Matt Stone and Trey Parker: How comedy handles current events

It's been a tough few months for Colorado, and homestate heroes Matt Stone and Trey Parker know it. On Tuesday, the South Park creators talked to press at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House about their latest success, the hugely popular and distinctly brazen comic musical The Book of Mormon, which opens August 14 in Denver. They also opened up to Westword about its arrival as the state struggles to recover from wild fires and the Aurora theater shooting. Click through for their insight on the tragedy and the balance between humor and hardship.

Parker and Stone hail from Conifer and Littleton, respectively, and have tackled local topics (including Casa Bonita) on their Emmy-winning show South Park, now in its fifteenth season. During the interview, Parker sported a bright orange Broncos shirt and noted that John Elway would be his top recruit for a dream audience at the musical. (He's sent out a personal request -- and free ticket offer -- but has yet to hear back.) So it was with strong local ties that both funny men approached the topic of their visit to Denver at a time when laughs are harder to come by.

"When I heard the news [about the Aurora shooting], I was incredibly saddened, and I knew we were coming here this month," Parker said. "It's not an easy time, and my reaction was that I want to find a way to bring something happy to my friends and family and all the people here in any way. I hope we can bring laughter to people who could use it."

"I hope they can laugh," Stone echoed, continuing that the duo is both consistently happy to return to Colorado and acutely aware of its current events.

For more than a decade, Parker and Stone have cornered their career on no-holds-barred humor and a refusal to treat any topic as sacred. Across the past few weeks, as the country awaits answers about the deaths and injuries that resulted from the Aurora theater shooting, noted comedians have applied some of that same formula to the incident. Most notably, Dane Cook faced flack after incorporating the tragedy into his stand-up routine:

"So I heard that the guy came into the theater about 25 minutes into the movie. And I don't know if you've seen the movie, but the movie is pretty much a piece of crap.... Yeah, spoiler alert. And I know that if none of that would have happened, I'm pretty sure that somebody in that theater, about 25 minutes in, realizing it was a piece of crap, probably was like, 'Ugh fucking shoot me.'"

And only last weekend, comedian Jeffrey Ross took on the topic during a Comedy Central roast of Roseanne Barr -- though the crack won't make it to the airwaves. When asked about the balance between too much, too sad and too soon in the fine-line field of humor, Parker and Stone spoke about the importance of research and insight. It's too soon to touch on Aurora with success, they said, but they respect the idea that all topics should be open to humor.

"I'm certainly not going to put Dane Cook up on a pedestal or anything, but these are tough topics, and it's different to think about it from our side than it is as a stand-up comedian," Parker said. "There are contexts here. I don't think it's fair to look at these comedians and think that they are doing this because they are just incredibly insensitive. I think that in order to make any kind of joke, even one on a tough subject, you have got to put a lot of thought into it, and I think these comedians are talking about these topics because they do care, not because they don't."

That being said, the consequences are different in their variety of work, Stone said.

"We're certainly not in the position to tell anyone how far is too far," he remarked, "but we recognize that people have boundaries. For us, it's another matter because we have characters to stand behind. In some ways, it's not me saying that. It's Cartman. And right now, I have no idea how to think about that situation."

For the rest of our Book of Mormon coverage, read "The Book of Mormon: Twenty reasons you've got to see it, courtesy the cast and crew."

Tickets are sold out, but there's a lottery for The Book of Mormon seats before every show.

The Book of Mormon runs through September 2, but it's coming back in October 2013.

More from our archive: "Feeling lucky? The Book of Mormon seat lottery starts next Tuesday."

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple