It’s hard to believe more than 17 years have passed since Eric Cartman and co. first infiltrated the country’s collective living room.
When South Park debuted on Comedy Central in August 1997, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were the unlikeliest of celebrities: two dorky film students who cracked each other up so often their classmates frequently got annoyed at their antics. But very quickly, the comedic duo developed a widespread reputation as insanely successful artists who weren’t afraid to push boundaries.
Today, South Park is not so much a popular cartoon on cable as it is an American institution. To date, more than 250 episodes have aired, with Parker and Stone at the helm of all of them. Together, they’re charged with quite the task: juggling the responsibility of voicing major characters in every scene of every episode while consistently producing cutting-edge social satire.
So how did the show that began as a low-budget cardboard-based cartoon become a cultural juggernaut?
“A lot of the subject matter we’ve tackled—the way we found ourselves there was simply by trying to do something that no one else has touched,” Stone told Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes in 2011. “We want to go do jokes that other people haven’t done.”
Every week, the South Park world weaves in and out of current events. The show has tackled topics from Scientology to Facebook to medicinal marijuana and everything in between, often producing episodes that couldn’t seem timelier.
That’s because when seasons are running, Stone and Parker work like warriors. The comedic genius behind Matt and Trey is rooted in honest, hard work. Believe it or not, their workweek begins on Thursday, the day after the previous week’s episode airs. Each week, the duo puts episodes together from scratch in six days, working five 10-hour days before pulling an all-nighter, they told Kroft when discussing their creative process.
“I always feel like, ‘Wow, I wish I had another day with this show.’ That’s the reason that there’s so many episodes of South Park we’re able to get done, because there just is a deadline and you can’t keep going,” Parker says in 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park, a documentary that tracks the production of the inaugural episode of the show’s 15th season.
For Parker and Stone—who are now worth about $300 million each—staying busy with South Park isn’t enough. Over the years, the pair has showcased its talents on the silver screen as well, writing gems like South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, Team America: World Police and starring in BASEketball.
And they’ve also found success in another surprising arena: the theater.
Since its debut in 2011, The Book of Mormon has arguably been the hottest show on Broadway. It’s also been well received on stages across the country—and even in London. Performing consistently in front of full-capacity crowds, the play—which has been heavily awarded, including capturing the coveted Best Musical award at the 2011 Tony Awards—shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
“We thought it was good—we thought the songs were really good,” Parker told Kroft. He was right: To date, the cast album is the best-selling record of its kind. “But we didn’t think it would be like this.”
Anyone’s guess is as good as the next person’s as to what lies ahead for Parker and Stone. But one thing’s certain: We’re all anxiously awaiting.
In addition to the frenetic speed they work at, there’s something else that’s crucial to their success. Over the years, they’ve remained true to their original target audience: each other. If they both laugh, they decide we probably will, too.
And so far they’ve been right.