1- South Park began as a video Christmas card
In 1995 FoxLab executive Brian Graden saw a demented, animated short entitled Jesus vs Frosty that Parker and Stone created while they were still students at the University of Colorado. Graden thought it was hilariously twisted, so he hired them to make a video Christmas card for his friends in the entertainment industry. The result was The Spirit of Christmas, a five-minute short that saw Santa Claus face off against Jesus in a martial arts fight to the death over who would control the Christmas holiday. The two holiday superpowers ultimately resolve the issue with a truce.
The video made the rounds and soon Parker and Stone found themselves in negotiations with both FOX and Comedy Central to produce a half-hour series based on the short.
2- Tom Cruise wanted to do a voice for South Park
Of course, that’s in the past tense: Cruise had, at one time, wanted to do a voice for the show. Presumably his interest has waned a bit since the Emmy-nominated episode No. 137, “Trapped in the Closet.” After joining Scientology in search of something to do that’s both fun and “free” (the church is notoriously expensive), the character Stan is believed by members to be the reincarnation of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. A number of well-known Scientologists, including John Travolta and Tom Cruise, try to convince Stan to lead the church, but he refuses, later calling it a “global scam.” Cruise (the character) locks himself in Stan’s closet and “refuses to come out” after Stan tells him he’s not a very good actor, which Cruise takes as the great prophet’s opinion.
The show regularly refuses to allow celebrities to play themselves or even play what might be considered normal characters. At most they are offered ludicrous roles. For example, George Clooney played a gay dog and Jay Leno played a bird, while Jerry Seinfeld was offered the role of a sick cat, but his agent turned it down. Other stars believed to have sought voice roles but refused the odd-ball roles offered to them include Steven Spielberg, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeff Daniels.
3- Cartman was influenced by Archie Bunker
In an interview conducted by the Vanderbilt University-affiliated First Amendment Center, Trey Parker said that he and Stone grew up watching sitcoms that were extraordinarily PC, such as Diff’rent Strokes and Facts of Life. Then they were blown away by syndicated episodes of All in the Family. Believing that a bigoted character like Archie Bunker could never make it on to television in the current climate, asked themselves, “How could you bring an Archie Bunker back? What if you made him a fat little 8-year-old kid?”
The result was Eric Cartman, the show’s leading foul-mouth, hatemonger, sadistic, and sociopathic elementary kid. Cartman also happens to be the show’s most hilarious character.
4- The main female voice-over actor committed suicide
Mary Kay Bergman, the longtime former voice of Mrs. Butterworth and an experienced voice-over actress, voiced all of the female voices for the first 31 episodes of South Park as well as the movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, including the mothers of all four principle boys, Wendy Testaburger, Mrs. Crabtree and Nurse Gollum, among others.
Bergman suffered from anxiety and depression. In 1999, at the age of 38, she committed suicide by shooting herself at home. Subsequently, those roles have been voiced by three other women, and two South Park episodes have been dedicated to her memory.
5- Episodes are changed at the “11th Hour”
Unlike other animated shows, producers on South Park can produce an episode in a matter of days in order to react to current events, something that has become one of the show’s hallmarks. Some notable examples are:
On April 22nd, on orders from Attorney General Janet Reno, agents from BORTAC, the tactical unit of the U.S. Border Control, seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives. On April 26th, episode No. 52 aired, “Quintuplets 2000” in which Janet Reno aides the Romanian government’s efforts to return five circus performing contortionists. In this episode, Stone and Parker rewrote the original plotline to mirror current events.
On November 7, 2000, in the U.S. Presidential election, Bush and Al Gore waited on the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes and the outcome became the most controversial and divisive in history. On November 15th, episode No. 60 aired, “Trapper Keeper,” in which Mr. Garrison, the boys’ former teacher, is demoted to kindergarten and holds class elections between kids named Ike and Filmore, with an indecisive girl named Flora (Florida) holding the tie-breaking vote.
On December 13, 2003, U.S. Special Forces captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who had been hiding in a hole inside a farmhouse. On December 17th, episode No. 111 aired, “It’s Christmas in Canada,” which featured the boys finding Saddam hiding in a hole and controlling the voice of the new Canadian Prime Minister.