The Reason Online has a wonderful transcription of a talk on free speech with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Much in the past has been made of the idea of South Park Republicans, but Matt & Trey assert in this talk that they’re not really comfortable with any label for their political positions. The only reason they seem to be even willing to partially take on the label of Libertarian is due to the prompting of the moderator. (None of this is to say that they don’t cozy up to one side or the other. Conservative Andrew Sullivan posted today an e-mail rave about his book “The Conservative Soul” from Matt Stone.)
For a show that’s often been described as provocative, it’s incredible how levelheaded and even fair South Park is. Much of the talk focuses on religion and, of course, the frustrations of attempted censorship by both the Catholic League and Scientologists in the past year. But an episode of Mormonism is very much a stand-out on how incredibly gracious South Park can be in religious satire. Though it essentially describes the origins of the Mormon faith dumb, it firmly admits “so what?” because Mormons are, on the whole, kind and generous people. Satire can have a single minded view of its targets, sometimes even to point of setting up straw men. The fact that Matt and Trey can savage a target and then admit to the grace within it is a marvel.
With politics, South Park finds their middle ground by piercing the excesses on both sides of an argument. I remember once Jon Stewart saying that nobody ever takes the streets yelling “Let’s all be reasonable.” But it occurs to me the South Park, and comedy is general, are the model of political expression for those of us who don’t think either side has a monopoly on truth. So much is made of humor being exclusively a tool for the left, but the left hasn’t been ascendant enough during comedy booms to be a target. Satire’s a weapon that can and should be used on both sides. It’s a balance beam that Matt & Trey continue to walk upon and one I hope that more of our current satirists decide they should tread.
Last week’s episode of South Park featured a costume party for Satan featuring the attendance by the recently deceased Steve Irwin. Naturally this caused a small amount of press, but what’s not mentioned in the story is the joke is all about whether a Steve Irwin costume is “too soon.” Satan actually goes to tell the guy that a Steve Irwin costume is not cool since it’s a little soon, but it turns out to be, in fact, Steve Irwin. I can see where it offends people, but I think this is a very clever commentary on the inevitable “bad taste” Halloween costumes that we see every year.
Here’s the actual clip from the episode:
Comedians naturally have a smaller “time” on the “tragedy+time=comedy” equation, another example being Bill Maher, who actually wore a Steve Irwin costume to a party recently. The two sides of the argument probably go like this: “It’s only been a month!” and “It’s been a month!” I’m not really sure either is wrong. What do you think?
Filed Under Animation
A good chunk of the pilot for Freak Show has made it to the web including the following, which seems to be most current, as it’s the same clip Comedy Central has on its own site:
and this, which has some muted colors but much more material - though still not complete:
There’s more of this later one, after the jump. (Thanks AST)
Filed Under Animation
Last night’s South Park episode, the second of a two-parter, was fascinating in the amount of targets they were able to include. The surface level of course was slamming Family Guy, which seems to be every cartoon show’s favorite punching bag. I always been apathetic to Family Guy, but the revelation that every joke was written by Manitees who constructed them by randomly selecting balls with words on them to be a little cheap but surprisingly accurate. Best of all, was South Park not sparing itself. There were a fair amount of jokes about cartoon shows getting preachy, a major complain about South Park’s later seasons from some.
Family Guy was really just collateral damage here though, South Park’s real target was censorship and terrorism. I found the cut to Comedy Central’s refusal to air Mohammad chilling. According to National Review’s media blog, this was an accurate reflection of Comedy Central’s position. The final bit, showing a cartoon featuring Bush, Jesus and other American crapping all over themselves and an American flag, has been taken by many to reflect the hypocricy in our media and in some ways giving ammunition that there’s anti-Christian bias there. South Park’s point how either all targets are good or none of them are has never been so smartly rendered.
It’s still to Comedy Central credit that they would put such a critique on the air, but sad considering Comedy Central previously had no problem with showing Muhammad in the episode “Super Best Friends” featuring Mohammed and a member of a superhero team made up of relgious figures as part of South Park’s Fifth Season Some have argued that the best thing to do is write Comedy Central about not showing Muhammad, but what our media understands most is money. If it burns you that much, buy the box set for the Muhammad episode. Then write Comedy Central and tell them you are disappointed with their decision on “Cartoon Wars” and that you bought the DVD set specifically because it shows Muhammad. It may sounds strange to support a company that makes a decision you don’t like, but voting with our wallets for the media we want is one of the few effective ways to reach decision makers.
Also noticed on wikipedia’s entry for South Park, that Muhammad did sneak by on last night’s episode as part of the opening cast shot. Check against my copy of the episode itself and sure enough, he’s there. Full pic shown after the jump…
I was fortunate enough to attend last night’s crew party for “Wonder Showzen” at Pianos. I arrived just before 8, in time to watch an episode from the upcoming series (don’t think it’ll be the first episode - it was numbered 203). They had to restart the episode once because the show wasn’t playing downstairs. Right before they ran it again, creator John Lee mentioned in passing, “Oh, and the President was just stabbed in the neck.”
As for the episode, there’s lots of fantastic work I don’t want to spoil, but my favorite segment was the already talked-about “Beat Kids” at Ground Zero, which might be one of the funniest things committed to tape ever. Hearing people talk about how they feel about the events of 9/11 while wearing groucho glasses or with radio zoo crew sound effects punctuating what they say is devastating. An animated segment involving peer pressure was also incredible (“Provide for your family! Provide for your family!”). Another great segment where Clarence asks homeless people about their “American Dreams” can be seen here.
Afterwards I thanked John and Vernon Chatman separately for the recent interview they did with the site, both of whom unnecessarily told me they were sorry they couldn’t answer more seriously but they don’t have it in them. Soon after, partygoers were actively encouraged to head downstairs to witness a performance by “Lumber Rob” - billing them as the best band in the world next to PFFR, of course. It’s would probably surprise some people to see how good the creators are with the kids from the show, but watching John Lee shepherd the lone Beat Kid in attendance downstairs to watch the performance impressed me. John promised the boy that seeing Lumber Rob “could change your life.”
Lumber Rob is almost indescribable - taped beats combined with whatever live noise he could make with his mouth, both of which occassionally took him enough to begin convulsive dancing. Some were unsure of what to make of it, but the Beat Kid was telling John between songs “that should be the theme song for season 2!”
I also managed to catch David Cross at the party and quickly thanked him for using my Larry the Cable Guy Interview as part of his Open Letter to Larry last year. I also told him I was looking forward to his animated “Freak Show”, which he mentioned he just got back from doing some work on and is thinking it may be the funniest thing he done since “Mr. Show.” As critical as he can be about his own work (see “Run, Ronnie Run” or even some episodes of “Mr. Show”), if he’s liking it this much, it’s probably a comedy nerd’s dream.
I dashed pretty soon after, but not before snagging a T-shirt with the image you see at the top of the post. Prepare to Pregret 4-19-08 indeed.
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.
Filed Under Animation
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.