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10 April 2013

“The Cleveland Show’s” Mike Henry talks laughs, fame

Writer and producer Mike Henry makes others laugh for a living. Henry not only is a voice-cast member for “Family Guy,” but he is also the co-creator, executive producer and a voice-cast member of “The Cleveland Show.”

Henry, who grew up in Virginia, attended Collegiate School. He later attended Washington and Lee University. His brother, on the other hand, attended Rhode Island School of Design. Henry acted in his brother’s short films and met Seth MacFarlane.

Later, when MacFarlane sold “Family Guy” to Fox, he asked Henry to help him work on the show. Now, Henry keeps himself busy while working on “Family Guy” and “The Cleveland Show.” He has also had appearances on “Gilmore Girls” and “Robot Chicken.”

Henry’s never been to Miami, and after his agent suggested he visit, he took the opportunity to come visit the Magic City. At UM, he will talk about the animation process and his experiences in Hollywood.

His talk will mostly focus on following your true passion, despite the obstacles you meet along the way.

Henry took the time to speak to The Miami Hurricane and talk about how he got involved in comedy and showbiz.

The Miami Hurricane: What’s been your favorite part about working with Seth MacFarlane?

Mike Henry: He has such a keen knack for comedy, and won’t accept anything less than hilarious. That’s been the biggest thing for me, it’s learning from him. If it’s funny, and not too terribly mean, you absolutely go for it.

TMH: Is there a line you guys try not to cross when writing the comic scenes for the show?

MH: There are things, personally, that I wouldn’t want to do. Like make fun of a cancer kid, but I think that’s kind of the merit of “Family Guy.” It’s really all up to Seth. I think sometimes he’ll say some things that are too personally harsh, like when the spaceship Challenger blew up, he wouldn’t do jokes about that. So, sometimes, we’ll pull back, but for the most part, like I said, if it’s funny, we’ll just go for it.

TMH: Do you ever feel sometimes, maybe under-recognized because it’s your voice on camera and not your face?

MH: Um, no, not at all I think. It’s actually kind of a blessing because, you know, I can step out into the general public and rarely get recognized. I think when it’s a more “Family Guy” specific event, then I’m more of a celebrity. But, I don’t have to deal with things that Seth and people with a larger on-camera career have to deal with. Also, I should say, I’m going to be on camera in the near future; I’m getting a movie together that I’m going to be in, and that’ll be my introduction in a lot of ways, although I do have 15 years of doing something that people know, although they don’t necessarily know my face.

TMH: Are you allowed to speak more about that movie or is that still in the works?

MH: I would say I kind of got side-tracked into “Family Guy.” I wasn’t a big animation buff or anything, I was more into on-camera and live-action pursuits. But you know, those things have been on hold since I’ve been enjoying “Family Guy” and “The Cleveland Show.” But, I’m getting to a point now where I need to scratch that itch and do my live action which will be independent and I’m going to package myself and be the star of.

TMH: You’ve done some other work, too. You’ve been on “Gilmore Girls” and “Robot Chicken.” Can you tell me more about that?

MH: I’ve done some acting and it’s mostly been through people that I know. I voice-acted on “Robot Chicken” through Seth Green, I was on “Gilmore Girls” a few times, because one of the producers knew me from “Family Guy.” I’ve done other little shows … I was in the movie “Ted.” I’ve done live action a little bit here and there, but nothing that I’ll get stopped on the street for.

TMH: What’s been your favorite thing to work for and what do you hope to work for in the future?

MH: I love working on animated shows. It’s great fun, because you could kind of do anything, and you can do terrible things, you can do hilarious things and get away with it because it’s all animated. But I really want to get into live action. That’s really where I think my future is; my passion’s there.

TMH: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got the role as “Cleveland” on “Family Guy” and how that turned into its own show?

MH: Sure! At the very beginning of “Family Guy,” Seth had the family figured out. We just needed some friends for Peter, and I had recently just played basketball with this dude in Virginia, actually, who I just started imitating with the “Family Guy” writers around and that was Cleveland, you know, kind of just a low-key guy, an easy going guy. The writers laughed at it and we just kind of developed him. Cleveland, I just found, I pitched so much Cleveland stuff that there was no time for it in “Family Guy,” and kind of the universe lined up at the right time. And we thought, here’s the perfect guy for a spin-off, so that’s kind of where that came from.

TMH: That’s really cool. It sounds like you were just playing around with a bunch of friends and it turns into something huge.

MH: It is really cool. I helped Seth write Ted…it’s just kind of cool. I remember Seth when he was 19, and he was just kind of this hilarious guy but just kind of random. He drove a white Toyota Tercel, and it was 5 or 6 years old, kind of an old, beat up car, and now he could probably buy Toyota.

TMH: Do you have any words of wisdom or words of inspiration for any aspiring college student who may want to get into the film industry or maybe into the animated cartoon industry?

MH: Yea, absolutely. I think you’ll find, at the talk, that’s actually what a lot of the talk will end up being. I will talk a bit about how I got to work with the show…It was shortly after college that I realized all I wanted to do was be funny … it was basically 8 long years before “Family Guy” ever happened … there was a lot of struggle, a lot of questioning myself and a lot of perseverance before I got a break. That’s going to be a lot of what I talk about, following your passion, because you only live once and you’ve got to do what makes you happy.

If you go

What: “From Quahog to Stoolbend: An Evening with Mike Henry, writer and producer of ‘Family Guy’ and ‘The Cleveland Show'”

When: 9 p.m. Monday

Where: Bill Cosford Cinema

The event is free for all UM students.