It’s no secret that sometimes comedy is taken a bit too seriously. Comedy obsessives love not just the jokes, but the mechanics and emotions of the comedy world. There are a raft of comedy documentaries exploring comedy and comedians, but do they really have anything significant to add to the discussion? This series looks at comedy documentaries and whether they’re interesting, insightful, and possibly even…funny?
The Making of South Park: 6 Days to Air is, as the title implies, a documentary that goes behind the scenes of Comedy Central’s iconic show, chronicling the making of HumancentiPad, the first episode of South Park’s fifteenth season. It begins with a title card explaining that South Park has “one of the most ambitious schedules” in television: every episode is written, recorded, animated and delivered in only six days.
The documentary picks up just weeks after the show’s creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, premiered their smash Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon. “There’s a show on this Wednesday and we don’t even know what it is,” Parker says at the beginning, nerves creeping into his voice.
What follows is an amazing look at the process of putting together an entire TV show under immense, borderline insane constraints. Cameras are even placed in the writers’ room (a move that the writers make clear is both unprecedented and unnerving). Considering that South Park has produced more than 200 episodes, its writers’ room seems shockingly small — there are never more than six people at once, and the burden isn’t shared equally. Everyone freely admits that Stone and Parker do the heavy lifting, and Stone in turn gives Parker much of the credit.
The central episode’s title and plot refer heavily to The Human Centipede, so you can imagine some of its thematic elements. Scatological humor doesn’t really appeal to me, so I don’t feel that I’m a fair judge of the hilarity of this particular episode. But content aside, it’s great seeing the thought process behind the episode’s themes. Frankly, it’s so adorable watching Parker and Stone crack themselves up with their own ideas — in the writer’s room, in the recording booth, in the editing suite — that I can’t help but love the episode for their sake.
And I can’t deny that it’s fun, in a juvenile way, to watch the show’s executive producer explain the episode’s plot and assorted visuals to the network’s standards and practices department. “Maybe, yes maybe we see them being sewn together… Thanks. Happy Easter to you too.”
The show’s team, with the help of an insanely talented animation department, has managed to make this crazed schedule work for South Park. But I think anyone who writes anything can relate to Parker, pacing around the studio, with only hours before the show is due. “I’m embarrassed putting this piece of shit on the air,” he confesses. “I feel like it’s the worst episode we’ve ever done,” he says immediately after turning it in.
One gets the distinct impression that he says that every single week. But the fact that 15 years in, he’s still berating himself is so central to the show’s longevity — Parker and Stone have poured every ounce of their twisted brains into this show. It was a relief to see them finish this episode in the nick of time, until I realized that the next morning they woke up back where they started — six days until a new episode, and no show.
And so, in conclusion…
Is it interesting? Yes — both the creative process and the technical ingenuity that allows the show to come together so quickly are incredible to watch. It originally served as an hour-long special for Comedy Central, so it’s only 42 minutes without commercials. This gives it a zippy, almost reality-show feel to it that makes it fun.
What does it have to say about comedy? As with Saturday Night Live, the quickness of the turnaround becomes all the more amazing when you think of the legacy of the show. South Park will go down as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, yet much of the show has been assembled at warp speed. Parker estimates that, were they to spend all the time in the world on one episode, it would get 5% better, so it’s best just to churn it out and move on.
Is it funny? Yes, actually. They’re obviously funny guys, and even when the deadlines get tight, the documentary doesn’t take itself seriously.
Can I stream it on Netflix? Yes!
Any comedy documentaries you’d like to see discussed? Do let me know.
Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist in New York City. She would never, ever put off writing something until the last minute.