The creator of Family Guy and Ted—and the just-announced host of the Oscars—shares his thoughts on just about everything in this Icon interview from our June/July issue.
Photo by Chelsea Lauren/WireImage | Licensed to Alpha Media Group
I wanted to talk about Ted. Could you break down what the film is about?
It is an out there premise but it’s presented in a very grounded way. It’s essentially the real world except for this one completely unreal element. For people who don’t know what the movie is, it’s a story of a little boy who in fairy tale fashion wishes that his favorite stuffed animal would come to life and magically it happens. And the story has to do with him making his way into adulthood still having this thing in his life and having to reconcile it with his relationships, his career, essentially trying to grow up. In a lot of ways the arc of the story is a fairly traditional type of tale about a guy trying to make the leap from adolescence to adulthood told through the mechanism of this very, very strange element of a talking teddy bear.
So the teddy bear is voiced by you correct?
Ted has a dirty mouth and strange sense of humor. How would you describe him?
He grows up the same way any other child would grow up. That’s part of the realism that we treat his character. When he’s a child he speaks like a child, it’s a child’s voice you hear coming out of his mouth. He grows up with Mark Wahlberg’s character in the movie. When you see him early on in the prologue, he had the voice of a child and he grows up with John, Wahlberg’s character, and the two of them meet manhood together. The problem is that the bear is keeping John down in a lot of ways. Keeping him from maturing which is a strain on his relationship with Mila’s character.
What was the biggest difference working with Mila the person rather than just her voice?
It wasn’t really that different. She’s hugely talented and she has delivered so many great performances on Family Guy and she delivered a great performance in this movie. She had in many ways, the most difficult part in the movie because her character has to take the viewpoint that Mark needs to let go of his teddy bear. She has to do that in such a way where she doesn’t come off as a traditional, hands-on-hips, hand pecking uppity. That’s one of the reasons I wanted her to do this. She has the charm and skill that enables her to do that. She really struck a really nice balance so that when you’re watching the movie you really feel like her character really is the one with the strongest argument.
It is funny that you have one of the most beautiful people in the world on your show but you only hear her voice.
Yeah and that’s a testament to her. In a lot of ways voiceover separates the true talents from the pretty faces when it comes to A-list Hollywood actors. You get in that booth and you don’t have the advantage of people seeing you bat your eyelashes. It’s all about your talent and she won the DNA lottery in every way. She’s got the looks and the extraordinary talent. It’s been a real asset to Family Guy to have her all these years.
No spoilers, but I heard there’s a big fight scene between Ted and Mark Wahlberg?
Yeah, at one point the two of them get into it and we played it in a relatively groundbreaking way for an animated character. It’s really pretty raw and treated in such a way that it feels like something you’d see in one of the Bourne movies except it’s a guy fighting a teddy bear. It’s very handheld camera action, no music, very raw and real.
How did you make Ted come to life?
It depends on the shot. When you think about the complexity of it, how well Mark did it becomes even more astonishing. In some shots he was acting with empty spacing pretending to be hit and in some shots he had just the bear’s body, in other shots he had just the arms. It depended on what the nature of the interaction was physically.
Why make a movie now?
It’s not as recent as you might think. I wrote this with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild who are the two other Family Guy writers who co-wrote the screenplay with me about five years ago. That’s how long it takes to do a movie. I wanted to make sure that Family Guy was truly on its feet after its resurrection. Once that became secure, it became feasible to do a movie. I didn’t really have any burning desire to do it until the time was right.
Have you ever been in that situation where there was a conflict between the girl you were dating and a best friend?
Luckily no. Generally the girl wins out which I guess makes me a huge pussy.
You’re great on Twitter. Are you a twitter fan?
Yeah, Alec actually got me into it. I was sort of resistant to the idea mainly because I’m not a big Facebook guy. The ubiquitous nature of social media today, I don’t think it’s a good thing overall. I think it’s helping to contribute to the death of ponderous, critical thoughts and intelligent reflection. It’s not a good thing overall but professionally it’s very helpful and it’s been an interesting thing to be a part of. I think I’m up to something like 2 million followers now which is shocking. The idea of using it for the joke of the day is something that I learned from Alec. He’s really, more than anyone I know, been able to pick up that medium and turn it into something very specific. All of the other comedy writers that we work with, including myself, have kind of adopted that format that he pioneered.
When you do mention political things on Twitter, do you get a lot of kneejerk reactions from folks?
I try not to do it too often but when something really gets me pissed off I can’t resist. Generally, the reactions are for the most part positive but there’s certainly a plentiful amount of tweets that say “Fuck you, you Hollywood libtard.”
And people like Kim Kardashian tweets “good morning” and it gets 1,000 retweets and responses.
That’s idiotic. People do that on Facebook and it’s the dumbest thing in the world. I don’t care what your dinner looks like. Stop cluttering up the internet with pictures of your dinner. Like “How is everyone today” that is not a tweet, that’s just creating a mess.
When you watch TV, do watch any of the big popular shows like Mad Men or Homeland?
I don’t but I really should. I watch a lot of TV shows on DVD. If something sticks around long enough that it makes it to seasonal DVD release, I’ll watch it. That’s how I watched The Sopranos. I don’t really have any appointment viewings. I saw I think a lot of the first season of Mad Men and then I just got lazy and stopped watching. Same thing with The Wire. I watched the first season and then I just couldn’t get around to keeping up with that. The Sopranos was an usually addicting show. That was probably the last show I watched that was appointment viewing. The only thing I really watch every week consistently but it’s a different kind of show is Bill Maher. In the same way, it’s just a show that you can’t turn off, it’s too interesting.
Tina Fey said she doesn’t like to tweet because she would use up all her jokes.
That’s a very legitimate complaint. I worry about the same thing. I think she’s absolutely right. I find that I’m not going to use the best jokes I find on twitter. I use them for the shows. She’s correct.
From Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, what part of each show are you most proud of?
American Dad has emerged as something wholly unique and funny and I credit that to Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman who run that show on a daily basis. There’s a strangeness that they have managed to keep intact. They haven’t let it become mainstream in its sensibility. For Family Guy I’m proud of its endurance. I didn’t think it would be around this long.
How about The Cleveland Show?
Cleveland is a special case because that’s a show that vocally speaking I’m not a part of. Mike Henry who does the voice of Cleveland has really become the central mouthpiece for that show. There’s a lot of his unique sensibility on that show. I met him in college. I was friends with his brother and he made me laugh every time he came to town and he was such a talented guy. He and Rich Apple, who has written on pretty much every animated show out there up to and not including Bob’s Burgers, I think that’s the first show on Fox he hasn’t worked on. He worked on King of the Hill, he ran American Dad for a little while, he wrote for The Simpsons, he wrote for Family Guy, he co-created The Cleveland Show with Mike and I and is now running that show. He’s just a powerhouse. He managed to make that spin off its own creative animal and really honed Mike’s voice into something. It’s comfortable for Family Guy fans but at the same time it brings its own comedic tone to the table.
Over the years you’ve made fun of tons of celebrities on your shows. Has anyone gotten really pissed off?
Adrien Brody wasn’t too happy with me, which really bummed me out because I think he’s a fantastic actor.
Did you run into him at a party or something?
I did. I walked up to him and said, “I know we took a shot at you in Family Guy, but it’s all in fun.” But he wasn’t thrilled with the joke. Most people are really good sports, though. It’s a reaction The Simpsons has enjoyed for years.
There’s a difference, though, in how your shows and The Simpsons make fun of people versus, say, South Park.
I think there’s a tone of anger towards people on that show. I don’t know where it comes from. I’ve read interviews with Trey and Matt and they certainly strike me as angry guys.
Have you not met them?
I’ve met them in passing once or twice but I’ve never actually sat down to talk with them. They certainly spew a lot of venom towards Family Guy in their interviews and I’m not quite sure where that comes from but there sure is a lot of it.
Do you like South Park?
I think it’s hilarious. The movie was hilarious. The pilot that they did way back, Jesus versus Santa, was probably the hardest I ever laughed in my life. So yeah, they are hugely talented guys. I don’t know how gentlemanly their behavior is in the press from time to time, but they are talented guys.
Did you get to see The Book of Mormon?
I haven’t seen The Book of Mormon, but I’ve only heard good things.
With musicals part of your DNA, have you thought about doing a Broadway musical?
If I were to do a musical, I think I would rather make a film musical.
Where are you on production of new The Flintstones show? Is it moving forward?
It is. I was actually supposed to hand in the pilot today.
You can just blame it on this interview if it’s late.
I might have to.
The Flintstones is one of those shows like Gilligan’s Island...
There’s this tranquilizing effect to those shows. The Brady Bunch asks nothing of you as a viewer. Sometimes is just what the doctor ordered.
What about the tone? That’s a really weird question to ask.
It’s not going to be controversial in the way Family Guy is. What we are shooting for tonally is like mid-90’s Simpsons, Edgy and satirical but you’re not gonna see abortion jokes like you see on Family Guy.
Is it going to look like the original Flintstones?
It will look like the original Flintstones, yeah. All of the stylistic elements that were created by Hanna-Barbera in 1960 for prime time animation are what we are still using today, so there doesn’t seem to be a reason to change it for the sake of changing it. There’s a comfort level that comes with seeing those characters in that form that we have always known them. Most of the change will come in the form of content, like Fred lying to Wilma so he can go to a lodge meeting in secret. You can’t tell that story in 2013.
What about The Great Gazoo, is he going to be in it?
We have no immediate plans for Gazoo’s involvement.
Lois Griffin made the Maxim Hot 100 this year. Your folks over there have sent us this sexy drawing of her in which she is totally Maximed out. She’s the first animated woman in our Hot 100.
Yeah, I can’t complain about that.
Why do you think so many cartoon women have Red Hair? There’s Lois, Wilma, Jane Jetson, Daphne from Scooby-Doo.
Animated characters seem to be one dimensional at least in appearance, so hair color is one of the best ways to differentiate one character from another. If Velma and Daphne had the same hair color, they would look more alike than two live action actresses with the same hair color.
What's your signature drink.
Jack Daniels on the rocks.
What is the most important thing you have learned about women?
Wow. Um. Whatever you do, don’t be yourself.
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
Yeah. I have a scar on my forehead that is still there from when I was four years old when I fell out of a moving Volkswagen bus.
Were you being kidnapped by hippies?
Well it was the family car and my parents were hippies. My sister and I were in the bus and my mom parked it on a hill in the middle of the winter to go pick up another kid for car pool. The breaks slipped on an ice patch and it started rolling down the hill. So she was running alongside the bus and pulled me and my sister out and I fell down on my head and busted it open. I had about 17 stitches. My sister was 2 and landed on her ass and she was fine. And then the bus went up on a snow bank and tipped over and fell on top of my mother. So from her stomach down she was pinned by the bus; it shattered her pelvis.
This is horrifying.
Well now it definitely answers your question. She was in the hospital for two months and got out with no after effects, she made it through fine. I still have the scar, not too visible but it’s there.
What’s one thing you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?
Hmm. I don’t know, whatever you’re doing, keep doing it because things seem to have gone really well. I would probably warn him about 9/11-I guess, but then I would have to say you can’t fuck with the timeline cause look what happened to Marty McFly. Leave him with that ethical quandary.
Trey Parker & Matt Stone