The Wednesday Comedy Central ran its famous Scientology “South Park” episode, many predicted that Isaac “Chocolate Salty Balls” Hayes – the avowed Scientologist who plays Chef on the series – would ditch the show.
And this appears to be precisely what happened.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Veteran soul singer Isaac Hayes, voice of the libidinous character "Chef" on the satiric cable TV cartoon "South Park," said on Monday he was quitting the show, citing its "inappropriate ridicule" of religion.
"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs ... begins," Hayes said in a statement.
Hayes, 63, a devoted follower of the Church of Scientology, did not mention a "South Park" episode that aired last fall poking fun at Scientology and some of its celebrity adherents, including actor Tom Cruise.
Rather, Hayes said the show's parody of religion is part of what he saw as a "growing insensitivity toward personal spiritual beliefs" in the media generally, including the recent controversy over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.
The singer, who became the first black composer to win an Oscar for best song with his theme to the film "Shaft," said he formally asked to be released from his contract with "South Park," on the Comedy Central cable channel.
A spokesman for the Viacom Inc.-owned network said producers of the show and its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, had agreed not to "enforce" Hayes' contract.
"Obviously, Matt and Trey are disappointed that he's not going to be part of the show, but they're not going to make him do something he doesn't want to do," the spokesman, Tony Fox, told Reuters.
However, he said Stone and Parker "feel that it's a bit disingenuous (for Hayes) to cite religious intolerance as a reason for him pulling out of the show" because the series has lampooned religion since its start, taking shots at Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Mormons, among others.
The series grew out of two short films by Parker and Stone, "Jesus vs. Frosty" and "The Spirit of Christmas," the latter featuring a martial-arts duel between Jesus and Santa Claus over the true meaning of Christmas.
"Their premise is as long as you can make fun of everybody, then everybody is a potential target," Fox said. "The minute you start pulling punches, then the show's reason for being sort of gets compromised."
The crudely animated cartoon, heading into its 10th season next week as one of Comedy Central's biggest hits, centers on the antics of four foul-mouthed fourth graders in the town of South Park, Colorado
Hayes joined the show in 1997, supplying the baritone voice of Jerome "Chef" McElroy, the rotund school cafeteria cook whom the boys often seek out for advice.
In an episode last fall, one of the gang, Stan, scores so high on a Scientology test that church followers think he is the next L. Ron Hubbard, the late science-fiction writer who founded the religion. Hayes did not take part in that episode.
In an interview with Reuters late last year, Hayes talked about a foundation he formed to bring Scientology-based study techniques to disadvantaged inner-city schools, in partnership with fellow devotee Lisa Marie Presley.
"But it's not religious," he said then. "It's just something that people need."
Matt Stone told the Associated Press, "Past episodes of South Park have skewered Catholics, Jews and Mormons, among others. However, according to Stone, he and Parker "never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. "He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin"