The bookends of your career are a five-minute cartoon starring Santa and Jesus and now a musical called The Book of Mormon. What’s so funny about religion?
Trey: It’s just too rich, you know? There are so many powerful cultural reference points. Even
if you’re not Christian, just from being in our culture you know Jesus and resurrection and redemption. They’re fucking goofy, dopey stories! But the thing I think may surprise people the most is that this is not just a big musical ripping on Mormons. That wouldn’t work.
Trey: We’ve been wanting to do something about Mormonism since we were in college. We grew up in Colorado, where there are quite a few of them.
What’s the story of the musical?
Trey: The idea is that these 18-year-old boys from Salt Lake City go to Cambodia as missionaries, and while they’re changing people, they’re changing themselves. They’re telling 50-year-old Cambodian men, “Hey, listen to me. I know what’s up. This guy in upstate New York dug some golden plates. Isn’t that great?”
Matt: There’s a lyric in the show that’s basically like, “Now that I’m 18, I know what the fuck is up.” When you’re 18 you feel like you know everything. At 18 I thought I knew everything about the world, and then at 22 I knew nothing. I was lost, in a good way.
Trey: There comes a point when you’re a teenager where you really think about some stupid religious story, whether it’s the Old Testament or The Book of Mormon, that says, you know, the Earth is really six fucking thousand years old. I mean, really? Come on. But then, as you get older, you start thinking, If it makes you happy, does it matter? I’m not sure.
One of your first girlfriends was a Mormon?
Trey: Yeah, that’s me, the girl I fucked first. That was my first experience with Mormonism.
I was like, “Wow, Mormons are dirty girls. I like ’em.”
South Park enters its 15th year this spring. You guys work a crazy schedule, starting from scratch each week and sending the show into Comedy Central hours before it airs. Don’t you get burned out?
Matt: I’m constantly amazed how we come in every week and still haven’t fucking figured out the formula of how to make a successful TV show. It’s like reinventing the wheel every week. And that’s probably why we’re not done with it.
Is it a big misconception that your work is politically conservative?
Trey: At its core South Park has always been about, well…in “The Spirit of Christmas,” there was the Jesus side and there was the Santa side, and they’re fighting, and the boys are sitting there blinking, going, “This is fucked up.” And really that’s sort of what’s underneath all of it.
We have these four boys who, at the end of the day, care way more about where they’re gonna get their Xbox game than about whatever the big political issue is in town. That’s all it is.
Matt: We’re not left or right. We go in the middle, the untrampled territory. That’s where all the jokes are. We’re kind of whorish like that, you know?
If you were making an episode to be seen only by yourselves, what would it be like?
Matt: We’d love to do a full season of Terrance and Phillip. No one would think it was funny, but it would be rad.
Trey: When Matt and I are somewhere and something funny happens and other people don’t laugh, that’s what makes us laugh super hard.
Matt: We did a South Park episode where we had this stupid gerbil crawl into a man’s ass, and he met all these crazy characters. It was done like The Hobbit. The 10 crew members who were doing the animation would come into my or Trey’s office individually, close the door, and be like, “Can I talk to you for a second? What the fuck are we doing with this show? What are you guys doing to us?” No one else was laughing, but me and Trey would be doubled over on the floor.
Do you have bad blood with Phil Collins, since “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Disney’s Tarzan beat “Blame Canada” at the 2000 Oscars?
Matt: That’s one-way bad blood. Phil Collins probably doesn’t know who we are, but fuck him.
Trey: It’ll be the same bad blood if we lose the Tony award this year to Bono. He’s up against us. If we’ve lost to Phil Collins and then to Bono, careerwise we’ve gotta pack it up.
Matt: I will say that I grew up playing drums, and Phil Collins can really fucking whack those drums. He’s a good drummer.
Is there anything you can’t make fun of?
Trey: Yeah, apparently there is; we’ve been told what it is. You know what that is!
Think so. It’s something we can’t talk about.
Trey: There’s your answer.
Are you still taken aback at South Park’s popularity? It can get pretty weird, right?
Matt: Totally. We never thought the footprint of our comedy would be as big as South Park is. And South Park isn’t nearly as big as Family Guy or The Simpsons or Two and a Half Men. I mean, those shows are massive, you know? They get, like, 10 times the audience we do. But we know that to get 20 percent of the people watching to laugh really hard, 80 percent of the people aren’t going to get it. We’ve learned that if every single person thinks what you do is funny, it’s usually fucking stupid as shit.
Trey: It’s usually Two and a Half Men.
Matt: We think of ourselves as a Monty Python troupe. We’re always gonna be those two little men farting in the corner, you know? That’s it.