Stanley Randall “Stan” Marsh is one of the show’s four central characters and is voiced by and loosely based on series co-creator Trey Parker. He first appeared in The Spirit of Christmas and is portrayed (in words of the show’s official website) as “a normal, average, American, mixed-up kid”. Stan is a third- then fourth-grade student who commonly has extraordinary experiences not typical of conventional small-town life in his hometown of South Park. In many episodes, Stan contemplates ethics in beliefs, moral dilemmas, and contentious issues, and will often reflect on the lessons he has attained with a speech that often begins with “You know, I learned something today…”.
Kyle Broflovski is one of the show’s four central characters and is voiced by and loosely based on series co-creator Matt Stone. Having appeared first in The Spirit of Christmas shorts, he often displays the highest moral standard of all the boys and is usually depicted as the most intelligent. When describing Kyle, Stone states that both he and the character are “reactionary”, and susceptible to irritability and impatience. In some instances, Kyle is the only child in his class to not initially indulge in a fad or fall victim to a ploy. This has resulted in both his eagerness to fit in, and his resentment and frustration. Kyle is distinctive as one of the few Jewish children on the show, and because of this, he often feels like an outsider amongst the core group of characters. His portrayal in this role is often dealt with satirically, and has elicited both praise and criticism from Jewish viewers.
Eric Theodore Cartman first appeared in the 1992 short series “Jesus vs Frosty” and is voiced by Trey Parker. Cartman has been portrayed as aggressive, prejudiced and emotionally unstable since his character’s inception. These traits are significantly augmented in later seasons as his character evolves, and he begins to exhibit psychopathic and extremely manipulative behavior. He is depicted as highly intelligent, able to execute morally appalling plans and business ideas with success. Among the show’s main child characters, Cartman is distinguished as “the fat kid”, for which he is continuously insulted and ridiculed. Cartman is frequently portrayed as a villain whose actions set in motion the events serving as the main plot of an episode. Other children and classmates are alienated by Cartman’s insensitive, racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, misogynistic, lazy, self-righteous, and wildly insecure behavior. Cartman often makes anti-semitic insults towards Kyle, constantly teases Kenny for being poor, particularly manipulates and mistreats Butters Stotch and displays an extreme disdain for hippies.
Kenneth “Kenny” McCormick is one of the shows’ main characters who debuted in the 1992 short. His oft-muffled and indiscernible speech—the result of his parka hood covering his mouth—is provided by co-creator Matt Stone. He is friends with Stan and Kyle, while maintaining a friendship with Eric Cartman solely out of pity. Kenny is regularly teased for living in poverty, particularly by Cartman. Prior to season six, Kenny died in almost every episode, with only a few exceptions.[note 1] The nature of the deaths was often gruesome and portrayed in a comically absurd fashion, and usually followed by Stan and Kyle respectively yelling “Oh my God! They killed Kenny!” and “You bastard(s)!”. In the episode “Kenny Dies”, Kenny dies after developing a terminal muscular disease, while Parker and Stone claimed that Kenny would not be returning in subsequent episodes and insisted they grew tired of upholding the tradition of having Kenny die in each episode. For most of season six, his place is taken by Butters Stotch and Tweek Tweak. Nevertheless, Kenny returned from the year-long absence in the season six finale “Red Sleigh Down”, and has remained a starring character ever since. His character no longer dies each week, and has only been killed occasionally in episodes following his return. Kenny’s superhero alter ego, Mysterion, first appeared in the season 13 episode “The Coon”.
Leopold “Butters” Stotch is voiced by Matt Stone, and is loosely based on co-producer Eric Stough. He is cheerful, naive, optimistic, gullible and more passive relative to the show’s other child characters, and can become increasingly anxious, especially when faced with the likelihood of his parents’ punishments, which is usually being grounded. Butters doesn’t indulge in foul-mouthed language like the other children and speaks with a mild stutter and tends to fidget with his hands. The other characters perceive him as “nerdy”, and he obliviously maintains a wholesome attitude and mild disposition despite the tragedy and abuse that he frequently encounters. His happy-go-lucky persona has been described as resembling that of a typical 1950s sitcom child character, and is usually presented in stark contrast to the harsh treatment he receives at the hands of his friends and strict parents, Butters appeared initially as a background character in first the episode, “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe”, but gradually became one of Parker and Stone’s favorite characters. Besides wanting to genuinely surprise fans, Parker and Stone killed Kenny at the end of season five to allow an opportunity to provide a major role for Butters, as the following episode, “Butters’ Very Own Episode,” revolves entirely around him. Stan, Kyle, and Cartman allow him into their group as the “fourth friend”, but eventually gets ousted and vengefully adopts the alter ego of Professor Chaos. Despite this, Butters has continued to be a major character in recent seasons and continues to be a frequent source of help to Cartman, while also being the main victim of Cartman’s pranks and manipulation.
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