The first episode of “South Park” aired in August 1997, introducing the world to four foul-mouthed Colorado kids who would become fixtures of pop culture and inspire belly-aching laughter for generations of fans.
This week, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone returned with ‘tegridy to their home state to celebrate the second longest running cartoon in history, which is still going strong after a quarter century. The party, back-to-back sold out concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, featured Parker and Stone performing beloved original “South Park” tunes with help from rock bands Primus and Ween, and a six-piece backup choir.
The soiree included surprise guest appearances from Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who made an official declaration designating Aug. 10 South Park Day in the Centennial State.
It was nothing short of epic and apt for a milestone that the creators’ admittedly never thought they’d reach.
“To be honest, I never thought they’d get on TV let alone take over the world with it,” Primus frontman Les Claypool told The Denver Post. Parker and Stone agree.
“We got the order to do six episodes, after we made the pilot episodes and it kind of didn’t work… I really specifically remember that every script, when I finished the script, I hole-punched it and put it in a notebook ’cause I was like, ‘Forever I’ll have these notebooks up on a shelf somewhere, these six scripts, that will be so cool to have,’” Parker said in a interview. “And now it would be like 365 binders so I stopped doing that.”
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Couldn’t make the concert? No sweat. A filming of “South Park” The 25th Anniversary Concert will air on Comedy Central on Aug. 13 and Paramount+ on Aug. 14, and trust me, any fan deserves to see this epic special event.
Alright kids, here’s what you need to know about the anniversary show when you watch it.
Most of your favorite “South Park” characters come to life on stage, mmmkay.
What started simply as an idea to throw a birthday party featuring Primus and Ween quickly snowballed into a musical homage to 25 years of “South Park,” Parker and Stone said.
The night included virtual appearances by Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman and Kenny McCormick, as well as cameos from Butters, Randy Marsh, Terrance and Phillip, Mr. Garrison, Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo, Mr. Mackey and more, who danced across video screens and projections on the venue’s iconic red rocks as part of a concert-long montage. (Sing it with me, “montage!”)
For the TV show, Parker and Stone pitch their voices up in the studio to sing as the kids’ characters. But to bring them to life on stage was going to be tricky.
“In order to try to sing as the boys and play with live music, you’d literally have to sing in a different key than what the band is playing. It’s literally impossible,” said Parker.
In concert, they made it happen by having several microphones tuned to different pitches so they were able to perform the various characters live. John Hansen, who voices Mr. Slave, also joined live during a performance of “Lemmiwinks.”
Expect theme songs, classics and some surprises that will have you cry-laughing
How Parker and Stone enlisted Claypool to write the theme for “South Park” sounds like something out of a movie. As Claypool tells it, a VHS of the duo’s short film “The Spirit of Christmas” arrived at Primus’ office one day with a note from a couple of recent college grads asking if he’d write a theme song for their upcoming cartoon pilot.
Claypool gave an animated retelling of the story on stage Wednesday night while performing the various iterations that have since been featured on the show. And it’s certainly not the only theme song that’s been written over the last 25 years you’ll hear in the special, as Parker and Stone have spun off “South Park” characters like Butters to star in their own mini-series.
The concert came together as an all out jamboree featuring live reenacted scenes woven together with behind-the-scenes retellings and plenty of opportunities for the audience to sing along. Primus and Ween also played original music between “South Park” sets.
Parker was primarily stationed on piano, while Stone took turns on guitar, drums, ukulele, tambourine and other instruments. Ween, Primus and the aforementioned six-part choir added to the overall grandeur of performances that were equally as impressive as they were hilarious.
Longtime viewers will relish the fact the creators dug far back in the archive for a lot of classic material on the setlist, including many titles I can’t put in print. Parker and Stone said that while it was challenging to whittle down the innumerable songs they’ve written for “South Park,” it was also a fun creative endeavor.
“There’s a lot of songs in ‘South ‘Park’ that are like 20 seconds or 40 seconds, enough to land the joke and then it just moves on with the episode,” said Stone. “We picked out like about a dozen songs we’re going to do and we’re expanding them out or making another verse or turning them into full songs.”
Not knowing exactly what you might hear was the most fun part, so without spoiling too much, here are the artists’ favorite tunes that they worked on:
For Mickey Melchiondo, a.k.a. Dean Ween, it was “Let’s Fighting Love.” For Claypool, it was “Lemmiwinks.” For Parker and Stone, they were stoked to serve Yelpers a side of boogers and you know what. Their live rendition featured a live tap dancing break.
This reporter, a lifelong “South Park” fan, was wiping tears from her face when they revisited “Gay Fish.” And the patriotic ode to “Team America” felt like the perfect way to cap off the encore.
About that Rush cameo…
Beyond the jokes, it was evident this anniversary show was a sentimental moment for Parker, Trey, and the whole “South Park” crew that was posted up in the stands. And while the surprises were plenty for the audience, there was also one in store for the guests of honor.
As an anniversary gift, Parker enlisted Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson to surprise Stone, who joined them on drums during a performance of “Closer to the Heart.”
It was no doubt a bucket list moment for the comedian — in our pre-show interview, Stone told The Post that Rush was among the best shows he’d ever seen at Red Rocks.
“This is one of the most amazing moments of my life,” Claypool said on stage. “Matt Stone, is this one of the most amazing moments of your life? Look at who is standing in front of you. It’s Geddy and Alex!”
Tune into Comedy Central Aug. 13 at 8 p.m. or Paramount+ on Aug. 14 to relive the magic of The “South Park” 25th Anniversary concert.
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