Q&A: Trey Parker on giving voice to ‘Despicable Me 3’ villain, mulling the end of ‘South Park’ and ignoring Trump
To the easily offended, Trey Parker has long been a kind of comedic super-villain.
For decades, Parker and his longtime collaborator Matt Stone have been blowing up taboos left and right on their Comedy Central show “South Park,” in films like “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” and “Team America: World Police,” and in their Broadway smash “The Book of Mormon.” The two even showed up once in Hollywood’s holiest spot, the Academy Awards red carpet, dressed in drag and tripping on acid — either one of the most awesome or most appalling moments in Oscars history, depending on whom you ask.
It only seems fitting, then, that Parker has now been cast as an evil mastermind, albeit an absurd one, in “Despicable Me 3,” the third installment in the hit animated franchise from Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures, which hits theaters Friday.
In his first animated voice-over role outside of “South Park” — on which he performs numerous characters, including Cartman, Stan and Mr. Mackey — Parker costars opposite “Despicable” veterans Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig as Balthazar Bratt, an embittered, mullet-wearing former 1980s child star who is bent on world domination.
Parker says he took the role largely because, unlike nearly everything he’s ever done, it would be something his then 2-year-old daughter could actually watch. “She’ll see a picture of Cartman and be like, ‘Oh, that’s Daddy’s work,’ ” he says. “But it’s not like we can sit down together and watch the ‘South Park’ movie.”
On a recent morning, Parker, 47, sat down with The Times in the production offices of “South Park,” which will kick off its 21st season in August, to talk about playing a cartoon baddie, maintaining his comedic edge as a middle-aged dad and doing topical satire in the age of Donald Trump.
Do you watch many animated kids’ movies?
Now that my daughter is almost 4, I’ve seen every kids’ movie there is three times. Some of them are so great. The Illumination stuff is so visual and so cartoony. It’s not what I lovingly call “Ameritrash,” where it’s all about: what was the point and what did the character learn?
We just saw “The Good Dinosaur.” Dude, that movie is like — what’s the movie about the guy who got raped by a bear?
You mean “The Revenant”?
Yeah, “The Revenant” — it’s that heavy. One horrible thing after another happens. It is sad after sad after sad and you’re crying the whole time, and you’re like, “Who the ... made this movie?”
These Illumination movies are the polar opposite of that. We’re not going to be crying. We’re just going to go have some fun. It’s a ride and it’s just about what’s funny. And I appreciate that.
Your “Despicable Me 3” character is sort of like if Corey Feldman or Ricky Schroder had turned evil and become super-villains.
I always had Kirk Cameron in my mind just because of all the stuff I’d seen of him. You know, he got really religious, and he just seemed so pissed. At first, I was actually like, “Maybe I’ll do Kirk Cameron’s voice.” But then I saw that he’s such a blank slate, there’s nothing to do.
This is one of the only projects you’ve ever performed in that you didn’t also write and direct. Was it hard to relinquish that kind of total creative control?
[The 1998 comedy] “BASEketball” is the only other thing I didn’t write and direct. People always assume I wrote and directed “BASEketball” and I have to go, “That was not me. I did what I was told — and I did it because I was 27 years old and I thought this was going to be it and I wanted the $200,000.” [Laughs]
Normally if I’m involved in something, I can’t help myself — I’m immediately like, “Well, what if we did this? And what if we add that?” And when I started this movie, I was like, I’ve got to just let them do their thing.
It was actually a little intoxicating. All I’ve done is my own stuff, so to finally be like, “I’m going to do other people’s stuff and go have a sandwich afterwards” — I was like, “This is pretty sweet!” I might do that again.
Still, there’s this idea that when a comedian starts doing movies for kids, it’s a sign they’re losing their edge.
There are some “South Park” fans that are like, “Sellout.” And I’m like, “Dude, trust me, I’ll show you the pay stub — I didn’t sell out.” I made that much off of “Book of Mormon” in one night. It wasn’t that.
There were people going, “Oh, he’s got a daughter — he’s going soft now.” Meanwhile, I’m writing last season’s episodes of “South Park” and I’m like, “Just watch the show.” I definitely don’t feel that way. I have those two lives.
We probably could put up billboards — 'Look what we’re going to do to Trump next week!' — and get crazy ratings. But I just don’t care.
— Trey Parker
“South Park” turns 20 this year. Has it gotten harder over those years to do satirical comedy, especially now that everyone on the Internet can make their own jokes off the latest news within seconds?
Yeah, and it’s also just gotten boring. We weren’t ever really that show. We would do an entire season and there would be one moment that played off something that had just happened and people would go, “ ‘South Park’ is the show that does that.” And that’s just not true. We’re not.
We did start to become that, though, especially the last season. We fell into the same trap that “Saturday Night Live” fell into, where it was like, “Dude, we’re just becoming CNN now. We’re becoming: ‘Tune in to see what we’re going to say about Trump.’ ” Matt and I hated it but we got stuck in it somehow.
This season I want to get back to Cartman dressing up like a robot and [screwing] with Butters, because to me that’s the bread and butter of “South Park”: kids being kids and being ridiculous and outrageous but not “did you see what Trump did last night?” Because I don’t give a ... anymore.
We probably could put up billboards — “Look what we’re going to do to Trump next week!” — and get crazy ratings. But I just don’t care.
Do you think Trump is funny?
He’s not intentionally funny but he is intentionally using comedic art to propel himself. The things that we do — being outrageous and taking things to the extreme to get a reaction out of people — he’s using those tools. At his rallies he gets people laughing and whooping.
I don’t think he’s good at it. But it obviously sells — it made him president.
After so many years of doing “South Park,” do you and Matt have an end point in your heads for the show?
Every year in the middle of the season, we say, “OK, this is it.” And we really thought that two seasons ago when we were doing all the PC Principal stuff. We were like, “This is it — we’re going to get run out of town with our middle finger up.” Because we felt the culture changing, and I think it still is on that track.
The witch hunt is coming. Our day is coming. One of these days, out of nowhere, we’ll do something and they’ll go, “How dare you!” — and we’ll be done.
But what people don’t realize is, we’ve thought this for 20 years. We’ve been ready for it. Our bags are packed in the car and we’re ready to go back to Colorado. And it’s cool, man.
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