Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been providing TV viewers with incisive satire for more than two decades through their animated pitch-black comedy series South Park. The series’ main characters used to be Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny, whom Parker and Stone related to when they were younger, but the show has since focused on Randy because, as per Collider, the creators found themselves relating to him more as they got older.
The titular Colorado mountain town is populated with zany recurring characters, much like The Simpsons’ Springfield or Family Guy’s Quahog. Some of them are beloved and steal all their scenes, while others are disappointing and can actually ruin an episode.
Updated on October 29th, 2021 by Tanner Fox: Though it’s known for crass humor and gross irreverence, few shows have aged as gracefully as South Park has. Despite struggling to find its footing during the nineteenth and twentieth seasons, South Park’s new focus on the exploits of Randy Marsh has done quite a bit to rejuvenate the series.
The show’s writers also seem to have elevated fan-favorite characters to new heights in more modern episodes while finally finding fitting roles for less-than-beloved characters like Towlie and Mr. Hankey.
“Wow, what a terrific audience!” Whether he’s accidentally joining the Crips or struggling through “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in front of the impatient townspeople, Jimmy is one of the funniest kids at South Park Elementary. As both an aspiring comedian and the editor of the school newspaper, Jimmy has been the source of some of South Park’s greatest storylines.
He’s often a peripheral character who never quite managed to make his way into the main friend group of Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny. However, given the cruel treatment to which he’s often subjected at the hands of the ever-offensive Cartman, perhaps it’s best that he keeps his distance.
At the beginning of South Park’s run, the only cop in town was Officer Barbrady, who was characterized by being dopey and incompetent, but the most prominent police character on the show is now Detective Harris.
Detective Harris has been used to satirize recent cases of police brutality and racial profiling, and he’s also had great storylines about being a Yelp reviewer and an avid Red Dead player. He also played major roles in South Park‘s recent pandemic-themed specials.
One of the most frequently-parodied political figures in South Park history, former United States Vice President Al Gore has had a rough go of it on South Park. Often seen ranting and raving about the mysterious Bigfoot-like creature he called “ManBearPig,” spoofs featuring Gore are often some of the show’s most memorable.
Introduced in the Season 3 episode “The Red Badge of Gayness” and celebrated for the season 10 episode “ManBearPig,” Al Gore is a hilarious side character who is known for taking things “super cereal.”
In the early seasons of South Park, Mr. Garrison was a mouthpiece for the show’s most wildly inappropriate jokes, particularly about sexuality and gender, which contrasted hilariously with the fact he was the fourth-grade teacher.
The show has since turned Garrison into its proxy for Donald Trump, beginning with the 2016 election. However, fan reception to this was mixed, partially because this plot thread was part of a broader effort on the part of the show’s creators to introduce more serialized storytelling elements.
South Park Elementary’s most outspoken feminist and political activist, Wendy Testaburger is the show’s outlet for progressive ideologies. Perhaps her most poignant storyline is “The Hobbit,” about the unfair pressure that the media places on women.
When Cartman joked about breast cancer—one of the darker things he’s ever done—and Wendy kicked his ass with the principal’s permission, it was one of the most profound moments in South Park’s history. She’s also notable for being the longtime girlfriend of series staple Stan Marsh.
Naive, gullible, and adorably innocent, Butters Stotch is one of South Park Elementary’s many punching bags along with Scott Malkinson and Kip Drordy. His mom tried to kill him, his dad sent him to gay conversion therapy, Cartman kidnapped him, the other kids faked his death—there’s no limit to the abuse Butters has suffered.
When Kenny was indefinitely killed off at the end of the fifth season, Butters replaced him in the main cast as the fourth member of the boys’ group.
The principal antagonist of South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut, Satan is a paradoxically gentle and kind-hearted individual who doesn’t seem to take to the task of ruling Hell. Frequently bullied by his one-time lover Saddam Hussein, Satan is presented as one of the series’ most complex characters.
He also plays a role in some of South Park‘s funniest episodes, though he was killed in a battle against ManBearPig and—ironically enough—sent to Heaven in the Season 22 episode “Nobody Got Cereal?”
Voiced by the late musician Isaac Hayes, Chef was a staple of the show’s earlier seasons. Seemingly always there to offer advice or teach Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny important life lessons, he was arguably more important to the kids than their own parents.
Hayes stepped away from the show in 2005 citing controversy, but the character remained a fan favorite. From the off-the-wall episode “Chef Goes Nanners” to the on-the-nose “The Return of Chef,” the character took part in some of the series’ best outings.
There are plenty of scatological gags in South Park, but none more over-the-top than Mr. Hankey, a talking turd who comes around every holiday season to spread Christmas cheer. While the character was pretty funny in his first appearance, there were diminishing returns due to his one-note personality.
In 2020, rumors circulated that Trey Parker would step away from voicing the character, but that turned out to be a hoax. Mr. Hankey was most recently seen in the Season 22 episode “The Problem With A Poo,” a parody of The Simpsons.
South Park has a long history of lampooning world leaders, and, in the early late 90s and early 2000s, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was a frequent subject of ridicule. Represented as Satan’s jealous and manipulative boyfriend, Hussein’s presence in South Park was an entertaining one-off joke that was extended far beyond its welcome.
Introduced in the reviled episode “Terrance and Phillip in Not Without My Anus,” the character was a thorn in the side of viewers nearly from the get-go, and it’s fortunate that, in the grand scheme of things, he didn’t stick around for very long.
When Towelie was first introduced, the boys hated him. They rolled their eyes at his towel-based puns and constantly told him to go away, echoing the sentiments of fans who similarly couldn’t stand the character. Towelie was the focus of one of South Park’s worst episodes, “A Million Little Fibers.”
A dope-smoking anthropomorphic towel is an interesting comic premise, but South Park has never made it work, although the Tegridy Farms storyline seen in recent South Park seasons has recently given him a lot to do.
In the early days of South Park, Pip was the British exchange student in the boys’ class. He was never an entertaining character and just stole screen time from the ones that are entertaining.
Thankfully, he was phased out of the series pretty quickly. There was a whole Pip-centric episode in season four adapted from Great Expectations, and it’s one of the few episodes that many fans skip on rewatches of the series.
Stan’s older sister Shelly is a roundly unlikable character. Whenever she appears, she screams at her little brother and mercilessly bullies him. In 23 seasons, she’s never had a storyline that redeemed her terribleness.
There’s some merit in Shelly’s storylines involving Randy’s attempts to connect with her like when Lorde let her down or when he was concerned about his daughter’s “marijuana problem,” but that’s all thanks to Randy.
The frequent teacher’s assistant to and ex-boyfriend of Mr. Garrison, Mr. Slave is another one-note South Park character that appeared in far too many episodes. Rarely heard saying more than his pseudo-catchphrase of “Jesus Christ,” he’s typically the target of some of the series’ most off-color jokes.
Mr. Slave could have been a more interesting character had he been creatively implemented in the series, but he’s a complete non-factor in most of the episodes in which he appears.
Parker and Stone infamously faked out their audience when they promised to reveal who Cartman’s father is and instead aired an entire episode about Terrance and Phillip. If fans didn’t hate the Canadian duo before then, they certainly did after it.
The writers have always used Terrance and Phillip’s simplistic fart-based gags as a jab at their critics who dismiss their own show as such, but, after more than two decades, the joke has gotten stale.