“The Book of Mormon,” having won nine Tony Awards in New York, is now spawning a national tour, making its official West Coast premiere at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles on Sept. 12. In previews, the show is as polished and fine-tuned as you might expect a Broadway show to be — though even jaded Los Angeles audiences are likely to be at least a little surprised by exactly how many times they hear not only the F-bomb, but jokes about sex with babies, sex with frogs, genital mutilation and dysentery (complete with enthusiastic pantomimes of all of the above).
That it all comes across as good, if not clean, fun is a testament to the creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker (also of “South Park” fame), who took some time following a preview performance to talk with journalists about the award-winning (and gleefully crass) musical. They revealed why they’re not surprised Mormons like the show (even going so far as to place three full-page ads in the Playbill), the presidential candidate they’ve invited to see the production, any why they didn’t worry about offending sweet little old ladies who come to Saturday matinees.
How exactly did a character get a running joke about maggots in his scrotum?
Trey Parker: Before we even knew it would be a show about Mormons, [we said] let’s write a musical about maggots in the scrotum. No, it actually is funny. That line started as, the song used to be called “The Bible is a Trilogy,” and it’s now “American Prophet.” And it made movie references. And that was part of the thing. And it was kind of a joke that the third part of a trilogy is always the best movie, like the third “Matrix” was the best, which is a great joke. And so it ended up being that the African guy kind of stepped forward and said, “Can you imagine if ‘The Matrix’ had ended after the first one?’ And the African guy actually said, [singing] “I actually thought the third one was the woooorst one,” That was this thing that we had for the longest time. We finally decided, oh, it can’t be the bible is a trilogy; it doesn’t make sense with the story anymore, so we changed it but we thought, awww, we lost that other thing. What else can he come forward and say? And that was it. It’s a totally different joke.
You also have a warlord character by the name of General Butt Fucking Naked in the play, which is clearly a riff on General Butt Naked in Liberia, who ultimately became a preacher. Did that play out in real life after you wrote the character?
Trey: We had the warlord really from the beginning
Matt: He was based on Joseph Kony, and luckily we toyed with just making it Kony, it is in northern Uganda where he’s done his deeds, and now after the whole Joseph Kony thing this year [the viral video “Kony 2012”], we’re so glad we didn’t do that, because it sort of changed the context of it, but that’s who it’s based on. But the warlords in Liberia had such colorful names, but we just ripped off his joke, basically.
Trey: What’s better than Butt Naked? Butt Fucking Naked!
Do you have any plans for a movie?
Trey: We don’t have any. The only thing is, when we first started working on it 7 years ago, we kind of toyed with it being a Broadway show or being a movie, since Matt and I knew how to make a movie, we said, well, let’s just make a movie, because we can do that pretty quickly. We stuck with it, and after we saw the first few workshops with an audience, we said, nah, this would be pretty cool as a stage thing. So it did, as we were doing scenes, I was kind of visualizing it as a movie, because that was what I knew. I think it would be a pretty difficult thing, but also it would be a pretty different animal once we were done with it. But we don’t talk about it too much right now, but it’s very possible.
Any interest in doing another musical?
Trey: I don’t know. These are hard.
Matt: And what we’re learning is that they’re never done. Not done done done. With “South Park,” we finish the show, we send it off to get downloaded, it goes on the air, and the next morning and half the time if you asked me I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it was about. We are so good at wiping the hard disk and being done… a theater thing just is not like that.
There are so few people who have the power to put an original work on Broadway. Do you feel any responsibility to do more for that reason?
Trey: No, we don’t think it’s our responsibility.
Matt: We want to do the movie remake thing.
Trey: Movies are really great, we realize.
Matt: We’re proud of that, that it’s a whole original thing, but it’s a load of work. We honestly don’t have any plans.
Trey: We don’t even know what we’re doing for “South Park” in three weeks.
You’ve tackled television, movies and now Broadway. Is there any other medium you’d like to try?
Trey: Painting. We’re doing a video game. That’s a bitch so far. It’s just another whole new can of worms. It’s 400 pages instead of 40, that’s the main thing. But with this, it was really cool. It’s such a community, and learning how all this stuff works. We got schooled, quick. It was a great learning experience, but thank God we had really awesome people around us who knew what they were doing. It was fun, but it was very scary. We thought this will be fun, but if we can get this thing to run for a year on Broadway, we can say it’s a success.
Do you plan to do anything else with a Mormon theme? You’ve been exploring the topic since “Orgazmo.”
I hope we’re done. It was another thing we connected over when we met in college, we both had this fascination because we both knew Mormons growing up and my very first girlfriend was a Mormon. We thought it was fascinating and goofy and wonderful and all this stuff, so it did kind of eke it’s way in all the time, so we did decide to do our big blow out big Mormon thing.
Has Mitt Romney, America’s most famous Mormon, seen the show yet?
Matt: He’s been invited. He’s said he’s going to come when he has time.
Trey: If he gets elected, it’s because of us.
And if he doesn’t get elected?
Trey: It’s because of us.
Have you been surprised by how eagerly the Mormon community has embraced you?
Matt: We’ve been telling people since the very first interviews we did for this thing… before it was on Broadway and no one had seen it, we’ve been fielding that question for two years, saying they’re going to be totally cool with it, you watch, that’s the way Mormons are. They’ve just proven themselves. They’ve just put a nice little period at the end of the whole musical.
Trey: No matter what they do, they will out nice us, guaranteed.
Did you consider adding a Mitt Romney joke to the show?
Trey: This show is much bigger and more important than the President of the United States.
Was it surreal to win Tony awards for a show that’s pretty edgy?
Trey: We’re in our forties, so we’re not so far away from being Upper West Side old ladies. We’re kind of pre-seniors. I remember having that feeling, watching people at the Broadway show and seeing this little old lady with gray hair and thinking, oh, what’s she going to think? And I’m like, that lady is twenty years older than me. Sad, right? We’re old fuckers. We think we’re these young guys in our 20s being rebels.
So now that you’re older, do you feel differently about “South Park”?
Trey: Because of the fact we still write and direct every episode ourselves, we haven’t handed it off, even if it isn’t a better show it is a fresh show because we want to do something different all the time. And we don’t want to just do Cartman’s fat and likes Cheesy Poofs. It’s funny, it’s like being in a band and having all these albums to look back on and go, oh, that’s where we were in our lives then, and this is where we’re at now.
Matt: The story lines, luckily we created a town, because there are more story lines that are the adults.
Trey: I was all about being Stan, but now I love being Stan’s dad. I identify more with him now.
Is there anything you didn’t want to make fun of in this show?
Trey: The only thing was the polygamy thing, because we wanted to do your everyday Salt Lake City Mormon. And obviously we do the stereotype of that, too, but that’s the misconception among a lot of people, was like, oh Mormons, they’re polygamists. No they’re not, actually. But they obviously have that in their history and there are some fundamentalists who are. Because of “Big Love” and all these things, it was also like joke wise, it’s just been so done.
Matt: I think that’s why probably the main reason Mormons like the show. They’re so sick of that lazy joke. It’s definitely a part of their history and it’s there. But we just wanted to stay away from that because it’s been done. I think they’re so appreciative that there’s something mainstream and it’s not, no, that was 100 years ago.
Trey: And we wanted Mormons to buy tickets and take out ads in Playbill.
What was your reaction to that?
Trey: It was awesome. We seriously, honestly talked about doing that ourselves a year and a half ago. We were like, we should put a thing in the Playbill that says if you want to know more about the Mormon Church… visit your local temple. And we’re like, nah. And they did it. It’s great. The only thing i don’t like, because there’s three pages of it, is one page says… the book is better. I disagree. Definitely act two of ours is much, much better [than the Book of Mormon].
The message of the show seems to be that religion is necessary to inspire people.
Trey: Any episode of “South Park” that’ kind of got a point to it, it’s always the last thing we do…we try not to start with an agenda, we really like more doing a show like this and it showing us… with this, it really was just the fact that to me, to us, the stories of “Star Wars” and stuff like that were just as valid and just as real, and you can say there was no Darth Vader and why would Darth Vader has done this, but it points at something way bigger than that.
If you did do a movie version of “The Book of Mormon,” would you let anyone else direct?
Matt: I think we want to do a movie someday of it, but right now we’re just trying to get our head around it.
Trey: One we decided we wanted to go theater, we made a lot of decisions that were best for the theater version of it. We wouldn’t want to just do this on film. We’d have to really rethink it, but I think we could do it.
So, who’s in your dream cast?
Trey: Justin Bieber as Elder Price.
Matt: A younger cast would be cool, because you’d be much closer. But no ideas really. Except for Justin Bieber, of course.
And if you did make the movie, would it be a musical, too?
Matt: One of our biggest career regrets, looking back, is that we didn’t make “Orgazmo” a musical. It just seemed to crazy, and it was too crazy. But it wasn’t going to hurt its box office potential.