College Media Network

Mike Henry of "Family Guy" talks voices, gags and instinct

By Leah Kraus and Nandini Venkateswaren

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Published: Thursday, September 11, 2008

Updated: Thursday, September 11, 2008

When it comes to dream jobs, Mike Henry may just be the master of that field. He gets paid to write jokes and do voices for the television series “Family Guy.”

When it comes to dream jobs, Mike Henry may just be the master of that field. He gets paid to write jokes and do voices for the television series “Family Guy.”

Starting with the first Season 5 production episode of “Family Guy,” “Prick Up Your Ears,” Henry has become a main cast member alongside Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green Patrick Warburton and Mila Kunis.

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Mike Henry graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1988. Henry has written the “Family Guy” episodes “Death Lives,” “A Fish out of Water” along with Alex Borstein, “The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire” along with his brother Patrick Henry, “Patriot Games,” and “No Meals On Wheels.”

He has also done voiceover work for his “Family Guy” costar Seth MacFarlane on “Robot Chicken.” Henry and his brother Patrick also created “Kicked in the Nuts,” a popular and well-received entry in 2003 for Channel101.com, a short film-oriented Web site.

His own show, “The Cleveland Show,” based off of his characters of Cleveland and Cleveland Jr. from “Family Guy,” will air in the fall.

Henry will make a special appearance Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Strong Auditorium to talk about his experiences with “Family Guy” and “The Cleveland Show.” He found a free moment in his packed schedule to talk about his career and his exciting day-to-day lifestyle.

How did you get into television?
I was actually doing some stand-up, acting and directing short films, when I met Seth McFarland at the Rhode Island School of Design and hit it off with him. I was acting in my brother’s films and kept in touch with Seth, and when he sold “Family Guy” and asked if I wanted to be a part of it I said yes. That’s how I came to write for the show.

Were you first hired on “Family Guy” as a writer or a voice actor?
Seth brought me on specifically for TV gags. I was hired as a writer and then after a few episodes I created Cleveland.

How do decide on how your characters’ (Cleveland, Greased-Up Deaf Guy and Herbert) voices should sound?
I based Cleveland off of a guy I met playing basketball who pronounced Maryland like “Merlin.” He had a funny voice, and I started mimicing him. The voices are generally based on people I’ve met. Herbert is based on an old man I used to see at a grocery store. I turned him into a pedophile and tried to get Chris into his basement. Greased-Up Deaf Guy was always a nerdy character. We had to come up with a funny picnic gag and “how about catch the Greased-Up Deaf Guy” came from that. You have your bank of life experiences and when you’re assigned a character, you just start pitching ideas.

What’s your favorite character that you voice on “Family Guy”?
Cleveland. He’s got some soul and is a big-hearted fellow.

Do you ever talk like Cleveland even when you’re not doing “Family Guy”?
Sometimes. My son loves it. I make jokes occasionally as Cleveland. You don’t get stopped on the street as a voice actor. Celebrities get stopped everywhere, I can just lay low.

Do you ever hear fans imitate the voices from “Family Guy”?
One time in Virginia I was in a restaurant and saw a bunch of college guys getting their pre-game on. One of them did the voice of Greased-Up Deaf Guy saying “See ya next year” before he did a shot.

What’s the best and worst part about your job?
The best part is everything and the worst part is nothing. It took a very long time for me to get to this position, though. “Family Guy” was my first big break. Between the ages of 24-32, I did a lot of different things and was trying to find my creative voice. I was following the blind instinct that I wanted to be funny for a living. I started doing stand-up, taking acting classes and waiting tables in Virginia, and it was eight years until I made a living.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I get to work, go into the writer’s room, work on scripts, re-write stuff to make it funnier, record my own stuff and look at story boards just to make sure everything looks right. I work from about 10-6 and wear whatever I want.  A lot of celebrities come in. It’s a conducive and creative environment. It’s different hard work but it’s the only thing I would care so much about to do, which is a good indicator of what I should be doing.

Do any celebrities ever come in that you don’t like?
Not usually. Most of them are pretty cool. I’ve met celebrities like David Lynch who come in and out of the office. We got to go to his house, meet him and record him. You get a pretty good vibe of whether different celebrities are cool or not. When you get the chance to talk to them as professionals you also get to know them as individuals. They are awesome as both celebrities and people.

What’s “The Cleveland Show” about?
It’s very similar to “Family Guy” with its same style of drawing and animation. It takes place in the same universe as “Family Guy,” but it moves to Cleveland’s hometown in Virginia. Cleveland reconnects with his high school sweetheart and what you get is a version of the black Brady Bunch. The show is filled with a ton of flashbacks, cutaways and gags. It is “Family Guy” with a big heart and not as vicious with celebrities. It’s a family show with siblings adjusting, step children fighting and families making up. At the end of the day, they all share a meaningful bond. The show also has a lot of soul music, as opposed to gay showtunes.

I heard a rumor that in “The Cleveland Show,” Cleveland’s family will have neighbors that are bears?
Yes, there is Tim the Bear and Seth does his voice. We initially were thinking of using ghosts as the characters but we just decided on a family of bears. Arianna Huffington from The Huffington Post is doing the voice of Mama Bear. Tim and Mama have a 15 year-old stoner bear son that drives the religious bear family crazy. Across the street there is a family of red necks and a friend of Cleveland Jr.’s, Holt, aspires to be in  Maxim magazine even though he’s 32 years old, 5’2” and lives with his parents.

Kraus is a member of the class of 2009.
Venkateswaran is a member of the class of 2011.

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