Exclusive Interview with Anne Garefino

The woman behind Book of Mormon and South Park talks with TMR

By Mychelle Vasvary, Contributor
When consulting the list of longest-running series in the history of television, these award-winning programs made the grade: Reading Rainbow, Lassie, The Daily Show, Masterpiece Theatre, Saturday Night Live, NBC Nightly News, and… South Park.

In 1997, two friends came up with an idea they thought was a long shot, 15 years later the creators of South Park celebrate 2011 as “The Year of the Fan.” Fans of the long-running series will get to enjoy new merchandise, a traveling art exhibit, a 15,000 square foot world of “South Park” located just outside this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego, and a documentary on the behind-the-scenes making of the show, due out later this fall.

With a decade-and-a-half of delivering viewers comedic gold on Comedy Central, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with their executive producer Anne Garefino, also have the hottest ticket on Broadway right now with a little show you might have heard of, The Book of Mormon.

Ann Garefino Scott Rudin Tonys The Book of Mormon.jpgOn her first day off in years (seriously, years), the woman behind South Park allowed me the distinct honor of asking her a bunch of questions about her career, those two guys she works with daily, and basically what life is like when you produce a hit Broadway musical and well, f&^$ing South Park.

How did you meet Trey Parker and Matt Stone?

In ’97 I was working for another show on Comedy Central, and I was introduced to Matt at a Starbucks. I met Trey a week later. I remember that day, it happened to be Good Friday. I have not had one Friday off since then.

Have you always had a passion for comedy?

No, not at all. In entertainment, sometimes you don’t get a choice. I actually turned down South Park, which shows how smart I am. I started it to help out, and was going to find a replacement. I always had a passion for drama and thought I’d be doing serious films. But I wanted to tell a story. We [at South Park] like to tell stories.

What’s a giant misconception people have about South Park?

(Laughing) I think a huge misconception is that we sit around all day and laugh and get high. The writers’ room is hard. We do one episode in one week and we work with pieces of the script at a time, it’s really hard. We don’t just sit around coming up with fart jokes.

South-Park-Season-15.jpg15 years on the air is a long time for any series. How do you guys stay on the cutting edge?

I think our secret is we’ve never handed it off to anyone else. Every episode from start to finish: Matt and Trey. Matt writes, Trey directs. We’ve learned so much in 15 years. We’ve grown up; it’s been like a graduate course in writing. We keep our hands in it, if you know your character, you stay sharp.

Do you have a favorite character?

If you had asked me five years ago, I would have said Cartman. Today, I’d say my favorite is Kyle, I love his morality.

Being an executive producer of such a controversial show that makes jokes almost every race and gender, do you ever catch serious backlash from feminist or women’s groups?

No, never have. Not once come to think of it. Actually, for a long time older women were a big part of our demographic. I’d like to think that that is attributed to our audience compiled vastly of educated women that enjoy smart comedy.

Speaking of controversy, does South Park have an agenda? Or are you just delivering comedy and the controversy naturally follows?

We don’t have an agenda, that’s not our job. We don’t wish to influence people in a political way or any other way. We want to make people laugh.

What was the goal of doing the documentary on making South Park? Is it exclusively for the fans, or to show people the actual labor and creativity that goes into the show?

To be honest, I have no idea what the goal is. Arthur Bradford wanted to do a documentary on our work and I was shocked when Trey said yes. We trust Arthur and can’t wait to see what he does with the footage. We’ve been around for so long, and the fans might like to see the prosperity of work that goes into it. They would like the idea of knowing what we’re doing.

South Park is shown all over the world and translated in over 30 languages, was the success of the show forecasted in any way imaginable?

We thought we’d be done by six episodes. Even in the middle of it, we had no idea. We were kind of oblivious.

What do you think the future is like for the show?

We have two-and-a-half years left on our contract, that we know about (again, laughing). We’re around for a while.

The Book of Mormon Broadway.jpgAnd The Book of Mormon? It’ll be around until…

Until people stop buying tickets.


South Park airs on Wednesdays on Comedy Central at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT and The Book of Mormon runs Tuesday - Sunday at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York City.

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Mychelle Vasvary is a writer and serious gin advocate. She tutors English at Notre Dame College and dreams in a Sylvia Plath lens. She covers celebrity and entertainment trends in our astonishingly media-driven society.

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