If you want to know why South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made a Broadway musical called The Book of Mormon, which they describe as an “atheist love letter to religion,” it’s helpful to go back and watch—since you almost certainly haven’t seen it—Orgazmo, a small-budget 1997 film that Parker wrote, directed, and, with Stone, starred in (alongside porn star Ron Jeremy). It is, essentially, a morality tale about the seductions of Hollywood, made at a time when Parker and Stone, then in their mid-twenties, had been in L.A. for a few years and were feeling frustrated.
In it, Parker plays Elder Joe Young, a wide-eyed Mormon missionary—after all, who is more wide-eyed than a Mormon missionary?—sent to Hollywood to spread the Word. But nobody’s listening, until he rings the bell of a porn director, interrupting his shoot. Young beats up the guards meant to toss him off the property and is offered the lead role in Orgazmo, the porno film within the film, for enough money that Young and his fiancée back in Utah could afford to get married in the big Mormon temple in Salt Lake City. The director is so determined to sign him that he says he’ll even call in a “stunt cock” when it comes to the actual sex.
Young goes home and prays to a plastic statue of Jesus for a sign of what he should do and gets an earthquake in response that decapitates his Jesus. But he does the movie anyway, and it’s a crossover success (cue the montage of big national magazine covers). The director offers Young much more money to do the sequel, then kidnaps his fiancée to keep him in line.
After the showdown, which includes the use of a ray gun one of the characters invents that gives its targets spontaneous orgasms, the end of the film has Young, his fiancée, and Stone’s character (whose tagline is “I don’t want to sound queer or nothing but …”) standing outside the destroyed porn mansion and, instead of heading back to Utah, deciding to stay, declaring, “L.A. needs us. The world needs us. Heck … I think the whole universe needs us!” Then they pray. “Heavenly Father, may we serve you in the best way we know how. May our decisions be rash, may we do what’s right. And God bless us, every one.”
Their Hollywood prayers were certainly answered, thanks to four crudely drawn, foulmouthed, often-rash third-graders—Kyle, Stan, Cartman, and Kenny—who, by the end of every 22-minute South Park episode, try to do what’s right (well, except Cartman; he never does). The cartoon was picked up by Comedy Central while Parker and Stone were filming Orgazmo and premiered in August 1997. It was an immediate hit (cue the montage of big national magazine covers) and gave them the insolent fame of rock stars. They have a $75 million contract running through 2011 with Comedy Central, own multiple houses, fly private when they can. But most important, they get to wage their own scatological-lad jihad against the world’s unctuous phonies, from Al Gore to Bono to the MPAA star chamber that decides what ratings to give movies.
So they make fun of Scientology’s for-profit sci-fi theology in an episode that includes Tom Cruise refusing to come out of Stan’s closet. They have Paris Hilton come to the town of South Park to open a branch of her Stupid Spoiled Whore shop that culminates in a “whore-off” between her and a local S&M fetishist named “Mr. Slave” in which she inserts a pineapple inside herself (Mr. Slave, however, still manages to be the winner). They put the word shit in an episode 162 times. They depict the Prophet Muhammad shortly after the Danish Muslim-cartoon controversy (though on Comedy Central’s orders, he’s blurred out). They have Cartman exact revenge on an eighth-grade enemy by killing his parents, grinding them into chili, then feeding them back to him while much of the town watches. They hide a nuclear weapon inside Hillary Clinton’s privates (a “snuke”).
The power of their scorn is almost Old Testament: Everybody gets it. When they were up for an Oscar for the song “Blame Canada!” from their movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, they showed up cross-dressed as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez while, they say, tripping on acid. After they lost, they got up and just walked out.
“At this point, we’ve ripped on everyone,” says Stone, in a grubby lounge turned office at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, shortly before The Book of Mormon began previews on February 24. He’s dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans and, post-lunch, is systematically eating an entire tin of Altoids. Caffeinated and jocky, with legs crossed, he pauses to pull out some dental floss, going so far as to unspool some before thinking better of flossing just then. Instead, he opens another tin of Altoids. “We’re kind of like the smoking section in high school. We’re immature, keep to ourselves. Like, Fuck those guys.”