NEW YORK — By some accounts, the world was created in six days.
On the other hand, it takes Matt Stone and Trey Parker seven of them to create a "South Park" episode. But then they get no day of rest before they start on the next episode.
As you're reading this, Matt and Trey and the "South Park" team are back from their midseason break in their 15th year and are under the gun. The episode they started from scratch last Thursday morning will be finished just hours before it's delivered to Comedy Central for premiering Wednesday at 10 p.m. EDT.
How do they do it? And why do it that way?
Not long ago, while in New York to bask in the triumph of their smash Broadway musical, "The Book of Mormon," Matt and Trey took a few minutes to look ahead to the seven episodes of "South Park" facing them this fall.
"Comedy Central would love it if we did the shows ahead of time," Matt said. "But we just don't work as well that way."
"Our best ones," said Trey, "are always the ones where we come in on Thursday with nothing, and we come up with something and we get this energy — 'Ah, that's funny! That's funny!' — and we roll with it. The other way, we over-think things too much."
"I like the process of getting really excited about an idea on Thursday or Friday," Matt said, "and then there's a whole drama to the week: We jump into it, then on Saturday we go, 'Hmmmm. I don't know about this idea.' And you start questioning it."
"But you don't have a choice," Trey interjected.
"You're trapped!" Matt agreed.
The process — propelled by sophisticated computer software, endearingly raw animation and an abundance of adrenaline — clearly works. After all these years, "South Park" has lost none of its edge, its scathing truthfulness or aversion to good manners. Nor has it lost the funniness with which it views the world through the eyes of Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman, four bratty, perpetually bundled-up youngsters in an unhinged Colorado cartoon town.
(To see the process for yourself, watch "Six Days to Air: The Making of 'South Park,'" a one-hour documentary on Comedy Central on Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT.)
A few months ago, "South Park" marked its midseason break in an unsettling way: without the shrewdly heartwarming resolution with which most episodes end. Stan had celebrated his 10th birthday, at which point he was consumed by disgust at everything he loved as a 9-year-old. His favorite foods, music, games, friends — he saw them all as crap. Literally. Graphically. With accompanying fart sounds.
His maturing jadedness seemed echoed by the grown-ups in South Park.
"How much longer can we keep doing this?" Stan's mother asked his dad as they confronted their own lives. "Every week, it's kind of the same story in a different way, but it just keeps getting more and more ridiculous."
The episode ended as something of a cliffhanger.
Some "South Park" fans were alarmed. Viewed in a certain way, the episode seemed to denigrate "South Park" along with everything else. Were Matt and Trey feeling burned out, or, with the big-time, nine-Tonys-winning success of "The Book of Mormon," were they now dismissive of the little cable show that had made them rich and famous?
Goin' down to South Park, did they no longer hope to leave their woes behind?
"We weren't really in that dark of a place," insisted Trey. "But we were feeling those feelings of getting older, and getting a bit more cynical about things."
"We've been doing the show for 15 years," said Matt, "and I turned 40 this year. Trey's 40. That's a weird milestone. So in the episode, Stan's 10 and dealing with his mortality. It was a fun, safe way to talk about really scary (stuff)."
"And we decided to do it with no real ending," said Trey. "'South Park' always resets at the end. We thought, 'This time, let's DON'T reset.'"
Typically, each episode of the show, for all its focus on naughty behavior and potty humor, crystallizes into an overarching parable, with a cut-the-crap, commonsense sort of moral expressed by the kids that usually boils down to some version of "do the right thing."
But that's just a happy byproduct, said Matt and Trey. "South Park" isn't trying to preach.
"We definitely started a few episodes where we wanted to make some point about something that's making us mad," Matt said, "and I don't think those were good episodes. We like the process much better of like, 'Here's a cool story, and let's let the characters do what's funny.' By the end, the theme kind of reveals itself, and it's sometimes the opposite of what you kind of thought it was going to say."
"Because it's 'South Park,' we're championing the idea of not taking things so seriously," said Trey, "not being super-hardcore this way or super-hardcore that way. It's a comedy cartoon!"
"'South Park's main message is: 'We're all stupid, isn't that great!'" said Matt.
"Not, 'Hey, YOU'RE all stupid," said Trey, "but, 'Hey, WE'RE all stupid.'"
"We're the STUPIDIST!" chimed in Matt, meaning Trey and himself.
"We're by FAR the stupidest," Trey laughed.
Now older and wiser like his partner, Matt laughed, too, as he reiterated the lasting "South Park" formula: "'We're all stupid.' And farts."