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Happy 15th birthday, 'South Park'!

Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone discuss why they’re not tired of making their Comedy Central hit, their favorite (and not so favorite) episodes — oh, and a little show called ”The Book of Mormon”

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This past June’s midseason finale of South Park featured no talking poop, no lines of dialogue for Oprah’s vagina, and, unlike in season opener ”HUMANCENTiPAD,” no incidents of a young boy being surgically attached to the rump of an Asian man by order of Steve Jobs. But to many fans, ”You’re Getting Old” was still one of the most shocking episodes in the animated sitcom’s lengthy tenure on Comedy Central. On the show, cartoon kid Stan Marsh celebrated his 10th birthday and was subsequently diagnosed with the medical condition of ”cynicism.” This illness meant that everything he came across — from tween pop music to an ad for Kevin James’ talking-animal movie, Zookeeper — looked and sounded, literally, like crap. Meanwhile, Stan’s parents declared that they had become bored with committing the same ludicrous acts week in, week out. ”How much longer can we keep doing this?” asked Stan’s mother. By the unusually poignant conclusion, the Marsh family home had been put up for sale and Stan was walking through South Park to the melancholic strains of Fleetwood Mac’s ”Landslide.” The episode seemed to provide evidence aplenty that South Park‘s creative overlords, Trey Parker, 41, and Matt Stone, 40, had become terminally bored with their groundbreaking cartoon creation. Some even wondered if the pair had thrown in the towel, and if ”You’re Getting Old” was in fact the last-ever show. As one fan wrote on an Internet message board after its broadcast, ”Is this the end of South Park?”

Sitting on a couch at Comedy Central’s New York City headquarters, Parker and Stone reveal they were genuinely surprised by the reaction to the show. ”I didn’t think it would be that emotional for people,” says Stone. ”We started doing this joke about the trailers for all these crappy movies. There’s just no way, as an adult, you can watch the Zookeeper trailer and not go, ‘God, that just sucks.’ But at the same time, you’re like, ‘Am I being a grumpy old piece of s—?”’ From that point, interjects Parker, it was a natural leap to have the characters explore whether South Park itself was ready for the garbage heap: ”We were like, ‘We’ll make the end all about us going to s—.”’

So, fans, breathe easy: The second half of the current South Park season — its 15th — will start Oct. 5, and the pair say they might continue making the show after their contract ends in 2013. ”If you ask us in the middle of a run, we’d say, ‘No f—ing way,”’ explains Parker, who in addition to writing and directing most episodes voices many characters, including Cartman. ”If you ask us after a run, we’ll be like, ‘Sure, why not?”’

Parker and Stone’s dedication to Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny, Butters, et al. doubtless delights Comedy Central, which is making much of the show’s anniversary. The network set up a 15,000-square-foot South Park fun park at this year’s Comic-Con, and it will air a new documentary, Six Days to Air: The Making of South Park, on Oct. 9 at 10 p.m. ”There’s a little bit of history,” says Stone. ”But most of it is ‘Five days to air…”Four days to air…’ We’re in the writers’ room, we’re trying to figure it out. It’s not going to be like, ‘Oh, here’s Matt taking a p—.”’ For a limited time, fans can also buy actual bags of Cheesy Poofs — the lardy snack of Cartman’s choice — at Walmart. ”It’s a cool promotional thing to do, but I can guarantee that someone is going to come to us and be like, ‘We can make these and there will be this much money [if you sell Cheesy Poofs year-round],”’ says Stone. ”It’s like, ‘We’re not selling little cheese snacks.”’ That seems a tad rash — after all, rap megastar 50 Cent raked in a fortune selling vitaminwater. ”Fifty million, isn’t that what he made?” muses Stone. ”Oh, for 50 million we’ll be making tons of Cheesy Poofs.”

Parker and Stone do admit that the year leading up to the start of season 15 was a particularly exhausting one, as they alternated between producing South Park and preparing for the March opening of their Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, in which two young Mormon missionaries attempt to find converts in Uganda. Their efforts were rewarded when Mormon, which they wrote with Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez, won nine Tonys (including Best Musical) in June and became the hottest ticket in town — so hot even its creators have a hard time getting seats. ”If I said, ‘I want to see it [tonight],’ they’d be like, ‘Dude, no,”’ says Parker. ”I’m serious. If I want to see it, especially on a Friday or a Saturday, I’ve got to tell them a week or more out.” And the hugely successful show is procreating faster than, well, a pair of Mormon newlyweds. A national tour will kick off in Denver next summer, another production is set to open in Chicago, and Parker says there has been talk about taking Mormon to London. He also confirms there will eventually be a film version of the show. ”As soon as it hit, I was like, ‘Let’s make the movie right now,”’ says Parker. ”Because you want to bottle this up. But on the other hand, it’s like, we spent all this time making a theater show. Do we really want to send out a movie right now?”

Instead of making a Mormon movie immediately, Parker and Stone might next tackle another Broadway show. ”Everyone is asking us what our next big musical idea is,” says Parker. The pair have long fantasized about staging an ice-skate-powered version of the Beowulf legend, an improbable but intriguing concept that actually predates the 1997 debut of South Park. ”Beowulf on Ice?” chuckles Stone. ”That would be pretty sweet.”

Of course, before they can focus on any more extracurriculars, Parker and Stone must oversee the rest of the South Park season, a task that the two spent most of the summer trying not to think about at all. Parker, his girlfriend, and her 10-year-old son took a road trip from Los Angeles to his home state of Colorado, while Stone, who has an almost-2-year-old son with his wife of three years, ”chilled out” in New York. Finally, over Labor Day weekend, the pair met in New York with a group of South Park scribes for a brainstorming session. ”We got a couple of little ideas,” says Parker. ”But they’re not very good,” chimes in Stone. ”We don’t have a lot of confidence in them.” In fairness, it’s not unusual for them to have very little banked before a new season starts. But Parker admits that this time around he is feeling added pressure because of the need to wrap up the plotline begun in ”You’re Getting Old.” ”We’re kind of extra f—ed, because we left things hanging. What’s funny is, on Monday of that episode, we were already coming up with ideas for how we’d come back the next season. We’ve just forgotten them.”

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