Vintage Interview: Matt Stone of South Park from 1997
In my career, I’ve interviewed a lot of interesting people. But since many of the magazines and websites that originally published those stories aren’t around anymore, I’ve decided to pull some of the more interesting interviews out of my archive.
The following interview with South Park co-creator, co-writer, and voice actor Matt Stone was conducted in July of 1997, a few months before the show first aired on Comedy Central. The interview was used as the basis for a story for Bikini Magazine.
So, I have to tell you, you and your buddy are fuckin’ geniuses. That first cartoon [The Spirit Of Christmas] is fuckin’ excellent. It’s not even funny how funny that damn thing is. We’ve played it for, like, everybody. And “Cartman Gets An Anal Probe.” Again, amazing.
Good, I’m glad you like it.
Especially the part in “Anal Probe” where Kyle actually does go off on the aliens. Even though it was bleeped out, that in itself was funny. So this is going to accompany a piece we’re doing a piece about the Spike & Mike’s animation festival. Were you guys into animation and into the Spike & Mikes first before you did this, or was is the whole story behind this?
Oh, not really. We come from a live action back ground. Trey and I met in film school, and we actually made a feature in film school called Cannibal! The Musical that we all acted in, and Trey directed with my friend Jason McHugh. The reason the animation is so crappy is because we really aren’t animators.
I actually think the animation is one of the coolest things about it because it’s so different from everything else. It’s totally different from The Simpsons, it’s totally different from Beavis And Butt-head…it reminds me more of the sort of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Yeah, it’s more like that Franklin Bass or whatever that is. But no, we’re not animators. I’ve seen Spike & Mike’s festival before, but we just did it completely in a vacuum. We were just like, “Hi, we can do this thing, and send it out to some people and that’ll be cool.”
I’ve heard that the reason this caught on is because people were so into it that they were sending it out to everyone they knew. I heard George Clooney sent out, like, 300 to his friends and stuff like that.
Yeah, he sent out a ton. He told us he sent out, like, 500 copies or something like that.
Which I totally believe ’cause it is the kind of thing that when you see it, you’re like, “This is so cool, I have to show it to everybody I know.”
We hear the stories every day, about how, “Oh, my friend showed it here,” “George Clooney is showing it to everybody.” Now we’re just not even surprised at all by who’s seen it. But we wonder why. There’s two reasons: one is that there’s very few things in Hollywood that are only five minutes long, and people don’t have a long attention span. It’s not like, “Here’s this great movie; you gotta sit down and watch it.” It’s like, here’s this little bitty thing that you can just spend five minutes watching while chugging your cappuccino. And I think the other reason is that everything in Hollywood is so watered-down, like, “say this, but don’t say that, or say this the right way or whatever…”
There’s also a sort of surreal quality about it. Though I also like how the kids actually act like kids. Like when they’re all worried about being kidnapped by the aliens and then all of a sudden one of the kids farts, and the other one’s like, “Ha…you farted!” It’s just totally like what little kids would do.
Absolutely. And that’s kind of where, with the language, people are like, “That’s little kids cursing!” But it’s like, “Well, guess what? Little kids talk like that.” Everyone’s like, “Well, I’ve never heard them do that,” but then…what’s her name? Jane Goodall? With the chimpanzees? Exactly the same thing: it’s like, once you’re there, they act differently. If you happen to walk in on a bunch of little third graders, they’re cussing their brains out. They love it. That’s the only words they use. But they use them in a way that’s kind of wrong, ’cause they don’t really understand the words. My little cousin, man: dirtiest mouth of anybody I know.
Was that sort of like a concern of yours when Comedy Central was like, “Okay, we want you to do a show”? ’Cause in the “Anal Probe” episode, you got them calling each other sons-of-bitches and dildoes and stuff like that, but I was wondering, “How far are they going to be able to take this?”
Well, the kids are definitely always going to be foul-mouthed. That’s definitely the truth. On Comedy Central, we can’t say “fuck” and we can’t say “shit.” So we’re wiping out two words. And I actually think, in a really fucked-up way, it’s actually made the show better because there’s a lot of people who are concerned about, “Oh, the show won’t be funny unless the kids curse,” and it’s just like when Bill Cosby — I don’t know if you remember Raw — but Eddie Murphy started going off because Bill Cosby called him and said, “Hey, you can’t use all these words on stage,” and Eddie Murphy was like, “That’s all I do. I just get up on stage and just say ‘Fuck fuck shit fuck crap pussy, good bye.” And it’s like, if that’s all that you have that’s funny, then you don’t have much. It really works in five minutes, but if that’s you do for 22 minutes for 13 episodes and all you have is a bunch of cussing, it just gets old. It hasn’t even been a challenge; it’s just made us more creative, because we actually have to think of real jokes. You can’t just say, “Hey, fuck you;” ’cause I would just end every scene with Cartman going, [in Cartman’s voice] “Fuck you, I’m going home,” and it would make me laugh, but after a while, it would get old.
Was there any thought on your part of taking this to a network like HBO where you could get away with the cursing?
You know what? I don’t remember why we didn’t take it to HBO. I think we did. I think it was one of those things where we actually didn’t know anybody there and we couldn’t get a meeting. If we could’ve gotten a meeting with HBO, we’d be talking to them too, but — especially after our experience with Comedy Central — I can’t think of any place else I’d rather be. I mean for the show or for my own, you know for my or Trey’s personal sanity. It’s because they are so hands-off, because they are such like a renegade like you know…if it’s funny, put it on. They don’t have any other criteria. I mean that’s the whole channel, it’s just about making people laugh. So their only criteria is if you like it, “if it’s funny, if it makes you guys laugh, it goes on the air.”
But it also seems like they are letting you make an adult cartoon, too.
Absolutely. It can’t be shown before 10 o’clock at night.
Bet you any amount of money, though, at some point there’s going to be a little bit of controversy because someone will say, “Oh these little kids are cursing and it isn’t good for our children.” Which would be really stupid, of course…
You know they will and that’s not for me to deal with. I couldn’t care less. If people worry about their kids watching this show, it’s like you get in prime-time on Fox there’s those real life deaths caught on video, that to me is so much more disturbing than a little kid saying “dildo.” Like how is a little kid saying “dildo” ever going to hurt anybody? To me, an episode of Cops could be much more frightening and disturbing and life altering than this show to a kid. And if you don’t want your kid to watch it, then, you know.
There was some little blurb that I read about the show which said it was like Peanuts on acid because the kids have round heads. When you guys were working on how the kids would look, was Peanuts an influence?
I’m probably not the best person to answer that because it’s Trey who designed the characters. He’s more the artist. I can’t draw to save my life. These are his little drawings that he’s been doing for years, and I don’t think he based them on Peanuts. Of course, we both grew up with things like It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but I don’t think it was conscious thing with Peanuts.
But we also both hate the whole “Peanuts on acid thing” because anything “on acid” is like the most clichéd…. I’m like, “you know you’ve never taken acid so shut your mouth.” You can only say that, you can only use that quote if you’ve actually taken a little bit of acid. You can say that “like okay now I get it” because when you say “Peanuts on acid” I don’t think of this show. I think of Peanuts on acid.
Have you done acid?
Oh yeah sure. Major influences for this show for me and Trey are Monty Python and LSD. Put that in there, my mom will read it and she’ll get all pissed off.
Yeah, I’m sure your mom reads Bikini.
She’ll find it. I’m sure somebody will tell her.
One of the other things I thought was really cool is that Kenny gets killed in every episode. What was the inspiration for that?
It’s just so funny that he’s the one who gets killed. It’s so funny that he just has that shitty luck. I don’t know why, it just kind of happened. That was definitely the biggest challenge coming from The Spirit Of Christmas to like even the pilot and beyond was creating a world for these kids to live in, a consistent world where all the kind of interact and work together and everything. It’s tough, it’s actually really hard to do. You do little things to give it that familiarity like Cheesy Poofs and all that kind of stuff.
I also, being a Primus fan, love that you got them to do the theme song.
We just sent them a tape of The Spirit Of Christmas and said we were doing a show, want to do the theme song? I’m going to see them tonight. They’re in L.A. and I’m going backstage to try to get them to rerecord part of this song. Me and Trey were both pretty big Primus fans, so that was pretty awesome to have our own song written by Primus about our show.
So have people started to ask you when the South Park movie will be out?
No, we can only see like six inches in front of us right now. All we see is like trying to get these first six done and then the back seven. People are like, “When are we going to get a T-shirt?” It’s like I don’t fucking know. Me and Trey have to make the show good or all the rest is moot. The Simpsons has all that noise but The Simpsons remains an awesome show and that’s where all the popularity starts from, is the fact that it’s just a great show. And that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s the only thing we really care about right now.
Well, based on the episodes that I’ve seen so far, you guys are doing a good job.
Cool. Thanks, I appreciate it.
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