From the series’ origin to South Park: The Fractured But Whole.
It’s amazing how South Park is viewed almost entirely differently now than it was two decades ago.
Back in 1997, South Park was considered a brash, crude, and even offensive adult cartoon. Nowadays, it’s… well, still considered all of those things, but it’s also called one of the smartest shows on television. It’s hard to pin down exactly when South Park became better known for its social commentary than its fart jokes, but regardless, the show’s effect on pop culture is so strong you can practically feel it. It’s only natural, then, that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone took their own fair share of inspiration from outside sources, some of which may surprise you.
Though South Park has parodied just about everything by now, some things have inspired the show so deeply that their DNA can still be seen in it to this day. Here are five sources of inspiration you might not have guessed at a glance:
Though perhaps not explicitly stated by Trey and Matt, Charles Schultz’s iconic Peanuts comic strip has undoubtedly played a part in shaping the world of South Park.
Aside from the direct references South Park has made to the cast of Peanuts, the two works share a number of similarities that might be more than mere coincidence. The biggest of these is the central conceit of using children to explore adult or philosophical topics. But if we want to dig deeper than that, we can see Stan’s initial crush on Wendy mirroring Charlie Brown and “the little read-headed girl,” Chef’s advice to the children mimicking Lucy’s psychiatry booth — heck, even South Park‘s “I learned something today” moments are vaguely reminiscent of the wholesome Peanuts cartoons.
If nothing else, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have said that they wanted the kids of South Park to “sound the way kids really talk at that age,” which makes Peanuts a logical “counter-inspiration” in that respect. Either way, whether you think Peanuts had a big or small impact on the show, it has definitely had an impact all the same.
Believe it or not, it wasn’t a shared love of scatological humor that initially fostered the friendship between Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It was actually their shared love of the Monty Python group’s sense of humor that brought the two eventual South Park creators together.
Trey Parker has even gone on record to say the comedy of Monty Python is “just as edgy as anything we’ve ever done.” So the next time you see South Park push the envelope, you can send your thanks to John Cleese.
South Park, Colorado (The actual area)
… Okay, yes, obviously the actual location of South Park, Colorado inspired the show South Park in some fashion. That said, contrary to what the official website of the state of Colorado will tell you, the area had a more powerful impact on the show than just its title.
In an interview on 60 Minutes, Trey Parker explained that South Park, Colorado was a place where strange things always seemed to happen. According to him, South Park was “where everyone growing up, all the stories would come where like ‘oh, did you hear they found another UFO,’ ‘there’s been all these cattle mutilations,’ and it’s like ‘where?’ ‘South Park.” This certainly explains the early episodes of South Park that dealt with exactly these topics, and the location has become a natural hotbed for all the crazy antics of the show since then. We’re sure the actual South Park is a perfectly nice spot, even if Trey’s childhood rumors might disagree.
During the development of The Stick of Truth, Trey Parker mentioned a number of video games that inspired the title during its development. In addition to naming The Legend of Zelda and Paper Mario, fans were most astounded when Trey explained that Earthbound heavily influenced the tone of The Stick of Truth.
For those that don’t know, Earthbound is a usually wholesome, cult classic role playing game from Nintendo that follows four kids on an adventure to defeat an alien named Giygas. Trey loved the tone of the game’s opening, saying “I just remember something being about ‘Oh wow, I’m a little kid in a house and there’s my mom and I go outside my house and am fighting like an ant and a little mouse.’ It started out feeling so real.” For both The Stick of Truth and The Fractured But Whole, the theme of kids “playing” as their adventure gets progressively crazier has been one that South Park‘s creators have steadfastly stuck to from start to finish. If nothing else, looking at all the games Trey Parker listed as inspirations, it’s clear that he’s a huge Nintendo fan.
All in the Family
If you’re used to hearing Trey Parker and Matt Stone talk about the origins of South Park, the inclusion of All in the Family shouldn’t be surprising at all. It’s such a big influence on the series that Trey and Matt just can’t stop talking about how much they love the show!
“How exactly did All in the Family inspire South Park,” you may ask? Well, as it turns out, All in the Family‘s Archie Bunker was the basis for arguably the most iconic character on South Park: Eric Cartman. Trey and Matt wanted to bring a character like Archie Bunker back on television, but given how politically correct society had become since the 1970s, they didn’t think it would be possible. However, they realized that an “Archie Bunker” as an animated kid could actually be feasible. The rest, as they say, is history. Cartman has since become one of the main faces of South Park, to the point that he takes center stage on the poster for the movie, the cover of The Stick of Truth, and even the cover of The Fractured But Whole.
Now, does this mean Cartman is just an animated version of Archie Bunker? Of course not. Like everything on this list, these are just inspirations that have influenced the second longest running animated show of all time. South Park has since assumed its own identity, but still, it’s interesting to see all the unlikely sources that have shaped South Park so significantly. And if nothing else, perhaps if you watch enough Monty Python, you too can go on to make your own version of South Park. Hey, if it worked for Trey and Matt, then maybe lightning will strike twice just for you.