Everyone's in a Stew Over 'South Park' Chef

Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef, top, belatedly quit the show over a Scientology spoof.
Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef, top, belatedly quit the show over a Scientology spoof. (Comedy Central Via Reuters)
By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, March 18, 2006

Comedy Central, the allegedly irreverent, testosterone-fueled, take-no-prisoners basic cable network, looks more like a Vertical Integration Sissy Girl after yanking an episode of "South Park" that lampoons Scientology and Tom Cruise.

The cave-in occurred this week, just a couple of days after Isaac Hayes, who has provided the voice of Chef for the edgy animated series since 1997, asked to be let out of his contract because he had just noticed that the cartoon, about four precocious potty-mouthed fourth-graders in South Park, Colo., makes fun of religious groups.

Hayes, who is a Scientologist, said it's part of what he sees as a "growing insensitivity toward personal spiritual beliefs" in the media.

"Religious beliefs are sacred to people and at all times should be respected and honored," the R&B musician and actor said Monday, according to news reports.

"As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."

Series co-creator Matt Stone understandably wondered why it took Hayes nearly a full decade to figure out that "South Park" pokes fun at, among other things, religions.

"This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology," Stone said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Stone noted in interviews that "in 10 years and over 150 episodes of 'South Park,' Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons or Jews," and added, "He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show."

Even more mysterious, Hayes did not quit the show when Comedy Central first ran the episode, called "Trapped in the Closet," last November.

In the episode, fourth-grader Stan scores so high on a Scientology test that followers decide he is the reincarnation of its founder, sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard.

Scientologists show up at Stan's house in droves. Stan finds celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise in his bedroom; Cruise asks Stan what he thinks of Cruise's acting work. Stan pronounces him not as good as Leonardo DiCaprio, Gene Hackman or "that guy who played Napoleon Dynamite." Cruise, crushed, hides in Stan's closet. John Travolta, another celeb Scientologist, and R&B artist R. Kelly each try to get Cruise to come out of the closet. For the rest of the episode, "Tom Cruise" and "come out of the closet" are said in the same sentence. Like 39 times.

(Back in November, a rep for Hayes said her client hadn't heard about the story line and she did not think his character was in it, according to a report on the Web site of Mort Zuckerman's now defunct political, pop culture and style magazine, Radar. The site also has Cruise's rep saying they had "no knowledge of" the episode.)

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