With 17 seasons and counting, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park remains one of the longest-running and culturally beloved sitcoms of all time, animated or not. The show that not only helped put Comedy Central on the map, but has started several different pop culture catchphrases and memes, South Park is also one of the few shows that remains as relevant and irreverent as it was in its inception, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Image courtesy of INFphoto.com
With that in mind, there are more than a handful of great characters, both main and supporting, that has graced the TV screen in the show’s multi-decade long run. While there are more great than not, here are just ten of the best characters that Stone and Parker have ever conceived on the program.
Before the countdown can continue, I will list just a few of the characters that, while great, just didn’t quite make the cut. Here are just some honorable mentions, from worst to best: Ned Gerblansky, Sexual Harassment Panda, Jesus Christ, Satan, Saddam Hussein, Kenny McCormick, Big Gay Al, Jimmy Valmer, Tuong Lu Kim (a.k.a. City Wok Guy) and Marvin “Grandpa” Marsh.
With that out of the way, let’s countdown the top 10 characters on South Park.
[ new page = Living a lie]
10. Timmy Burch
Although the character has about four different words in his vocabulary, there is no denying that Timmy is one of the most gut-bustingly simple creations in the show’s history. With his appearances on the show rising, Timmy may not be the most complex character on the show, but he is certainly one of the most lovable and, therefore, hilarious.
[ new page = Cookie monster]
9. Ike Broflovski
While rarely the center of attention, save for a couple episodes here and there, Kyle’s little adopted Canadian brother Ike always steals the show whenever he is on. Even though a majority of his lines are pure gibberish, at least in the earlier seasons, he is always able to gather a laugh or two whenever he is on screen, even if it involves him getting kicked through a window along the way.
[ new page = Move along]
8. Office Barbrady
As quite easily the most incompetent character on the show—which is especially ironic, given that the show is centered mainly on children—Officer Barbrady, as South Park’s one-time primary, and illiterate, force of police authority, often scored some of the earlier episodes’ biggest laughs, and also helped to catapult the main children to step up and fix the town’s biggest threats themselves.
While his role in the show has decreased more and more as the show has continued, he still is able to pop up again from time to time, particularly in season fourteen. Unfortunately, however, it appears that he has become at least slightly more competent than he was in his glory days. Regardless of this, Barbrady still remains one of the funniest and quotable supporting characters on the series.
Here’s one of his best moments:
[ new page = Hello children]
Even though he, and his voice actor Isaac Hayes, have passed, the character of Chef once served as the most relied-on adult character on the show, and for good reason. Inspired by both 70s soul singers, including Hayes, and a cafeteria cook in Parker’s University of Colorado, Chef used to be the one that would help—and fail—to let the boys in on the mysteries of the outside, adult world, and would always be quick to sing a song or persuade a lovely lady to make love to him.
While his final days were perhaps not as nice as many— including Parker and Stone, would have likely hoped—he still remains one of the funniest and most charming characters in South Park history.
Speaking of songs, here is, in my opinion, his best. This is also probably the best or second best song about prostitutes in TV history. It’s between this and the one from Flight of the Conchords:
[ new page = M’Kay]
6. Mr. Mackey
Whether it is telling the children about the dangers of drugs or tooth decay or anything inbetween, South Park Elementary’s school counselor Mr. Mackey has been a character that the creators have been able to get a lot of mileage out of over the years, and for good reason. Parodying a type of character that everyone who grew up in public education can instantly relate to, Mackey embodies not just a persona, but a misguided philosophy that has, and unfortunately still, finds itself surrounding the impressionable minds of children.
With that, Mackey always can serve as either the wrong voice of reason, or as Parker and Stone’s vehicle for brief political discussion relating to the education department. Unless, of course, Mr. Garrison is on the scene. While perhaps not quite developed as some of the characters that have gotten equal screen time, Mackey is still just as funny and quotable as he was when he first appeared on the screen. He is also probably one of the few characters, in South Park or any show, that is even funnier when he acts out of character.
Like, for example, this golden moment from one of my favorite episodes, “Royal Pudding”:
[ new page = 3 fiddy]
5. Thomas and Nelle McElroy (a.k.a. Chef’s parents)
Now, of course, I am probably cheating here by placing two characters at once, and am causing more than a few of you to go, “Who?” Chef’s parents are definitely the least seen characters on this list, and while I highly doubt they are, or would, be featured on any other list of top 10 South Park characters, that is partly what makes them all the more lovable to me.
Even though their whole essence is essentially in the service of one recurring joke, that singular joke still remains one of the funniest that Parker and Stone have ever created. No matter how many times it is done, it still gains just an enthusiastic of a response from me as it did the last time and the time before that.
That joke in question can be seen below:
[ new page = What have I done]
4. Randy Marsh
Alongside Wendy, Stan’s dad, Randy, has become of the most transformed characters on the show. Having at one time been simply a semi-voice of reason as the town’s only scientist, despite only being a geologist, he has somehow become an absent-minded, child-like parent himself, driving more than a few of the recent episodes and taking over as the show’s primary adult figure.
With that in mind, as a figure of the present more than the past, Randy has undoubtedly become the crux of many of the show’s best jokes, and serves Parker and Stone well as being the heart of what they see as being wrong with either today’s society or the generations of theirs and/or the past or present. Put simply, in connection to what the show has become, Randy serves as one of the show’s greatest achievements.
[ new page = Now children…]
3. Mr. (and Miss) Garrison
As great as Randy is, however, the greatest adult character on the show still remains Mr. (and/or Miss) Garrison. Perhaps more so than Randy, Garrison has been able to be the primary source of political humor and helping to showcase what they feel is wrong with the select collection of conservative and liberal minded parties and people of today.
Of course, he is also just hilarious in his own right. Unlike Randy, Garrison has always been a funny character, and his schemes and his terrible teaching methods never seem to get old. Even in season seventeen, Parker and Stone don’t seem to be tried of him just yet, and I doubt we are either.
[ new page = Hello fellars]
2. Leopold “Butters” Stotch
Going back to the children, Butters, like Randy, stands as one of the show’s greatest transformations. Once simply just a background figure like his fellow classmates that don’t compose the show’s four leads, Butters has quickly jumped the ropes into being essentially the fifth most important child character. In fact, it could be argued that, due to the season without Kenny, that he has become the fourth most important.
His sweet-hearted, well-meaning demeanor is always quick to make him steal your heart. But, more so than the other heart stealers on the show, what makes Butters stand out is Parker and Stone’s ability to milk his innocence for all its worth. Where other comedy writers would drain this potential out much too quickly, the creators of South Park have been able to make Butters just as hilarious as he was in his first major appearance by always making sure he walks a finer line than any other character in the show.
By allowing him to be constantly impressionable, but never overdoing it to the point of complete unbelievability, Parker and Stone have been able to formulate a character that is genuinely wide-eye sweet and gut-bustlingly hilarious in every appearance. His character alone is among the reasons why South Park is still one of the funniest shows on television.
[ new page = Respect my Authority]
1. Eric Cartman
Is this choice obvious? Of course. But, quite frankly, who could really, truly, honestly top him? As the central mascot of the show, and the character that anyone does, and should, associate with the show upon first utterance, Cartman is a terrible, terrible human being. He’s a racist, misogynist, deceiver, cheater, arrogant and psychopathic person. Yet, somehow, somehow, is still the most lovable character on the show.
If that is not a testament to the powers of Parker and Stone, than I don’t know what is. Although Stan is supposed to be the main character of the show, in the years that South Park has been on the air, Eric has been able to weasel his way into the show’s main spot (which is more in line with the character than anything else), and has not only made the show better, but has made it all the more witty and hilarious. Cartman should be a character you love to hate, but he is actually a character you hate to love, which is pretty much true of South Park.
For, despite all its lowbrow humor, South Park remains a brilliantly written and conceived show, with a track record that is quite possibly the best on TV and still finding ways to get better.
So, that’s it. Are there any that you absolutely disagree with? Are you wondering why Stan or Kyle are not on the list, or even in the honorable mentions? Comment below.
Will Ashton is a staff writer for TheCelebrityCafe.com, as well as contributor for CutPrintFilm. When he's not covering the latest news and reviews, you can hopefully find him with friends as he enjoys the finer things in life.