South Park Creators Go Mormon
Mar 2011 31

South Park Creators Go Mormon

Posted In Blog,Comedy,Entertainment,Movies,TV

by Damon Martin


Matt Stone and Trey Parker are best known as the creators of the irreverent and extreme Comedy Central series South Park, which has been running for 14 seasons now. On it, the pair have tackled numerous subjects that other TV shows would deem untouchable. Their humor often takes aim at cultural icons like Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise, but their favorite anvil to hammer is organized religion.

It’s that love of religion that led Stone and Parker to write and produce their latest work, The Book of Mormon, which opened last week at the Eugene O’Neill theater in New York, and has thus far received rave reviews. Stone and Parker describe their musical as “an atheist’s love letter to religion.” It’s an interesting line to walk, but while both are non-believers, they admit to being fans of religion in general.

The Book of Mormon is also the product of the duo’s undying love of musicals, and their ambition to one day produce one good enough for Broadway. In the past, Stone and Parker have frequently incorporated musical numbers into their work, most notably in their films South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and Team America: World Police, but a meeting with Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez took things to the next level.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of two young missionaries, who are sent off to Uganda to spread the words of Joseph Smith. What they encounter however, is far removed from anything they learned back home in Salt Lake City, Utah. The result is a musical comedy that transcends humor that is merely at the Mormons’ expense.

“It’s like a built in coming of age story,” Parker says of the plot. “In our instance there’s these two kids that live in Salt Lake City, and are suddenly paired together, don’t really know each other and they’re sent off to Africa. Into a place that is as far from Salt Lake City as they can get, trying to instill everything they’ve learned into people who are dealing with poverty, and war, and AIDS, and all of that.”

Over the years, Parker and Stone have jabbed at religion in every form and fashion. They’ve joked that the Catholic Church had a doctrine saying that it was OK to molest young boys, and have portrayed Jesus and Satan squaring off in a boxing ring. They’ve also put their balls (and more) on the line, with episodes that put Scientology and Muhammad in their crosshairs – though the latter got censored by the folks at Comedy Central following death threats issued by a fundamentalist Muslim group.

Parker and Stone are simply unrelenting and unapologetic for their jabs at religion and pop culture in general. It’s that very attitude that makes Book of Mormon such great satire. But while Parker and Stone definitely take aim at the church – and the “inconsistencies” of its doctrine – in The Book of Mormon, they do so in such a laugh-out-loud funny and affectionate manner that it’s hard for even the most devout to take umbrage. Indeed it seems the Mormons among the audience in particular appreciate some of the more obscure jokes.

“It’s really interesting because every night that we go, we can sort of tell where the Mormons are in the audience,” Stone told Gothamist. “We’ll hear little pockets of Mormons. We always know because there is a lot of insider Mormon stuff-not a lot, but enough that when it happens, we hear the Mormons chatter or get a little giddy, and we’re like, ‘Oh, there are Mormons over there.’ Obviously it’s a pretty select group of Mormons that will even come see the thing, so the ones that are going seem to be liking it, but I think the ones that wouldn’t like it aren’t going in the first place.”

Conversely, Parker and Stone have a special place in their hearts when it comes to the Mormon faith, as is evident by their output, starting with their 1997 film Orgasmo (which was originally written as a musical and tells the story of a missionary who gets sucked into the porn industry), to the episode of South Park titled “All About the Mormons” (which recounts the history of the church in a series of flashbacks).


And the Church of Latter-Day Saints has taken the time to comment about Parker and Stone’s The Book of Mormon:

“The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening,” says a statement on the church’s newsroom website, lds.org, “but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”

It’s in this abundance of niceness, even in a statement that is in response to a musical which pokes fun at their faith, that Parker and Stone find inspiration for their Mormon-based comedy and satire. Sure, they take a few low blows along the way, but, without Parker and Stone saying so, the underlying message is perhaps ultimately that – all issues of religion aside – the church and its members should be applauded for their grace, candidness and positive attitude.

The Book of Mormon is now playing and will continue its run through the end of summer 2011.

SG contributor Damon Martin is an atheist who believes you can be good without god.

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