You can accuse Trey Parker and Matt Stone of many things, but pulling punches isn’t one of them. From their first film in 1993, Cannibal! The Musical, to South Park and Team America: World Police, they’ve made an art form of offensive humour.
And now British fans can witness this art form up close, as the pair’s revered stage musical The Book Of Mormon transfers from Broadway to London next week. The play chronicles two missionaries spreading the word in Uganda via some gloriously funny songs. Think The Lion King, but with F-bombs and lyrics on Aids and brainwashing...
How does one research a musical about Mormons?
Matt Stone: When Trey and I and Bobby Lopez [creator of Avenue Q] were writing this, one big advantage was that we could ask the internet. You can have an online chat with a missionary, so we instant- messaged missionaries in Uganda. They’re pretty forthcoming. That’s one of the reasons we like Mormons: they tell you what they believe.
Did they try to convert you over the internet?
Trey Parker: The Mormons love to say: “If you don’t believe in [Mormonism] or you’re not sure if you believe in it, just close your eyes and pray to God to tell you the truth – but first you have to believe it.” So basically, believe it all, ask God if it’s real or not and he’ll tell you if it’s real. We were like, “That is awesome.” That’s what inspired the song I Believe.
MS: The lyrics are: “Just believe – and then you’ll believe in it.”
Why do you find musicals – and songs in general – so conducive to comedy?
MS: You can get so much information across so quickly. When we were kids, some of our favourite moments were the songs in Monty Python. It would be funny and catchy – be it The Lumberjack Song or Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life – it made you laugh, but the tune would get stuck in your head, too.
Apart from Python, who are your musical heroes?
TP: When I was a kid I loved the classics, the Rodgers And Hammerstein stuff. I loved Fifties musicals. When I was in high school I was in the [Rodgers And Hammerstein musical] Flower Drum Song. That was a big event in my life.
TP: It was great, because it was this little high school in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, so we were all white. Right before we went on, all the hallways smelled like spray paint, as we had to spray our hair black and use eyeliner to make us look Chinese, and we spoke with horribly racist Chinese accents.
Was there any kind of protest from the Mormon Church against your show?
TP: It’s funny because the Mormons took out adverts in the show programmes. Every other page was an ad bought by Mormons saying things like, “You’ve seen the play, now read the book!” We think it’s hilarious that they’re basically sponsoring us.
We didn’t realise Mormons had a flair for marketing...
TP: Yeah, but there’s one ad that says their Book [the official Book Of Mormon]
is better than ours, and that p*sses me off, because it’s not. Ours is way better written and it has a better plot.
Why do you think Scientologists are painted by some as being dangerous, whereas Mormons aren’t?
MS: Because Scientologists are dangerous and Mormons aren’t.
TP: That’s totally true. Scientologists are kooks.
MS: Look at the Mormon Church’s response to our show – it’s been great! The Mormons love the First Amendment, whereas the Scientologists are creepy. But I don’t want to say anything, I’ll get in trouble. They’re already in my head, creeping me out.
You must be immune to public outrage by now...
MS: Yes, and we’d like to keep that immunity. We are immune to public outrage; we’re genetic mutants.
TP: There are times when we feel like that. There are some South Park episodes where we’re like, “Oh man, how did we not get in trouble for that?”
Have any prominent Mormons seen the musical?
TP: No one prominent, but we do get a lot of Mormons at the show and, we’ve been saying this as a joke, but some Mormons view this as their Fiddler On The Roof. They love the show and can take a joke.
So Brandon Flowers hasn’t seen it, then?
MS: Who is that?
The lead singer of The Killers. He’s an official Mormon spokesperson…
MS: Sorry, I don’t know him.
OK. How about Kanye West?
MS: Oh, I know about him.
TP: Yeah, we know about ‘Fishsticks’!
Has he been in touch since the ‘Fishsticks’ episode of South Park [in which West misunderstands a joke and thinks he’s a gay fish]?
MS: No, but he gave us props on his album, so he’s cool. We’re cool with Kanye. I mean, I don’t know if he’s cool with us, but we’re cool with him.
TP: He’s cool for a gay fish.
The Book Of Mormon opens on 25 February; bookofmormonlondon.com