This month, South Park will begin its 20th season on the air. And creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are in a celebratory mood. The pair made a rare appearance at Comic-Con earlier this summer and on the night of Sept. 1, they stopped by The Paley Center in Beverly Hills for the opening of a new interactive exhibit called “The South Park 20 Experience.”
To mark the occasion, Comedy Central also released a new retrospective video that looks back at the show’s 19 seasons, by the numbers, and cites milestones like 49 Cartman dumps, 84 Stan vomits, and one Gay Fish.
“The first time we saw that we were sitting in front of a bunch of people at Comic-Con,” Parker tells The Daily Beast before sitting down with Stone for a panel discussion moderated by Viacom chief Doug Herzog, who helped bring the show to Comedy Central in the mid-’90s. “And there definitely was a little bit of, wow, dude, that’s not cool, seeing all those all clips.”
“It’s like a version of looking at your old haircuts on the internet,” Stone adds. “But that’s who we were in 1998, or whatever.”
The big question heading into Season 20 is how South Park will engage with a presidential election that has become a whole lot crazier since last season’s gun-crazed finale aired in December. It was close to a year ago, in September 2015, that the show first took on Donald Trump. “We thought we’d better do this before it goes away,” Parker says, laughing.
“When you’re doing something that contemporary,” Stone adds, “you’re worried that it will drop out [of the news] the next week.” They thought people might wonder why they were doing an entire episode about such a “marginal character” in the election. They did not expect he would go on to become one of the two major party nominees.
But now that they’ve done their Trump episode, they’re not sure they can really go back to that same well. “That was pretty hardcore,” Stone says of the episode, which ended with the violent rape of the Canadian Trump character. Parker chimes in, “Yeah, I don’t know what else we could do.”
With his run for president on a platform of keeping those “dirty” Canadians out of America, the character of Mr. Garrison has basically become the show’s Trump stand-in, so the pair said they expect they will continue to use him as a vehicle to comment on Trump’s campaign. They decided to do that in the first place because they “didn’t really want to service Trump as a character,” according to Parker. As Stone added, “We were like, fuck him, we don’t want to give him the satisfaction.”
But what about Hillary Clinton? It has now been nearly a decade since South Park aired an episode that revolved around her in the spring of 2007, during the show’s 11th season. In that episode, titled “The Snuke,” Secret Service discovers a small nuclear bomb concealed in the candidate’s vagina. So again, they wonder, what more is there to say? “In this election, Garrison is our character,” Stone says. “He’s running for president, that seems like probably where we’ll stay.”
As for their own political views, Parker and Stone said that while they have been labeled as “libertarian” in the press over the years, all they would say is “we believe in liberty.” If he thought there was “any chance in hell” that Gary Johnson could win, Parker said he would “probably” support him over either Trump or Clinton, who he described, jokingly, as “the giant douche and the turd sandwich,” without specifying which is which.
During the panel conversation, they returned to the question of whether they feel “pressure” to comment on the biggest stories happening in the world at any given time. Stone said people will come up to him and say things like, “I can’t wait to see what you’ll do to Hillary” this season. Stone jumped in with his standard response: “Well, Cartman’s going to try to get Butters to suck his dick.”
“Good political satire has a point,” Stone continued. “And for us, it would be such a sacrilege—South Park is the most important thing.” They never want to “use” the show for a political end. Instead they see figures like Trump, Clinton, and other celebrities as “serving” the show.
Parker also discussed the major structural shift that the show underwent last season, in which they carried story arcs through the entire season instead of “resetting” at the end of each episode. Stone described that reset as the “least fun” part of the writing process and said they began to get “jealous” of the serialized, bingeable shows that could tell one story over the course of a season.
As an example, Parker pointed to the “P.C. Principal” character. In the past, they would have tried to find a way to kill him off at the end of the season premiere. But they liked him so much, they decided to see what would happen if they kept him around. This experiment led to what Herzog and many others have said was one of South Park’s best seasons ever.
While a lot of people view the show as “cynical” or “nihilistic,” Parker said he and Stone are at their cores “positive” people. “We so appreciate comedy, not just as a way to vent, but as a way to analyze something, and as a way to think about something,” he said. While they used to stand on a “soapbox” and say “we learned this” at the end of every episode, they now like to let the audience decide for themselves what the takeaway is.
“Some of our proudest moments now are the shows where we’ll hear people on this side of the issue going, ‘See? They proved us right.’ And the people on the other side of the issue go, ‘See? They proved us right,” Parker said. But, he added, “We’re most proud of the fact that after 20 years, we haven’t handed it off.”
They may have gotten older—and become Broadway smashes—but South Park is still their “baby.”