The Oversized Shadow: 20 Years of ‘South Park’

Sunday, September 17, 2017 - 4:30pm

NOSELL

Comedy Central

 

Philadelphia basements. Williamsburg hotel rooms. Michigan treadmills. For the past 20 years, “South Park” has been with me through it all, but it didn’t get that way overnight.

It started — much to the disapproval of my parents — in fourth grade, once I discovered my brother covertly watching “South Park” in our dark, dusty living room. At the time, I barely knew “South Park” even existed. To me, it was just like any other raunchy animated comedy that I wasn’t supposed to watch. Settling into our peeling brown leather sofa, I quickly realized that it wasn’t like any of those other shows. I was hooked instantly.

For the rest of that dreary November afternoon, my brother and I sat perched on the couch, our eyes glued to the television screen. Ignoring the huge sheets of water pelting our house outside, we ran through dozens of classic episodes, beginning with “Trapped in the Closet.” As the Tom Cruise and Church of Scientology jokes piled up, my body began to ache from laughing so hard.

I was abruptly ripped from this euphoria by the noise of my mom’s white Ugg slippers smacking against the floor as she approached us holed up on the sofa. Almost immediately, my brother flipped the channel to CNN. I have no doubt that my mom didn’t believe that we’d been laughing so much at the news, but by that point I no longer cared. I just needed more “South Park.”

Luckily, it wasn’t hard to find — due to its overwhelming success, “South Park” had more airtime on Comedy Central than a shitty Viagra ad (and believe me, there were lots of those). It seemed to follow me everywhere, even to the cramped confines of the Williamsburg, Va. Holiday Inn during a seventh-grade school trip.

After an absolutely thrilling day exploring dusty shoemaker shops, we returned, weary and exhausted, to our worn-down hotel. To us middle-schoolers, all that mattered was sleep. That is, until one of my roommates heard that there was a new “South Park” episode premiering that night. Huddling in front of the small, ancient box in the center of the room, my roommates and I silently prayed for a good episode.

Our prayers were immediately answered in the form of one of “South Park”’s most hilarious episodes, “It’s a Jersey Thing.” For 22 minutes, “South Park” relentlessly mocked the worst that television has to offer in MTV’s infamous series “Jersey Shore.” And for 22 minutes, my roommates and I struggled to contain our laughter at seeing a gross render of “Snooki” run around yelling “smush smush.” Stuck in a 17th century town on a trip led by everyone’s least favorite math teacher, “South Park”’s familiarity helped to not only entertain us, but comfort us by reminding us that there was, in fact, a world beyond our tiny Holiday Inn hotel room.

But “South Park” didn’t stop there — it followed me for another seven years to Ann Arbor. As I brainstormed ways to make my daily (read: weekly) treadmill run less monotonous, I realized there was nothing better to run to than “South Park.” I spent many of those Spring Term gym trips screening the latest “South Park” season to catch up on the series. My addiction got so bad I almost started to enjoy running, except for when I inevitably had to pause each episode to ensure I didn’t fall off the treadmill from dying of laughter.

I’ve never had enough time to watch every single “South Park” episode, but it’s always been there with me, like an oversized shadow following closely behind me. Whenever something big happens today, I’ve come to expect there to be a “South Park” episode dedicated to ripping it apart with jokes. It’s been that way for 20 years, so why stop now?