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Looking Out For Number Two

Sometimes, you can only take so much shit.

People can dump all over you. They can just keep piling it on. But before things go to pot, before your hopes and dreams become soiled, you have to stand up for yourself. Otherwise, all your hard work will wind up right down the toilet.

That's probably what John Kricfalusi thought when he caught the Christmas episode of Comedy Central)'s phenomenally popular animated series South Park). The episode in question was your typical South Park offering -- cute-as-a-button animated kids with wide-eyes and innocent faces... who also happen to curse like longshoremen. Jokes about Christmas, Hanukkah and other holiday season standards were traded back and forth, peppered with language that would make a sailor blush.

In short, an evening of laugh-out-loud comedy for those of us who aren't above the occasional potty joke.

And that's what has John Kricfalusi) hopping mad. You see, the Christmas episode also featured as a central character -- and there's just no delicate way to say this, so please, please, please, for the love of God, if you're easily offended, just scroll over to something like CNN's home page) now and save me and you the grief -- a dancing, singing bit of human dung.

I warned you to go check out CNN.

More specifically, the character was Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo, who as one of the South Park ragamuffins tells it, brings Christmas presents to people with high fiber diets. He also sings, dances and leaves quite an unpleasant mess.

Thus, the complaint of Kricfalusi, creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show. He charges that Mr. Hankey is a bald-faced rip-off of a dancing, singing and otherwise ebullient bit of excrement that he created for his Spumco Web site. The character is named -- and if you didn't heed my advice the first time, there's really no sense warning you now -- Nutty the Friendly Dump.

Said Kricfalusi to Daily Variety: "I didn't invent dumps or farts, but in the context that I use them in, I did invent them. The talking, singing dump was invented by me. And now these guys are gonna get rich off of it."

For its part, Comedy Central says Kricfalusi's charge is a load of... well, you know what's coming here, don't you? We'll move on.

Network spokesman Tony Fox told Variety that neither Matt Stone and Trey Parker -- the brains behind South Park -- had never been to Kricfalusi's Web site and certainly didn't know the first thing about Nutty.

"The fact is that Mr. Hankey is a character created by Trey's dad 25 years ago when Trey was being potty-trained," Fox said.

So there you go.

No doubt there is a stirring legal argument to be made here, a potential test case about the genesis of the creative muse, the sanctity of intellectual property, the right of the artist to defend his or her original creation.

And yet I can't quite clear the hurdle that what we have here is a bunch of adults arguing over dancing, singing dung.

Which is a shame really, because charges of plagiarized dancing shit aside, South Park is a hell of a funny show. The characters are hilarious. The situations are distinct. Unless you know of another show on TV that's featured a Marlon Brando-like) mad scientist who normally clones four-assed monkeys but instead tries to clone a human boy who ends up destroying the entire town.

Didn't think so.

A highlight of every episode features Kenny, one of the darling child protagonists, meeting his maker in particularly grisly ways. In one episode, Kenny is shot by an assassin's bullet meant for Kathie Lee Gifford. In another, he's pecked to death by rabid turkeys. And of course, there was the time he was crushed by the Mir space station when it plummeted to Earth.

Not that the rest of the civilized world apparently needs me to tell them about South Park. The Christmas episode scored Comedy Central's highest rating ever, drawing about 4.5 million viewers -- most of them the male young adult demographic advertisers so love to woo. The previous record-holder for Comedy Central? South Park's Thanksgiving episode. At this rate, every man, woman and child in America will be watching by the time South Park's tribute to Arbor Day rolls around.

The show ain't for the faint of heart. Comedy Central airs it late in the evening, long past the time impressionable youths should be tucked away in bed with visions of Urkel dancing through their noggins. And even then, South Park can cross the fine line between funny and stomach-churning. While I love potty jokes as much as the next guy, the image of Mr. Hankey leaving bits of.... himself... on everything he touched induced more stomach pains than laughter.

All that aside, South Park hits more often than it misses. Because it satisfies a basic principle of comedy -- nothing tickles the funny bone like a finely-crafted, well-executed toilet joke.

Perhaps that joke will wear thin. With a dearth of original South Parks to air, Comedy Central has already broadcast enough re-runs to no doubt bore even the show's staunchest fans. South Park could fall into the same trap that felled... well, Ren & Stimpy -- too many snot gags and poop jokes at the expense of the creative humor that made the show so original in the first place.

But for now, enjoy the ride. South Park is a profane delight -- an inventive, funny show that stands head and shoulders above the bland, cookie-cutter sitcom piffle that regularly populates the airwaves.

And believe me, I'm not just shitting you...


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