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6 Things to Know About South Park’s Viral Beginnings

The gang from South Park. Photo: Comedy Central

Entertainment Weekly has a fascinating new oral history that rehashes the humble beginnings of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s South Park. Parker, along with TV producer Brian Graden and former Comedy Central president Doug Herzog, recounts in detail how he and Stone morphed from two University of Colorado graduates with a viral-video Christmas card into the wielders of one of the longest-running subversive cartoons on TV today. Whether or not you’re familiar with the “Jesus vs. Frosty” story, we’ve gone through and picked half a dozen highlights that are sure to catch your eye (it’s available here in its entirety).

1) The South Park kids’ voices were born from film-school boredom.

Parker: When you’re in the film school, you’re working on someone’s film every weekend, so you’re spending your weekends on set. Matt and I would always end up either running cameras or running sound or something. Shoots are so fucking boring, and we would just sit there doing voices for each other — that’s where it actually started. We would always talk like these little kids and make each other laugh. So we had a year of doing little skits with the voices before we shot anything.

2) Indie film Cannibal! The Musical was the stepping stone that led to Stone and Parker showing a Fox executive “Jesus vs. Frosty.”

Parker: Brian was like, “Show me everything you’ve done,” and we’re like, “Well, here’s this cartoon we made.” Brian totally loved it, and he’s like, “Can I send [this as] a Christmas card to everyone?” So he sent it to a production house and copied it a hundred times onto VHS tapes we’re just like, “Oh, that’s so cool.”

3) They put the South Park sign in the second Christmas card video just in case.

Parker: It was all single-cel animation, so the damn thing took a week of no sleep to make five minutes’ worth. We had talked about if it could ever be a show, and that’s why at the very beginning of “The Spirit of Christmas” we put the sign that said “South Park” in it. It was just in the back of our minds.

4) Stone, Parker, and Graden actually tried to make a kids’ pilot work.

Graden: I wanted to do something cool for the Christmas card, and those guys are geniuses. We’d first seen their movie about cannibalism [Cannibal! The Musical], the Alfred Packer movie. They way they used pauses and their rhythms of comedy were so observational and genius. That was the first thing we saw, and [we] just got to know them, and they would do various projects. We did a kids’ pilot, if you can believe it, for Fox’s sister network. We had started developing South Park based on those characters before [the second video] was made.

5) The South Park pilot made a focus group cry.

Graden: We went to do a focus group. They were asked to rate the pilot on a scale of 1 to 10. There were 1s, and 2s, and 3s everywhere. We made three people cry — they were saying that it’s inappropriate for children to say those kinds of things.

6) Those original VHS copies are not so original — considering they went viral.

Parker: Still, to this day, every stranger that walks up to me usually says, “I have your original tape.” People come up to me all the time and they’re like, “You know, I had one of the original ‘Spirit of Christmas’ VHS’s.” And I always say, “Oh, wow, that’s cool.” And in my head I’m thinking, “Dude, do you know how many people tell me that?”

6 Things to Know About South Park’s Beginnings