‘South Park’: Trey Parker’s Dad Made Up Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, in a Scary Attempt to Potty Train Him
Comedy Central’s South Park is still airing new episodes today, but it’s already become a classic of the adult cartoon genre. Its takes on current events in a detached and edgy style earned it a large audience when it first started airing in 1997, and today it still goes after events dominating the headlines, like the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the anti-vaccine movement.
In its early days, however, it was a bit less topical, but still had iconic moments like its early Christmas episode. One of the moments that sticks with fans of the show was Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo — a weird bit of gross-out humor that managed to capture audiences and get across the gist of South Park as a show. But Mr. Hankey wasn’t conceived of for this episode. Instead, this joke has a long history with one of the show’s main producers.
“Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo” was the ninth episode of ‘South Park’
The episode of South Park that brought in Mr. Hankey aired very early on and was the show’s unique version of a Christmas special. One of the main characters on the show, Kyle Broflovski, is Jewish, and during the town of South Park’s Christmas celebrations, his mother decides that the religious elements of the celebration are inappropriate.
Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo is Kyle’s secular replacement for the Jesus story, but nobody believes in him, which eventually leads to Kyle being committed to a mental hospital until Mr. Hankey reveals himself to the town.
The episode parodied many of the attempts to take Christmas and make it into a secular and universal holiday — something that still occurs to this day. But, unlike other criticisms of “secular” and “inclusive” Christmas culture, this episode found one of the most outlandish and absurd ways to approach the topic, without putting the holiday up on a pedestal.
Mr. Hankey was an idea from Trey Parker’s dad
Trey Parker, one of the producers of South Park, learned about Mr. Hankey from his dad — though Parker himself added the Christmas element. However, according to Time, the concept of the magical talking turd was Parker’s father. When Parker was still potty-training, he would forget to flush. Apparently, Parker’s dad decided to scare him straight with this character:
“My dad said, ‘Well, Trey, you need to flush the toilet because if you don’t, Mr. Hankey is going to come out and kill you.’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ And he goes, ‘Well, it just sits there, and you flush it. But if you don’t, he’ll come to life, and he sings a little song, and he kills you.”
The absurd, edgy, and sometimes gross sense of humor on South Park seems to have run in the family!
Trey Parker’s childhood influenced other aspects of ‘South Park’
South Park is a pretty autobiographical show. It takes place in small-town Colorado, reflecting both Parker’s and co-creator Matt Stone’s hometowns. Stone is Jewish, and some of Kyle’s experiences on the show reflect what Stone experienced growing up. The parents of main characters Stan Marsh, Randy, and Sharon Marsh, are named after Parker’s parents — and like Parker’s father, Randy Marsh is (or was, before a season 22 career shift to cannabis farming) a geologist.
Perhaps these personal connections are what made South Park take off and what made the wild, improbable plots seem, somehow, relatable to its viewers. You probably haven’t seen a poo come to life and sing about Christmas, but you might have had friends feel awkward and left out during the ever-growing Christmas season. The escalation to the absurd can lead people to reflect on these shared experiences that they might not have thought about before.