Vernon Chatman and John Lee are the creators of “Wonder Showzen”, which is quite simply, brilliant. The show is much more than a parody of a kids show. The darkness of the content, like a segment where children will talk about a trip to the hotdog factory that turns into taking heroin with the workers, is played against the kid’s-show form (“I got to ride the black pony!”) in a way that leads to explosive laughs. This season they might run a segment when children ask people to recount their Sept. 11 experiences while wearing Groucho glasses. Wonder Showzen’s first season DVD was released today and its second season begins on MTV2 this Friday (9:30 EST). A preview segment can be seen here.
I interviewed the creators Vernon and John over email. I asked them about horror and humor, what children can get away with and, of course, patience. They answered me with… well, just read it.
Matt and Trey have often said while describing South Park that “Children are assholes.” What do you think of children?
Children are the magical glue that keeps our society hurtling towards guaranteed destruction. Every morning we force feverish miscreants (selves) to huff that glue, before we translate their death spasms into morse code, and then into English. We lay it out into script format and shoot. Children’s assholes have almost nothing to do with it. What Matt and Trey were probably trying to say was that they are so rich, they can afford to shit from children.
Wonder Showzen attaches a lot of horrific elements to the humor – blood, screams, decomposing and dying animals. How close are horror and humor in your minds?
Our minds are so tiny and so symmetrical, everything is crammed equally close to everything else up in there. That said, anyone who has watched helplessly as their entire family was mercilessly and methodically butchered before their eyes knows firsthand how delightfully interchangeable horror and humor truly are.
Some of the performances by children in the show are absolutely spot-on in terms of inflection – they’ll say the line exactly as an adult might. How hard is it to get these performances?
Have you ever placed a medicinal lozenge in the mouth of a dead mule and then attempted to pull it back out from the other end of the beast? You have? I’m jealous of you. Because you’ve had it easy. Also, you smell nice. Especially your hands.
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Comedy Central seems to be recovering from the loss of Dave Chappelle pretty nicely, first gathering up Sarah Silverman for her self-titled “programme” and now picking up Freak Show, an animated show from David Cross and Jon Benjamin. The show will revolve around a team of superheroes called the Freak Squad who are also members of one of the last independently-owned freak shows (implying that the rest are corporate-owned I suppose).
I was a little cautious about another superhero parody when I first heard about this, but with the talent here and the play on what a “freak” exactly is - the Siamese Twins have the power to separate themselves and The World’s Tallest Nebraskan can shrink himself six inches shorter, I’m sure it’ll be far more than jabs at capes and tights.
The pilot is described thusly:
The Freak Squad is called upon to travel to a remote island under embargo by the United States and controlled by the evil General M’Dinka Magoobi. The mission: to replenish the President’s store of perry nuts, his favorite, which can only be found on Magoobi’s island. Using their individual and combined powers, the Freak Squad escapes the clutches of General Magoobi, secures their objective and saves the President from going nutless.
It’ll be interesting to see how direct a satire this is of the Iraq invasion and President Bush, considering Cross’ current stand-up. Freak Show will premiere sometime between fall 06 and winter ‘07.
A larger picture of the characters from Freak Show after the jump.
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Drawn Together has never entirely worked for me. I’ve always thought the concept of a reality show revolving around cartoon characters was brilliant. They have a no-holds-barred sense that at times just lands with a thud, I think because the jokes are sometimes empty and occassionally lazy. One sequence featuring “Live Action Cow” was excruciable because every joke revolved around how still the character was. Other more recent episodes have been great though - the satire of stem cells “Clum Babies” comes to mind.
Writer Bill Freiberger has been a great presence at the site Toon Zone, handling both the postive and negative reaction to Drawn with some strong points and some nice candor, including pointing out how product placement even reaching to cartoons:
The reason that the controller is an exact replica is because Sony wanted it to be and Comedy Central made some sort of deal with them. We were just following orders.
Bill Freiberger was also the co-writer with his 13-year-old son of another sharp episode “Terms of Endearment”, detailing Captain Hero losing his powers and ending up in a wheelchair a la Christopher Reeve. The episode was originally to air in the first season, but after the actor’s death, the episode was set aside. The episode finally aired this past January. On the ToonZone board, Bill shared how hard it was to get the joke where Captain Hero loses his powers approved:
They thought it was too harsh (although it really wasn’t). In the scene, Hero climbs on a horse. The horse rears up and Captain Hero gently slides off the horse and directly into the wheel chair.
After we lost the use of that shot, we tried to have the sound of a horse winnie inside The Pillow Fort of Isolation while Hero was giving up his powers. The network nixed that as well. However, there is the sound of a Horse winne over the “Double Hemm” production logo at the end of the episode.
There’s also a full interview with Bill, where he details more about the show’s intents and how satire just doesn’t work for some people. Interesting stuff, even if you aren’t a fan of “Drawn.”
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At least two bloggers have received responses from Comedy Central Viewer Services after complaining about the channel pulling an episode of South Park due to complaints from the Catholic League. According to those emails, the South Park episode “Bloody Mary” has not been pulled permanently as gloated by the Catholic League, but in fact, only briefly removed out of respect for the holidays (as my wife originally suspected). Below is the full text of the Comedy Central email:
Thank you for your letter regarding the “South Park” episode entitled “Bloody Mary.” We appreciate your concerns about the potential influences of outside special interest groups on the media and enterainment (sic) industries and particularly Comedy Central. Though Comedy Central did not include the “Bloody Mary” episode in a special year-end marathon of “South Park” episodes in deference to the Holidays, “Bloody Mary” did in fact air in every one of “South Park’s” normally scheduled repeat timeslots. As satirists, we believe that it is our First Amendment right to poke fun at any and all people, groups, organizations and religions and we will continue to defend that right. Our goal is to make people laugh, and perhaps if we’re lucky, even make them think in the process. Despite misleading claims from those who would like to claim victory, we have not permantly (sic) shelved the “Bloody Mary” episode from future airings due to outside pressure nor will we exclude it from future DVD releases.
Comedy Central Viewer Services
To Reply: http://www.comedycentral.com/help/questionsCC.jhtml
If these emails are true, with Comedy Central’s emphatic defense of free speech and sensitive respect to religious holidays, we’ll probably see this episode again soon in South Park’s Wednesday night spot (as long as it’s not Ash Wednesday).
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“I talked to Matt and Trey about that. They didn’t let me know until it was done. I said, “Guys, you have it all wrong. We’re not like that. I know that’s your thing, but get your information correct, because somebody might believe that shit, you know?” But I understand what they’re doing. I told them to take a couple of Scientology courses, and understand what we do. [Laughs.]”
So that would be a “no.” A Scientologist a model for how others should handle religious satire - the mind boggles!
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The Catholic League has issued a press release commending Comedy Central for pulling the South Park episode “Bloody Mary” and in the same sentence, calling the creators of the episode “bigots.” The Catholic League furthermore claims that Comedy Central’s Executive VP of Corporate Communications Tony Fox stated that there were no plans to rerun to episode. My previous assumption that the episode’s reairing was delayed by the proximity of the holidays was erroneous.
South Park fans are a little uncertain about how they feel, considering a previous episode “Jared Has Aides” was never aired again, only to see the light of day again on the South Park Season 6 DVD. Since the Catholic League’s original demand was for the episode to never appear again on-air or on DVD, fans might want to assume the worst.
If you want to see the episode, it is available via BitTorrent at mrtwig.
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Boing Boing has reported that a South Park episode protested by a Catholic group may have been dropped from schedule. However the episode, entitled “Bloody Mary”, is on my current cable schedule for 12:30AM, but it’s not on Comedy Central’s online schedule for tonight or any other night in the near future. That schedule, presumably, should be the most accurate.
It’s uncertain yet what exactly is going on. It may not be clear until 12:30 tonight if the episode has been pulled. (My very smart wife, a lapsed Catholic, points out the episode may just be temporarily removed considering how close this repeat airing is to Christmas.) More to come.
Video from the episode of the Virgin Mary spraying blood on a Catholic church official.
UPDATE: “Bloody Mary” indeed did not air tonight. So far, no gloating from the Catholic League. Earlier they did get Joseph A. Califano, Jr., a practicing Catholic and Viacom (Comedy Central Parent company) board member, to condem the episode. He did, however, leave the the ultimate decision to Viacom President Tom Freston. I imagine the repeat airing is probably delayed until after the holidays, and will probably reair at some date after the dust clears (Matt & Trey carry a lot of weight too). Still, if you disagree with the Catholic League, it might be best to write Comedy Central and let them know.