Tonight, South Park will premiere its 19th season. If that doesn’t make you feel old, you honestly may be too young to be watching the show in the first place.
Since 1997, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have put together more than 250 episodes in which a group of fourth graders have seen and done things no child ever should. South Park has frequently inserted celebrities into the show, often for the purpose of viciously lampooning them. While most have learned that this is a sort of rite of passage — even Kanye West was a good sport after being called a gay fish — others have been less game.
To celebrate the start of a 19th year of Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny, here’s a compilation of some of the show’s most notable celebrity beefs.
Way back in its first season, South Park dedicated an entire episode to Barbra Streisand. The boys happened to come across a random item on the ground and kept it even though they had no idea what it was. Naturally, it had some mystical properties and word eventually got to Streisand, who had been secretly looking for the item for years so that she could use it to become the terrifying, gargantuan “Mecha-Streisand.” [insert dramatic music]
Streisand didn’t love the joke and later responded in an interview by saying she didn’t even know about the episode until she read about it in Time, and called out South Park and Beavis and Butt-head for their “cynicism and negativity in our culture,” in an interview with Mirabella.
Less than two months after beloved crocodile wrangler Steve Irwin died in 2006, South Park included him in the episode “Hell on Earth 2006.” Not only did viewers see Steve Irwin in hell, but he still had a sting ray sticking out of his chest. Even Satan admited that it was too soon for the joke, but that didn’t stop it from happening.
Terri Irwin, Steve’s widow, came out and said that she was concerned that her children would see the clip and be as “devastated” as she was.
Sarah Jessica Parker
So… South Park went hard after Sarah Jessica Parker. And it wasn’t even for anything she did. They just thought she looked funny, calling her a “transvestite donkey witch.” They also said that the only difference between her and a moose was a set of hooves.
Parker didn’t directly respond to the Comedy Central show, but a year later, she did an interview with Stylist wherein she spoke out about how she didn’t approve of personal criticism.
“Proper film or theatre criticism is part of what I do; I don’t read them, but I don’t begrudge a critic for an opinion,” Parker said. “But personal criticism I find distasteful. We think it’s funny to be mean, and women say awful things about other women and use terrible language and call each other awful names. It’s so uncivilised and vulgar; it’s not good for our souls.”
“Mama June” Shannon
You could make a valid case that Honey Boo Boo was a comedy series in disguise. But watching the adventures of Honey Boo Boo, “Mama June” and “Sugar Bear” wasn’t half as funny as seeing Parker and Stone’s parody of the reality show. It included Alana — that’s Honey Boo Boo’s legal name, by the way — picking out her own pig for a heart transplant after suffering multiple heart attacks because of her eating too much “s’ghetti and butter.”
When Mama June visited the TMZ office, she revealed that she felt the episode was tasteless and “kind of trashy.”
Russell Crowe tried to be a good sport about his South Park treatment. A season six episode had him hosting a television show where he walked around in an angry, drunken stupor, punching out anyone he could.
In a 60 Minutes interview, Crowe did his best to turn the other cheek, but a vast majority of communication is non-verbal. While his mouth said “they’re very, very funny,” everything else said “I want to find those two and show them what a real fight with the Crowe is like.”
Tom Cruise will go down as one of South Park’s most ferocious burns, thanks to the 2005 episode “Trapped in the Closet.” Not only did the episode take on Scientology, it joked about Cruise’s sexuality. So when Stan crushed his acting dreams and said he thought Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder was a better actor, Cruise hid in his closet and sparked a series of “come out of the closet” jokes with a pseudo-R. Kelly appearance thrown in for good measure. Though never confirmed, rumors suggested Cruise was so upset that he threatened to get in the way of his own movie release and not promote Mission: Impossible III.
When “Trapped in the Closet” aired, many wondered why Isaac Hayes, a noted Scientologist and longtime member of the cast as “Chef,” didn’t express any serious complaints. It wasn’t long before Hayes asked to be let out of his Comedy Central contract due to what he viewed as religious intolerance.
“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends, and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins,” Hayes said in a statement, according to The Guardian. “As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices.”
To send him off, the South Park writers gave Chef unforgettable death — or three — where he was set on fire, fell a few hundred feet, was impaled, and then eaten by both a mountain lion and a bear. So, no hard feelings?