Trey Parker and Matt Stone are two of the most singular creative forces working in comedy today - having created and produced almost 20 seasons of South Park, a few movies, and a smash hit Broadway show. But the same uncompromising attitude that makes everything they touch turn to gold has also rubbed pretty much every executive and outsider in the wrong way, which has led to some pretty ridiculous (and inspiring) tales. Here are a few of the best:
1. Paramount tried to force them to do a Kid Rock music video for the South Park movie, so they paid $300k to make their own
Here's the thing - South Park was pretty big in 1998, but it wasn't the unquestionable institution that it is today. Back then, Matt and Trey were still writing scripts MONTHS ahead of time instead of the week of and had to get approval for things. And - as they note in the Paley talk - this was their first experience making a studio production (since they only acted in BASEketball) and had no clue how much tinkering the studio executives would try to do on their film. And standard procedure for any big movie was to have a basically unrelated music video from a big music star that incorporates the film into it as a means of promotion - one that Paramount was planning on plunking down $300k for to have Kid Rock interact with Cartman. And Matt and Trey flat out said "fuck no."
Instead, they proposed to make a video of "What Would Brian Boitano Do?" - a song from the movie, since it WAS a musical after all - and pay for the whole thing themselves. Paramount was skeptical and told them this wouldn't work and MTV wouldn't want that - except the new president of MTV was Brian Graden...who was pretty well known for discovering Trey Parker and Matt Stone and commissioning their short film, The Spirit of Christmas, which was eventually developed into South Park.
But the best part of the story is how it was ultimately resolved - thanks to Matt Stone writing a simple but effective memo to Paramount.
So anyways, Matt writes a memo - there's these great memos that went to Paramount, but my favorite one was Matt saying here's our official position.
We figured out how to make the video work.
It was called "A Formula For Success." And it said - "Dear Paramount. We've found a way to make this video work - it's our formula for success: Cooperation + You Doing Nothing = Success!
2. They accidentally inspired themselves to make The Book of Mormon
Parker and Stone have dabbled in nearly every medium at this point - TV, movies, music, and even full-on Broadway productions, with the massive success of their musical, The Book of Mormon. Hell, they're just an Oscar away from an EGOT (and if not for Phil Collins, they'd have it). The weird part is - they accidentally inspired themselves to make The Book of Mormon without realizing it.
See, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut opened up a lot of doors for a lot of people - it proved that the public was willing (and excited for) the mixing of crude humor, politically incorrect insight, and lavish musical numbers. This was a big deal for Robert Lopez, who saw the film and used it as inspiration for his own Broadway production, Avenue Q (which boils down to a cruder take on Sesame Street). The play became something of a sensation and eventually caught the attention of Matt Stone and Trey Parker (who at the time were working on their OWN puppet thing, Team America: World Police). Parker already being something of a theatre geek, they attended a performance and were taken aback to see both of them personally thanked in the Playbill.
The play was a moving experience for both - and, since they'd already been toying around with musical numbers a lot in both the South Park movie and TV show - sparked a flame in them to make their own musical (which they worked with Robert Lopez to co-create), The Book of Mormon.
3. They almost made a shot-for-shot recreation of The Day After Tomorrow starring puppets, to be titled The Day After the Day After Tomorrow
The journey towards making Team America: World Police was a weird one...at first, they were inquiring about doing an actual Thunderbirds movie, but found out that a studio was already producing a live-action version without any puppets. This got them on the idea of using that style of Thunderbirds-esque puppets for something, and then the idea came to them: an exact recreation of the shooting script for The Day After Tomorrow, but with puppets....to be released the day after The Day After Tomorrow.
The project (to be appropriately titled The Day After the Day After Tomorrow) never really got too far off the ground - both Parker and Stone thought the idea was legitimately hilarious, but their lawyers (wisely) advised them that this might not be a good idea, since parody law would not protect them given the plan was to basically make an identical film and release it so soon after the actual film's release.
So, instead, they just made an episode of South Park making fun of it ("Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow") and that was probably the smartest option anyhow.
4. They spent tons of time wonderfully trolling the MPAA over the South Park movie
Trey Parker and Matt Stone have - thus far - produced two movies themselves: South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut and Team America: World Police. Both were passion projects for the two, which left them drained and firm in their belief that they should never make a movie again - but at least both left us with pretty hilarious stories of the two insanely trolling the MPAA.
To begin, the South Park movie takes a number of direct and pointed shots at the MPAA and their insane practices of being prudish towards language and nudity but allowing ungodly amounts of horrifying violence. Hell, the basis of the entire film is exposing their hypocrisy (and the wider hypocrisy of American culture in general). So even before getting into the actual details of what rating the film deserved, they were openly antagonizing the MPAA (which is pretty great).
And, as expected, the MPAA came back to them with a number of complaints - ignoring most of the nightmarish violence and gore in the film (including Kenny's far more brutal than usual death) and focusing in on the sexual and language aspects of the movie. For one, the film's original subtitle was "All Hell Breaks Loose." But the MPAA would not let them include a naughty word like "Hell" in the title and on all of the advertising - so they changed it to "Bigger, Longer, & Uncut"...which was just Trey Parker describing his dick. So, "Hell" isn't okay, but dick descriptions are totally fine.
They had to screen the film 6 separate times for the MPAA in order to secure an R-rating, and according to Parker, they made it worse and more disgusting every time....and eventually, either due to confusion of what they were actually seeing or straight up exhaustion, the MPAA caved and awarded the film an R-rating.
For a fun bit of reading, here's the memo Matt Stone sent to the MPAA regarding the final changes made to the film:
5. ...and Team America: World Police was even worse.
After their initial scuffle with the MPAA over South Park, the duo knew what they would be facing with Team America and planned ahead...by making the grossest puppet sex sequence ever committed to film. Eventually, the sex scene was chopped down to approximately 50 seconds (and still retained much of the grosser aspects) after NINE SUBMISSIONS, so they took it as a win.
Parker had this to say:
"It's a back-and-forth with the board. They said it can't be as many positions, so we cut out a couple of them. We love the golden shower, but I guess they said no to that. But I just love that they have to watch it. Seriously, can you imagine getting a videotape with just a close-up of a puppet asshole, and you have to watch it?"
6. They were so exhausted from making the South Park movie, they don't remember making "Sexual Harassment Panda" at all
The South Park movie was a physically and emotionally-exhausting process for both Parker and Stone, who (again) really didn't know what they were getting themselves into, trying to produce both a movie WHILE continuing to produce a TV show - both of which they had pretty much complete creative control over, providing all of the writing, directing, and voice acting for.
As a result, they stumbled back into the TV production schedule in something of a daze - trying to do it while working on post-production of the film, with the first episode produced after the film being Sexual Harrassment Panda, an episode that was mostly derided by fans at the time - possibly because Parker and Stone were so out of it that they don't even remember making it.
In hindsight though, both claim to have revisited the episode and like it, despite it representing a low point for how each felt at the time.
Also, they reveal that Sexual Harassment Panda has the exact same voice as Santa Claus, which they (jokingly) claim was intentional.
7. Trey Parker made a bunch of South Park characters as sweet vengeance
Everyone ends up feeling wronged or shafted by various people in the journey of life - but not everyone gets the opportunity to rip on them publicly via a hugely popular animated TV show. Luckily for him, Trey Parker is one of those people. Tons of characters on South Park were based off of jerks from Parker's past, including:
- Cartman's mother, Liane - based off an ex-girlfriend of Parker, who regularly cheated on him. Naturally, the character Liane's defining trait is that she sleeps around a lot.
- Mr. Mackey - based off of an old school counselor named Mr. Lackey, who would always tell Parker to quit fooling around and get back to work. Turns out the fooling around is what would eventually make Parker a millionaire.
- The entire Marsh family is based off of Parker's own - even their names and professions are the same (although somehow I doubt Randy Parker has quite the same behaviors of Randy Marsh). Particularly though, Shelly (Stan's sister) is based off of Trey's IRL sister Shelly, who would bully him as a kid.
8. They went to the Oscars while tripping on acid and wearing "parody" dresses
It'd be hard to imagine anyone not being aware of this - but then again, this happened nearly 16 years ago, so there are whole generations born after the incident. The year was 2000, and the South Park movie was - to the confusion of everyone in the industry - nominated for a goddamn Oscar (and a well-deserved nomination). But Trey Parker and Matt Stone knew they weren't really part of the Hollywood elite and that most people looked down on their work, so they decided to play into that - by showing up in dresses (specifically parodying the fashion of Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow) and being high-as-hell.
Of course, they did not win that night. But (going back to the well of using South Park to smite their enemies) at least they got to rip on Phil Collins (who took home the Oscar in their category for Tarzan) across multiple episodes.
9. They brutally skewered Michael Moore because he kinda stole one of Trey's ideas
Almost everything in South Park and Team America has some basis in spite - their skewering of Barbra Streisand, Phil Collins, Rob Reiner, Scientology, etc. The lesson should be clear - do not mess with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, or they'll make you look like a huge dipshit to a huge audience. And that's where Michael Moore screwed up.
Moore was interviewing Stone for his gun culture documentary, Bowling for Columbine (since Stone grew up in Littleton, CO), and had asked the pair if they would help with animating a segment for the film. Parker declined the proposal, and everything seemed fine. Except then Moore included an animated segment IMMEDIATELY following Stone's interview in the film that was made to look as though Parker/Stone were involved. That alone would have been egregious enough, but Moore went a step too far and basically ripped the entire premise and execution off of a short film Parker had made in college, titled American History, and used an animation-style purposely reminiscent of South Park. See for yourself:
So when it came time to make Team America: World Police, Parker got his vengeance by making Moore into a caricature of himself - a fat, self-righteous loudmouth who was literally made of ham and exploded.
The simplest way to sum this up: Trey Parker and Matt Stone are smart, funny guys who you should ABSOLUTELY NEVER FUCK WITH EVER.