The most surprising thing about The Book of Mormon is just how undeniably sweet it is. Sure, Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Broadway, Tony Award-winning musical has more than its fair share of pointed jabs at Mormons and AIDS and Ugandan warlords – but underneath all the irreverence lays a really warm-hearted story about the importance of storytelling. Because ultimately that’s what religions are: stories. Stories about a guy on a cross or a guy who parts the sea or a guy who digs up a number of golden plates. Stories – The Book of Mormon advocates – bring communities together and guide people to higher moral truths. Of course stories are fictional – but that’s almost a non-point in the show. Whether or not Joseph Smith spoke to God is irrelevant – it’s the people he brought together with his tales and the hope and inspiration they provide that give Mormonism (and all religions and all stories) their own worth.
After the show here in Los Anegles, Trey Parker and Matt Stone participated in a group Q&A with select press. For highlights from the conversation – which included thoughts on a potential movie adaptation, the likelihood of them doing another stage musical and the troubles of getting old – hit the jump.
Trey Parker: We don’t have any. When we first started working on it seven years ago, we toyed with the idea of it being a Broadway show or being a movie. Obviously since Matt and I know how to make a movie – we were like let’s make a movie. Because we can do that pretty quick. We stuck with it and after we saw the first few workshops with an audience, we’re like this would be great as stage-theater. As we’re doing scenes, of course I was always visualizing it as a movie because that’s what I do – so I don’t think it would be a really difficult thing. It would be a pretty different animal. We don’t talk about it too much right now but it’s very possible.
On whether or not they would do another stage musical:
Matt Stone: No – these are hard as shit. And what we’re learning is that they’re never done. We’re used to with South Park – we finish the show, we send it off, it goes on the air – and the next morning honestly half the time I wouldn’t be able to tell you what that show was about. Movies – same thing. Theater – it’s just not like that. You have to take care of it.
Matt Stone: Some parts – yes. A lot of it – no. It’s just new. It’s a different thing. You really have to take care of it. And with a new company – if you saw this [in comparison with the Broadway edition] it’s a great show but it’s a different show. You’ve got to find the strengths in the actors. It’s cool but that part of it is surprising.
On the changes between the New York version of The Book Of Mormon and the LA version:
Matt Stone: Nothing script or story wise or music wise – it’s the exact same show. But when new actors come in – first of all, it’s great because they bring all this new energy. They’re really excited to do it and we’re coming in to do it again – we kind of feed on their energy to discover the show. There are things in the original cast that they did better – you’re like ‘Oh I miss that line.’ But this cast has found totally new things that we never thought of. Some stuff is just way better. There’s no profound difference. It just reminds me of the fact that it’s not done, it’s not in the can – that’ll never happen.
On their fascination with Mormonism:
Trey Parker: We both had this fascination because we both knew Mormons growing up. My very first girlfriend was a Mormon. We had exposure to that and I thought it was fascinating and goofy and wonderful. It does seem to dig its way into [our stuff] all the time – but that’s why it just made sense for us to write this. Let’s do our big all Mormon thing. Get it out of our system.
Trey Parker: The only thing was the polygamy aspect. We wanted to do your everyday Salt Lake City Mormon… That was a misconception among a lot of people — that Mormons are polygamist. No, they’re not. I mean they obviously have that in their history and there are some fundamentalists. But because of Big Love and all these things, it was also joke-wise – so done.
Matt Stone: I think that’s the main reason why Mormons like the show – because they’re so sick of that lazy joke. It’s dealt with in all their history but it just doesn’t apply to mainstream Mormons. I think they’re appreciative [we didn’t go there].
Trey Parker: And we wanted Mormons to buy tickets and ads in our playbills.
On the irony of The Mormon church taking out ads in the show’s playbills:
Trey Parker: It was awesome.
Matt Stone: So cool.
Trey Parker: We seriously talked about doing it ourselves. We thought – we should do a thing in the playbook that says ‘Do you want to know more about Mormon Church?’ [But] they did it. It’s great…
Trey Parker: I think part of it is we’re in our forties… I remember watching people [enter the show] and seeing this little old lady with grey hair and I’m like ‘Oh what’s she going to think?’ And then I thought that lady’s only twenty years older than me…With South Park we still write and direct every episode ourselves. We haven’t handed it off so even if it isn’t a better show, it’s a fresh show because we want to do something different every time. We don’t want to do Cartman’s fat; he likes cheesy poofs. And as we grow older, it’s funny because it’s like being in a band and having all these albums to look back on and knowing that’s where we were at our lives and this is where we’re at in our lives now. We can watch the episodes and see that.
On the ending ‘message’ of the show:
Trey Parker: It’s always this way in any episode of South Park. It’s always the last thing we do. In Team America – it’s the same thing: the whole pussy, dicks and assholes bit. We try not to start with an agenda – here’s what we want to say, now how are we going to say it. We really like doing a show and it showing us what we’re saying. With this it really was just the fact that to us the stories of Star Wars or Darth [Vader] or all these things – are just as valid and just as real as all these other ones. And yeah – you can say – but there was no Darth Vader but it teaches you, it points to something way bigger than that… If nothing else in the last twenty years that’s what Matt and I have really dug doing: becoming better at the craft of storytelling. And that’s why we try not to make South Park just gag, gag, gag. We really get into the story of it and the beginning, middle and end of it and that’s what we love.
Matt Stone: The thing we always said was if you can cut a song out, then it’s got to be cut… Having a person just turn and sing, you should accomplish something. On the songs that work the best, we would almost draw out – here’s our four characters – this character starts here and ends here, this character starts here and ends here… This message starts here and ends here. And everything would have to move – so in a lot of the songs, you’ll see two characters move and the plot move.
Trey Parker: And the fascinating thing about musicals is that when you have a song and dance number, you can have a scene afterwards where someone says something to someone but no one’s going to get it. Like anything important, anything you need people to hear – you’ve got to have music for it. You’ve got to make it at least a little piece of a song or sometimes a whole song.
On their most difficult song:
Matt Stone: ‘All American Prophet’ for sure. It was called ‘The Bible Is A Trilogy’ and we wrote three or four versions of that song to tell the story of Joseph Smith…
Trey Parker: There are versions of it where we talked way more about the Joseph Smith story and talked way more about the actual Book of Mormon and what’s in that. It just started to get to be too much. People were tuning out. The problem was you need to know a certain amount about Joseph Smith for the end of the show to make sense when the Africans regurgitate it as their own thing. We couldn’t skip it and we couldn’t do the real shorthand version because there are certain parts we had to get across.
On the origin of the recurring “I have maggots in my scrotum” lyric:
Trey Parker: Well before we even knew this was a show about Mormons, we said let’s write a musical with maggots in the scrotum. No, actually it’s funny that song used to be called ‘The Bible Is A Trilogy’ – the one that’s now ‘American Prophet’. It used to go “The bible is a trilogy…” and it made movie references. It was all a joke about how the third part of a trilogy is always the best movie and how the third Matrix is actually the best – which is a great joke. So it started with the African guy stepping forward saying “Can you imagine if The Matrix had ended after the first one…” and then the other African guy says, “I actually thought the third Matrix was the worst one”. It was this thing we had for the longest time and we finally decided ‘The Bible Is A Trilogy’ doesn’t make sense with the story anymore. So we changed it to this other thing and we lost that great [line] but we thought what else could he come forward and say…
The Book Of Mormon begins its run at the Pantages Theater Wednesday, September 12th for an exclusive twelve-week run. I cannot advocate enough (for Los Angeles residents) to buy whatever tickets are left. (For information on tickets and the ‘lottery system’, click here.)