South Park Creators Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and How Their Artistic Freedom Served Them

The success shared by Matt Stone and Trey Parker is surprising, to say the least. With the release of projects such as South Park, Team America: World Police, and The Book of Mormon, the duo has become well known for their abrasive and, often, offensive sense of humor. Despite the limitations that Stone and Parker’s style of comedy could have set in place, characters like the foul-mouthed fourth grader Eric Cartman have found favor with millions of viewers per week. The key to the duo’s success is their willingness to stand behind the ideas that they feel will resonate with their fans.

Stone and Parker both grew up in Colorado, first meeting one another during their time at the University of Colorado at Boulder and bonding over a mutual love for Monty Python and a distaste for conventional humor. Stone and Parker both enrolled in a film class where they found an outlet for their unique sense of humor. After shooting several short films, Trey Parker took a liking to animation, delving into the construction paper-style animation that would later become a staple in South Park. After the warm reception to the animated short films American History and The Spirit of Christmas, it became clear that there was a demand for this Stone and Parker’s style of comedy.

Following their studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the two further crafted their unique animation style, eventually gaining the attention of Comedy Central. Impressed by The Spirit of Christmas, Comedy Central commissioned a pilot episode of what would come to be South Park. Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and a small team of animators worked for three months to finish the first episode of South Park, determined to complete the episode using only stop-motion animation with construction paper characters. Despite their effort, reaction to the pilot episode was lackluster; executives were not convinced that Stone and Parker’s humor could captivate audiences for the length of a standard TV episode.

The lack of approval from Comedy Central did not deter Stone and Parker, however. While they had just worked for three months to produce South Park’s pilot, the duo came back to Comedy Central with a completed script for another episode. Although this script shared the same setting and characters as the pilot, it was not a continuation of the story. Matt and Trey wanted to show the studio that they could create episodes on a wide variety of subjects, confident that their humor would resonate with a wide audience. Their determination ultimately paid off, with Comedy Central ordering a run of six episodes of South Park. This six-episode contract has progressed into twenty-one seasons, and counting, along with a feature length theatrical release. “Any job is a job. If you have to be doing something, then you’re probably not enjoying it.”

Stone and Parker’s passion for South Park has not faded in its twenty-one-season run. While the two acknowledge that the show has become bigger than the two of them, Matt and Trey still consider themselves ultimately responsible for the South Park’s consistency:

“We still do everything we did when we first started. We really haven’t handed the show off to anyone. So for better or worse, it’s not like people trying to constantly recreate what South Park was—we’re constantly trying to figure out something new for it to be.”

Many creators would have been more than happy with producing a cartoon as successful as South Park. The show’s creators, on the other hand, felt that their twisted brand of comedy could find an audience outside the beloved cartoon. To the surprise of many, the pair has found theatrical success with films like Orgazmo, BASEketball, and Team America: World Police. Stone and Parker’s success did not come easy, however, with parent groups and even the Motion Picture Association of America attempting to compromise or destroy their artistic vision, attempting to put in place bans or hindering film ratings. These groups did not deter Stone and Parker, who stood behind their work, gaining the respect of fans and critics in the process.

Perhaps the most surprising realm in which Stone and Parker have found success is that of musical theater. In 2011, Stone and Parker debuted the musical The Book of Mormon, a satirical, but informative, look at the practices of the missionaries of the Church of Latter Day Saints. With talk of famine, AIDS, warfare, and dialogue ripe with profanity, the warm reaction from live theater goers was certainly unexpected. What was even more surprising was the critical acclaim for the two rookie thespians; The Book of Mormon received nine Tony Awards, along with four Laurence Olivier Awards and a Grammy for best musical theater album. The Book of Mormon was a certified hit, encouraging fans of their other work to take in live theater and even receiving praise from the Church of Latter Day Saints for its attention to detail regarding the background and beliefs of the church.

Awards aside, Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s hard work over the years has given them a sense of artistic freedom:

“We feel like we can do anything in any show, and we can say ‘Oh my God! The things we talked about today will be on the air in nine days!’ And that’s a fantastic way to live your life.

The duo’s hard work and willingness to stand behind their artistic vision has garnered critical and commercial success, with a loyal fan base willing to follow Stone and Parker on any of their journeys through television, film, theater, and wherever their ideas may take them.

Author Bio: Justin Bruce

Justin Bruce is a graduate from the University of Saskatchewan where he studied Medieval and Modern English. When he’s not writing or playing music, he can be found behind the stack of comic books he’s trying to keep up with.