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The Untold Truth Of Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo

One of the best parts of the winter holiday season is checking in with favorite themed TV specials and episodes, featuring unforgettable characters who spread joy and festive fun. There are so many favorites: The Grinch, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman ... and Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. Introduced in 1997, with subsequent episodes building up his legend, Mr. Hankey is a living piece of magical feces with a high-pitched voice, big cartoonish eyes, and a tiny Santa hat he picked up somewhere along the way. He's South Park's contribution to the canon of Christmas characters, said to emerge from toilets each year to give presents to all the boys and girls who eat plenty of fiber. As his personal theme song goes, sometimes he's nutty, and sometimes he's corny — and sometimes he's run out of town for problematic behavior, as happens in a 2018 episode. Suffice it to say, there's no other Christmas-themed creature quite as strange, icky, and unique as Mr. Hankey. He's in a totally nasty, weirdly adorable league of his own.

Despite being absolutely disgusting — again, he's literally human waste that flies through the sky — Mr. Hankey's magic is infectious, and he's undeniably (if very uncomfortably) lovable, making him a cultural mainstay in spite of, well, everything. This is all there is to know about Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. Howdy-ho!

Mr. Hankey was invented by Trey Parker's father

While it seems like Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo might just be something that the reliably wacky, gross, and crude South Park writing staff squeezed out — diarrhea is a common occurrence on the show, after all — the character predates the series by more than two decades, and wasn't even created by masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The sentient, singing stool sample was invented by Parker's father in the early 1970s. "When I was three years old, I had a bad habit of not flushing the toilet after I was finished," Parker said in a letter to Variety. "My mother asked my father to have a little 'talk' with me about toilet flushing. He told me that if I didn't, 'Mr. Hankey will come out of the toilet and annoy you forever.'" In other tellings, Parker has recalled his father being a little more harsh, insinuating that if he failed to flush, his leavings would transform into Mr. Hankey, who would then come after little Trey and try to murder him.

Parker was so spooked by the idea that he tried hard to behave: "For a long time after that, I believed that Mr. Hankey would jump out of the toilet and sing to me." On the one hand, this is one of the grossest ways to traumatize a child into good behavior. On the other hand, it does seem to work.

The unmade Mr. Hankey short film

Mr. Hankey makes his entrance in the middle of the first season of South Park, but has never become much more than a minor, recurring character on a richly developed, well-populated series. This low-key fate wasn't set in stone, however. Show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone initially had much bigger plans for the living, laughing excrement.

"Mr. Hankey was something we wanted to make even in college," Parker recalled on a South Park DVD commentary track. "When we were making the South Park shorts, we always talked about making a short with Mr. Hankey." That short film never got made, but some of the plot points were ultimately used in "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo," the 1997 South Park episode that introduces the character. "The bathroom scene with Kyle was the movie," Stone explained, referring to the scene in which the kid sees the poo "as alive," in contrast to his parents, who "just see poop all over the room." The original plan also included the scene with a school counselor, but not much beyond that. In the short that never got made, Mr. Hankey would have just been a figment of the imagination of a disturbed young child who smears stuff on the walls and claims his poo is living. In our world, he's just as gross, but afforded a bit more respect.

Mr. Hankey was almost the star of South Park

South Park's origins lie in two crudely animated short cartoons called "The Spirit of Christmas" that Trey Parker and Matt Stone made in the early 1990s. After seeing the first short, in which Jesus fights Frosty the Snowman, Fox network executive Brian Graden commissioned Parker and Stone to make another cartoon he could use as a Christmas card. That one, featuring a fight between Jesus and Santa, became such a phenomenon in Hollywood that Parker and Stone took a few meetings about developing an animated series.

Rather than pitching adventures with the four little boys from "The Spirit of Christmas," Parker and Stone's initial pitch for a series was The Mr. Hankey Show, an animated series about the life-imbued feces who was the focus of their unmade short cartoon. "Basically the whole thing would be centered around this piece of ****," Parker said in the South Park DVD commentary. Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman would have been supporting characters serving the main gist of Mr. Hankey delivering his "view on things." Graden, Parker and Stone's contact at Fox, adamantly refused to put a show about excrement on television, and so the writers heeded some advice they'd been given and instead developed South Park, a show about four kids living in a strange town. The duo found corporate champions in Comedy Central, where executives expressly told Parker and Stone that they had no problem with Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo.

Mr. Hankey debuted in a landmark South Park episode

Mr. Hankey debuted, as you might have guessed, in the South Park episode entitled "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo." First airing on December 17, 1997, it was a monumental, watershed moment in the animated series' history, with effects ranging far beyond the mere introduction of a talking turd. 

"Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" is the first of many Christmas episodes in South Park history, and introduces many familiar South Park tunes, including Eric Cartman's "Kyle's Mom is a Big Fat *****," and, of course, Mr. Hankey's carol-like theme song. "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" is also the first ever musical South Park episode, predating both the movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, and creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Broadway hit, The Book of Mormon. Additionally, Mr. Hankey's arrival coincides with the introduction of two other South Park characters. His very special episode marks the debut of troubled kid Craig Tucker, and that of guidance counselor Mr. Mackey, who attempts to convince Kyle that he isn't really interacting with a talking Christmas poo.

The holiday spirit of Mr. Hankey is so strong that it ends up subverting one of South Park's most famous and popular early tropes. "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" is the first time Kenny doesn't die, meaning nobody shouts, "Oh my god, they killed Kenny!" Talk about groundbreaking.

How a Christmas poo is made

Mr. Hankey's real world origins are rooted in South Park co-creator Trey Parker's father, but in the universe of the TV series, the character's beginnings are a whole lot muddier. In fact, it's actually never quite revealed how Mr. Hankey came to be. Clues to his origins are spread out over his occasional appearances, which span two decades. They suggest he's an ancient being of tremendous magical gifts. In "Red Sleigh Down," he visits the ageless Santa Claus, and the two appear to be old friends. And while Kyle is the first person in South Park to discover Mr. Hankey when the magical creature pops out of his toilet in the 1997 episode "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo," Chef already knows about the friendly feces, as is revealed when Stan and Cartman tell him about Kyle's encounter. Mr. Hankey is clearly not just some of Kyle's waste sprung to life, though that's about as much as we know.

It's non-canonical because it doesn't appear in an actual episode of the series, but a deleted scene from the 2018 installment "The Problem with a Poo" does provide a thin theory as to how Mr. Hankey came to be. In the scene, a scientist explains that a person who didn't know how to practice voodoo correctly performed a ritual anyway, and it accidentally resulted in the birth of Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. Gross, but fascinating.

Sail away with Mr. Hankey

Holiday characters are so inexorably linked to their particular seasonal celebration that it's hard to imagine what they'd be like without that festive link. This is true for Mr. Hankey, who is all about sharing the secular joys of Christmas, such as togetherness and unity. Mr. Hankey wasn't always a winter holiday icon, however. After all, he originated as a crude warning from South Park co-creator Trey Parker's dad, to goad his young son into remembering to flush the toilet after use. From there, Mr. Hankey stuck in the budding filmmaker's head, in his raw form, for years. "I'd actually been drawing Mr. Hankey since I was a kid," Parker said on a South Park DVD commentary track for the character's debut episode, "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo." And for all those years, Mr. Hankey didn't wear the inch-high red-and-white Santa hat that instantly signifies his connection to Christmas. 

As Parker detailed, he'd "been drawing him with a little sailor's hat, instead of a Christmas hat, since elementary school." A remnant of this nautical Mr. Hankey survives in a piece of obscure South Park ephemera. In the opening title sequence of the unaired original pilot episode of South Park, Mr. Hankey briefly flies across the screen, still dressed like a member of the navy. Bookending his time in South Park, he dons the sailor hat once again when he's thrown out of town in a 2018 episode.

Mr. Hankey, the Christmas chocolate

The notion of a piece of human feces flying out of a toilet and leaving large bits of himself on the walls of the bathroom and the skin of a child is enormously nasty. It is also exactly what happens when Kyle Broflovski first meets Mr. Hankey in the 1997 episode, "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo." This ick-factor of this introduction is softened somewhat by the fact that South Park is an animated series: It's still absolutely disgusting, but isn't quite vomit-inducing. Notably, South Park doesn't have a realistic look, being animated with computers that mimic the look of construction paper cutouts. Just imagine how gross Mr. Hankey's debut might have been if South Park looked more like BoJack Horseman or a sleek, highly-textured Pixar production. Ugh.

That said, South Park animators still aimed to get the look of objects and people that had suddenly been subjected to fecal contact just right. According to South Park co-creator Trey Parker, as captured on a South Park DVD commentary track, members of the animation team got Mr. Hankey's many smears perfect by emulating real-world physics. Thankfully, they didn't use feces in their experiments — they used chocolate, which they melted and squished, then scanned images of into their computers. This real world mess was then made into the illustrated stripes left behind by Mr. Hankey.

Mr. Hankey had a hit holiday album

After establishing Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo as a bit of modern seasonal storytelling on par with Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, South Park and Columbia Records capitalized on the popularity of the character just two years after his debut. In 1999, coupled with a TV special of the same name, Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics hit stores. It features the Mr. Hankey theme song and other South Park holiday originals, such as "Merry ******* Christmas" as performed by Mr. Garrison, and Kyle Broflovski's "The Lonely Jew on Christmas." It's hard to imagine this album lined up on a tinsel-bedecked shelf beside such classics as A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector or Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," but hey, as Mr. Hankey teaches us, the holidays are a time for people all kinds to come together and share the magic of the holidays. That includes talking pieces of human waste.

As captured by Billboard, the novelty record proved to be a hit, to the point that it actually ended up ranking among the top 40 best-selling holiday albums of 1999. Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics ranked just below A Charlie Brown Christmas (the soundtrack of the first of many Peanuts specials, which are part of the DNA of South Park), and ahead of A Christmas Album, by Barbra Streisand, whom South Park depicted as the wicked colossus Mecha-Streisand in 1998. 

Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo vs. Nutty the Friendly Dump

Prior to South Park's debut in 1997, cable TV's most notorious animated series was Nickelodeon's The Ren and Stimpy Show. Created by John Kricfalusi, it features the adventures of a rage-prone chihuahua named Ren and his friend, a cat named Stimpy, who do things like rip out their own teeth, chase fart bubbles, and play the board game "Don't Whiz on the Electric Fence." In October 1997, Kricfalusi debuted a web series that features a character named Nutty the Friendly Dump, a jovial, talking feces log. A couple months later, Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo — a jovial, talking feces log — made his debut on South Park, and Kricfalusi called foul. "I got nine messages on my answering machine from people who said [South Park] took like 10 of your ideas and put them in one episode," Kricfalusi told E! Online. "I suppose it could be a coincidence; everyone likes dump humor."

South Park co-creator Trey Parker wrote a letter to media outlets (including Variety) denying that Mr. Hankey was a ripoff of Nutty the Friendly Dump. After explaining that Mr. Hankey was the invention of his father, Parker said, "It is my hope that this personal letter will put an end to your attempts to slander me and my poo." It did, although a few days later, Kricfalusi expressed a desire for Parker to, at the very least, admit that South Park was inspired by Ren and Stimpy.

Mr. Hankey is lost in space

As South Park's modern-day Christmas legend tells viewers, Mr. Hankey lives in toilets and emerges during the holidays to spread joy, cheer, and disgusting brown smears on bathroom walls. He might be magical enough to, well, be a sentient chunk of feces of apparently ancient age, but he is inextricably bound to the porcelain throne and the winter holidays. But could it be possible that Mr. Hankey has also made his presence felt in space? After all, there is precedent set by the 1964 cult classic, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

In January 2019, NASA engineer Kevin M. Gill tweeted a picture of the planet Jupiter, captured by the Juno spacecraft the previous September and then enhanced. The photo depicts a gigantic oblong on the surface of the largest planet in the solar system. Said shape is long, brown, and very closely resembles Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, as Gill pointed out. As you might realize with a chuckle, this is somewhat appropriate, as Jupiter is a gas giant. According to a press release Gill sent to HuffPost, "Mr. Hankey" is the unofficial nickname for what is technically called a "brown barge" or "cyclonic region." What's even stranger: The picture of this Mr. Hankey-esque spot on Jupiter emerged just weeks after South Park broadcast the episode in which the Christmas character is forced into exile. Having been thrown off TV, Mr. Hankey apparently decided to take his magic to space.