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Robert Lopez.

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Book of Mormon Writer Robert Lopez on South Park, Cynicism, and Cirque du Soleil

Composer and lyricist Robert Lopez's first collaboration with Matt Stone and Trey Parker resulted in The Book of Mormon, which earned them all Tonys and turned them into the toast of the town. Their follow-up is tonight's South Park, "Broadway Bro-Down," in which Randy Marsh discovers his love for Broadway musicals and ends up writing one of his own. Vulture chatted with the Avenue Q creator about tonight's South Park, his upcoming projects, and the mystical nature of Jameson.

South Park works on a famously tight schedule. Was it hard to adjust to that pace?
Actually, it was remarkable how much the day-to-day working process was just like working on Book of Mormon. It felt a lot like that — except the whole thing was just compressed. What was different was all the design aspects and watching decisions get made about animation and charter design, that was really cool. That was something I'd never [been involved with] before. ... I also got to do a couple of voices. I'm the voice of a little kid that wears a life preserver, and I'm this guy at a bar who explains to Randy what musicals are.

Both Book of Mormon and Avenue Q are about people finding their purpose or their missions. Is Broadway now Randy's purpose? Or is this like his obsession with the Food Network?
Well, it's sort of a topsy-turvy take, where Randy gets obsessed, but they discover that something seemingly innocent is actually a big conspiracy. I wouldn't call this a musical episode, though. It's got songs in it, but it's more like, what if Broadway was really designed to do this nefarious thing?

So you went out to work on the show, but it's not even a musical episode?
Well, we started with no idea at all. Just sitting around on Thursday, trying to bang ideas out of our heads for five hours.

You started from scratch?
Every episode starts from scratch!

I know, but I figured, like, if there was a special episode in place or something, there'd already be some idea ...
Nope, it wasn't even a given that there would be songs in it. I was going out to guest write for a week, to celebrate and enjoy our success together [laughs]. ... I had this idea in my back pocket, that it'd be funny if we did a musical about a kid who craps his pants. But then they did it last week! ["Bass to Mouth" has a story line about a kid who soils himself.]

Does that happen a lot, where you discover you, Matt, and Trey are all secretly thinking the same thing?
Actually, it was bizarre. At the beginning of the season, there was the episode where Stan was becoming an alcoholic, and the secret society of cynics was about to make him drink Jameson — and I was watching it, and at that very moment, I was pouring a Jameson.

Did it make you less cynical?
I'm not that cynical, really! Trey can get cynical, but I'm not really a cynic.

Are there more South Parks in your future?
Not this season, but maybe in future seasons. They seem to have a good time with me, and I have a great time with them.

So what is in your future?
I'm working on a couple of movies, a live-action musical for Disney, possibly another animated Disney movie, and a Broadway show [called Up There] that's like Annie Hall meets Cirque du Soleil. It's a romantic comedy with a huge theatrical twist. I'm working on that with my wife, Kristen. It's about a guy's brain, his mind, his inner consciousness — the whole chorus is his brain, so it's kind of like Cats, but with a story. He has these crazy inner thoughts, but the guy doesn't express himself, so the girl has no idea what he's thinking. Which is how things are in real life.

Photo: Patrick McMullan