provided some of the meows for Cartman’s cat, Kitty, and also appeared as himself a few times. Jerry Seinfeld turned down the chance to voice Turkey#2 in the Thanksgiving episode.