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Seth Green - "Family Guy" Cartoon - Mike Henry Ign.com Interview

Eric Goldman

Sunday 5 November 2006, by Webmaster

The man behind Cleveland and Herbert talks about being parodied on South Park, the possibility of a Family Guy movie, and more.

Since Seth MacFarlane’s hit animated series Family Guy began, Mike Henry has been a major contributor to the show, both as writer and a voice actor. Among his most notable characters, Henry voices Peter’s friend Cleveland, not to mention Herbert, the pervy old man with a not so small crush on Chris.

In addition to his work on Family Guy, Henry has done voiceover work for his Family Guy costar Seth Green on Robot Chicken. Henry and his brother Patrick also created the extremely funny Kicked in the Nuts, which was a very popular entry for the short film-oriented Channel101.com.

Shortly before the current season of Family Guy began, Henry sat down with IGN TV for an exclusive chat to discuss how he comes up with his characters, Family Guy being resurrected after cancellation, getting parodied on South Park, and more.

IGN TV: Were you first hired on Family Guy as a writer or a voice actor?

Mike Henry: Both, actually. I met Seth when he was in college with my brother. I acted in my brother’s films and did a bunch of characters, and kept in touch with Seth. And when he sold the show he invited me to come write gags and create characters.

IGN TV: How did Cleveland and some of your other characters come to be?

Henry: [Speaks in Cleveland’s voice] Cleveland started, I believe, in episode 4. The network wanted it; they suggested maybe Peter has an African-American friend. And so I started pitching kind of the anti-hip-hop character. Cleveland’s kind of sweet, and I think that resonated, and so that’s pretty much where he came from. And then [Speaks in Herbert’s voice], Herbert, the old man who likes Chris, was just a character who began because I imitated these old men back in Virginia all the time. I just made them dirty old men, and not necessarily pedophiles. But I pitched one joke in the writer’s room about how he has a crush on Chris, and that’s what catches on! So now that character’s a pedophile. [Changes voice again] The Greased-up Deaf Guy is another character, which I can’t do right now because I have a cold. "You’re never gonna catch me!" Basically, that was just kind of a silly voice that I did in the student film that Seth saw me in, and I don’t know... They just come from different places.

IGN TV: So is it sometimes that you’re just sitting around in the office doing a funny voice, and someone says, "Hey, we should turn that into a character!"?

Henry: That’s exactly what started to happen. I really had to kind of put it out there a lot the first few seasons to solidify Cleveland and Herbert. The Performance Artist is another guy I do, and he’ll show up and teach like a CPR class; things like that. So I put those characters out there, and now, more and more, the other writers will say, "Hey, that should be a character!" And you know, there’s a few more that haven’t aired yet that I’m doing.

IGN TV: The show is known in part for the many pop culture references. How do those come about? Do you write a scene, and then you think, "It would be funny if this happened..." or again, are you guys talking on your own about something you remember and it makes it into the show?

Henry: Well a lot of times, it’s whatever the script needs. If we need a TV gag, like if the family’s watching TV, and we need a big pop or big laugh to get through a scene that’s going to get out a lot of story stuff, we’ll send off a team of four writers. They’ll sit in a room and come up with different ideas. It’s as simple as that. "We need a TV gag!" So we’ll go, "S**t, we’ve done M*A*S*H, we’ve done every other show..." So then we just kind of make up shows. We’ve got a wide age range. I think our youngest writer is 27 or 28, and our oldest writer is mid-’50s, so that’s a lot of coverage as far as pop culture. For some reason, Seth loves 1920s, ’30s ’40s, ’50s... Loves that stuff. So we’re just having a good time remembering stuff.

IGN TV: When you’re recording the voices, do you stick pretty strictly to the script, or do you also improv?

Henry: Pretty much strictly to the script, unless... There have been a few things that I’ve personally improvised, but I can’t speak for anyone else. But there have been some things where we’ll just go off. Basically, I should have the domain name SethsClown.com, because basically I’m there to make Seth laugh, and I’m a whore. So if we’re in the booth and I’m making him laugh, then I’ll just kind of start riffing on something and then sometimes that’ll go in[to the episode].

IGN TV: I have to ask what you guys thought of South Park lampooning you last season, and if they’ll be a rebuttal of any sort.

Henry: When I first heard about the South Park, I thought, "Oh god, they’re gonna ream us." And when I watched the episodes, I laughed. I mean it was really funny, and pretty true! I mean we do have all this non-sequitur stuff, but I thought it was funny, I really did. And we’ll definitely be taking a shot at some point. Our production takes us nine months to get an episode out, so we can’t be too... It’ll come out of nowhere at some point. But you know, we’re more about making people laugh than making a political statement. So I think South Park can get pretty bogged down in trying to create controversy or trying to make an issue out of things, which often turns out to be really funny. But we’re not trying to make any kind of statement, we’re just trying to be funny.

IGN TV: So do you see it as a friendly rivalry?

Henry: Umm... Sure. I’m not gonna fuel any fire. We got a good butt-f**king joke coming up for those guys.

IGN TV: What was your reaction when you heard Family Guy was being resurrected?

Henry: Great! After three seasons, we felt like there was a lot more to do. We all went our separate ways and we kept hearing, "The show’s going to come back," and it was like, "Yeah, bulls**t. I’ve heard that before." And finally it did, and the coolest thing was, when we first started back in production - you know, we’d been producing this show in an office building, so we don’t really interact with our fans; we don’t have a live audience. But we went to Montreal for the comedy festival when we first started back in production and had four sold out shows doing this Family Guy Live, in front of like 800 people, who were just rushing the stage. It was unbelievable. So that was really when we all realized we had something.

IGN TV: Would you want to do a live show like that again?

Henry: Yeah. We did some LA shows last year, and in New York, with the same result. It was great. I think they’re trying to package some more of those, which would be awesome.

IGN TV: You did the straight to DVD movie, but has their been talk of a feature film?

Henry: Yeah, we’ve definitely been talking about that, and it really is just a matter of time at this point. We have a commitment to the network for the shows and the episodes and Seth’s also overseeing American Dad, and The Winner which is coming up in the winter, which is a live action show. So he’s stretched thin. We just don’t have time to do it. But it’s gonna happen at some point. I’d be surprised if it didn’t.

IGN TV: You’ve done some guest voices on Seth Green’s Robot Chicken. Has that been fun?

Henry: Yeah. Seth Green’s just the coolest guy. For all his celebrity, he’s just really down to earth and a really good guy. He invited me to do some voices on there, which was cool. I think that show is just genius; it’s very funny. And I’ve done some voices on American Dad; those guys are my buddies too. It’s all who you know in Hollywood! I’d also like to mention KickedInTheNuts.com, which is out there. We’ve got three million downloads so far!

IGN TV: I love Kicked in the Nuts. I’m a Channel 101 fan.

Henry: Oh really? Great! Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of Family Guy writers in the shorts there, so people might want to check it out.

IGN TV: Oh, so you’re shooting new Kicked in the Nuts shorts?

Henry: Oh yeah. My brother Patrick and I are shooting a bunch more. We’re going to have a DVD at some point. We’re merchandising; we’ve got t-shirts and dolls coming out at some point next year.

IGN TV: How did Kicked in the Nuts first begin?

Henry: It was during Family Guy’s hiatus and I was scrambling. I’ve always wanted to create my own stuff, which I’m lucky enough to do on the show with these characters and gags and stuff. But Kicked in the Nuts was just a response to the increasingly invasive hidden-camera shows that were going on. People are just dumb. People just want to be on TV. So we’re just kind of making a big joke out of that.

IGN TV: So who’s your favorite Family Guy character to do?

Henry: I love Cleveland. He’s just a sweetheart and you gotta root for Cleveland. I’d love to spin him off at some point. Some of the other writers and I are talking about trying to create a show around Cleveland at some point. But that’s not come to any substance at all.

IGN TV: Do you ever hear fans doing your voices?

Henry: You know what, I actually spend a lot of time in Virginia; I have family there. I was having breakfast at a restaurant and all these college kids came in to start watching football on a Sunday, and they all start doing shots at noon. And I heard one of them, who was like, [Greased-up Deaf Guy’s voice] "You’re never gonna catch me! See you all next year!" just as they were shooting their shots. And they had no idea who I was; nobody recognizes me. So I just kind of tapped my dad on the shoulder. And they’re imitating Herbert; "Drink that shot, arm!" That was a trip.