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Revisiting South Park’s First Season: ‘Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride’


Tue, August, 22 by

This is part four in a thirteen part series of hand-typed Internet posts concerning the first season of South Park—the show, not the town.

Now that we’re on Episode 4, I’ve settled into a nice groove in creating these unique and informative blogs, so much so that I can freely chew a piece of gum or stroke the shell of the office tortoise without getting distracted. But along with this comfort comes the anxiety that after completing number thirteen, the journey will end thus returning me to my regular, boring life spent revisiting episodes of Cheers.

If you’re new here, check out previous posts on Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3.

“Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride” premiered September 3, 1997.

Plot Description

Stan gets a new dog named Sparky but things get crazy when he and the boys find out the dog is gay. There’s also a big football game against Middle Park, and unless Stan plays quarterback there’s no way they’ll cover the spread, leaving Jimbo, Ned and the rest of the town in the poor house.

Pop Culture References

Cartman’s presentation on Asian culture concludes with, “And so you see, Simon and Simon were not brothers in real life, only on television,” an accurate fact regarding an old TV show that is way older now that it was in 1997.

Actor and notorious Beach Boys fan John Stamos is referenced when his fictional older brother is in town to sing Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin You’” during the football halftime show. Speaking of football, one of the commentators at the game likens some of the on field action to moments in popular culture including the Cows taking a beating like Rodney King and Pip taking a blow like Hugh Grant.

Big Gay Al’s boat tour is a parody of the rather preachy “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland or world or whatever. The sequence includes an appearance from figure skater Brian Boitano, a major player in South Park: Longer, Bigger & Uncut, who inspired the famousWhat Would Brian Boitano Do?” song.

Popular South Park target Barbara Streisand is referenced by Bill when he suggests Sparky should attend one of her concerts because he’s gay, while another famous howler, Rin Tin Tin, is referenced as the kind of dog Stan really wants.

Best Quote

The Simon & Simon quote is excellent but since I’ve already mentioned it I’ll go with this one about dog ass:

“Huh… He’s doing something to his ass. He’s not kicking his ass, but he’s definitely doing something to his ass.” – Cartman

South Park-isms Introduced

  • Stan’s dog Sparky is voiced (or “woofed” heheheh) by George Clooney, which began the show’s tradition of casting big names in tiny parts.
  • The South Park Elementary Cows make their first appearance.
  • After being visible in the background of the first few episodes, Pip finally talks.
  • Garrison’s confusing sexuality is introduced as well as his bad attitude toward members of the gender he seemingly belongs to.
  • The cable access show Jesus and Pals makes its debut, starring none other than Jesus who was the star of Parker and Stone’s The Spirt of Christmas short that gave them their first taste of notoriety.
  • Big Gay Al makes his super entrance into South Park.
  • Bill and Fosse, two South Park students who act like Beavis and/or Butthead, are introduced.
  • Admittedly, I had to look this up rather than rely on my incredible pop culture intuition, but Big Gay Al’s strange exit at the end is taken from a movie called The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.

Facts We Stole From Wikipedia

  • “When the episode was under production in 1997, it was relatively uncommon for a television series to openly address homosexuality in such overt terms, especially in a cartoon.”
  • “After the episode was scheduled to air, TV Guide refused to advertise it under its true title for fear of offending readers, and instead called the episode “Big Al’s Boat Ride.””
  • “Parker and Stone considered “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride” their favorite episode of the first season.”
  • “The speech Big Gay Al gave while taking Stan on a boat ride through his animal sanctuary was based on actual speeches animation director Eric Stough made while working as a “jungle cruise director” at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.”

Does It Hold up?

In 1997 this episode was considered both risky and groundbreaking for even broaching the subject of homosexuality. Thankfully, we now live in a world where gay dogs and people can be portrayed on TV without batting an eye, so I’m actually happy to report that this episode doesn’t really hold up. There are some weird, jarring moments like when Cartman bluntly proclaims that “Stan’s dog’s a homo.” The Cartman of today is still an asshole but he probably would’ve been more creative in his description.


I give this episode a 69-out-of-72 point spread because even though it feels weird now, it was nominated for an Emmy and laid the groundwork for future episodes where touchy or taboo subjects were handled deftly by the team.

South Park returns for its 21st season on September 13 on Much!