50 Trivia Tidbits About Seth MacFarlane on His 50th Birthday
From writing his first cartoons at the age of nine (for money) to having some of the most successful adult animated series in history (that’s made him a helluva lot of money), Seth Woodbury MacFarlane might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying the actor, writer, producer and musician’s influence on the industry at large. On his 50th birthday, learn more about the man who likes to drink Jack Daniels on the rocks, dreams of a positive future and once pissed off Adrien Brody with a Family Guy gag...
The Origins of His Middle Name
“A lot of the men on my mother’s side had the middle name Woodbury, and we asked my grandfather where it came from,” MacFarlane explained to Esquire. “He said that when he was born in Gardiner, Maine, in 1904, his mother thought that the town drunk was the funniest guy she’d ever met, and his name was Woodbury, so we’re all named after not just a drunk, but a jolly turn-of-the-century drunk.”
The Mayflower Lineage
He Played Ted in ‘Ted’ (And Not Just the Voice)
MacFarlane did the motion capture for Mark Wahlberg’s thunder-buddy just like Andy Serkis did for Gollum.
A Cabin in the Woods
MacFarlane told Howard Stern that his parents were hippies and that he grew up in a log cabin in a town with around 600 inhabitants. “My father built two houses, and one of them was the log cabin, and the other one was a timber frame that he couldn’t — he refused to build a house that was not built with the techniques that were used 300 years ago,” he said.
He Drew Cartoons for the Local Newspaper as a Kid
In the same interview, MacFarlane revealed that he was nine when he started doing cartoons for the town newspaper. He remained the paper’s cartoonist until he went off to college.
That was the name of his comic strip for the newspaper.
On Growing Up Watching Carl Sagan
“Cosmos was life-changing for me,” he told The New Yorker. “I was hooked from a pretty young age. There are surprisingly few great science communicators, which is always strange to me. One could argue that there is nothing more interesting than science. It’s the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to the human race.”
‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ Was the Product of an Inside Joke
MacFarlane and his frequent collaborators, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, were watching the 1968 revisionist Western Hang’ Em High when an idea hit them. “We were talking about how this era is so romanticized in American film and literature, but it was actually a time and place that would have been so unbelievably depressing and dangerous to live in, particularly if you weren’t an alpha male. It took off from there.”
He Wrote More on ‘The Orville’ Than He Did on ‘Family Guy’
MacFarlane was the showrunner and remains an executive producer on Family Guy, but he rarely did any actual scripts for the show. He did, however, write on The Orville, churning out around half of the first season’s scripts.
In Fact, He Hasn’t Written For ‘Family Guy’ Since 2010
The man said so himself during a Reddit AMA, explaining that he wanted to focus on acting and producing instead.
The Birth of ‘Family Guy’
Per the Los Angeles Times, MacFarlane first started drawing a New England man who got along with his dog better than with his own son while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) when he was 23. His 1995 thesis film, Life of Larry, would later be turned into Family Guy. It also had glimpses of another show he would do in the future.
Before the ‘Family Guy’ Pilot
Life of Larry would get its own sequel, titled Larry & Steve, which aired on Cartoon Network in 1997. Fox saw both these short animations and contacted MacFarlane to offer him a series based on his characters.
The ‘Larry’ Series Was Meant for ‘MADtv’
“Family Guy was supposed to be a series of shorts on MADtv, in the way that The Simpsons began on Tracey Ullman,” MacFarlane explained to IGN. “It just came down to a budgetary thing. They didn’t really have the budget to do any kind of animation at that point.”
He Wrote ‘The Orville’ on Spec
MacFarlane told Deadline that he wrote the untitled spec script because “I’ve wanted to do something like this show ever since I was a kid,” and the timing felt right. Fox and 20th Television jumped at the opportunity to make the show.
He Recorded a Song with Logic
Released earlier this year, “Self Medication” on Logic’s album, College Park, features MacFarlane, Redman and Statik Selektah.
A Disney Animator
In the interview with IGN, MacFarlane admitted that when he was a young lad full of hopes and dreams, he was “hell-bent on being a Disney animator.” He did, however, say that he “sort of got over that in college and wanted to do my own stuff.”
Almost Ditched Animation
“You know, toward the end of college, I had actually planned to go to the Boston Conservatory of Music for musical theater,” he added. “I had had a lot of vocal training, which came in handy with all the little Broadway numbers we did on Family Guy.”
He Grew Up Watching R-Rated Comedies
“My parents let me watch Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, these R-rated comedies when I was seven,” MacFarlane said in the Los Angeles Times interview. “I had a very strong family unit, and so there wasn’t much damage that was done from those films. But when your kid is being raised by TV, it could be a different story,” he added, saying that he supported the existence of the Parents Television Council (PTC).
Not Easy Though
Still, he did once liken the attacks he’s received from the PTC to “getting hate mail from Hitler. They’re literally terrible human beings, rotten to the core,” he added of the group who once blogged that “until MacFarlane steps away from his sycophantic audience of frat boys and perverts, and actually stops treating rape and child molestation as jokes, no one will ever respect him.” They even had a fundraiser at one point, proclaiming, “Whatever would America’s sex-crazed, adolescent potheads do without Seth MacFarlane to amuse them? To help the PTC fight Seth MacFarlane’s filth, click here.”
He Did ‘The Cleveland Show’ for His Buddy
In his interview with Esquire, MacFarlane said that The Cleveland Show was a showcase for his co-creator, Mike Henry, whom he’d known since college. “His comedy is very unique. He grew up in Virginia, so he’s got that background,” MacFarlane explained.
Thanks, Art School
MacFarlane greatly credits his alma mater for getting him into the animation industry. “Really, RISD had a lot to do with getting me my first job, which, oftentimes, colleges won’t necessarily do that,” he told IGN. They sent my film to Hanna-Barbera to compete in this student film competition. I didn’t even know they were doing it. And I ended up winning. It brought me to the attention of that studio, and that was where I was. I got a job offer there, probably about two weeks before I was supposed to graduate, and it was pretty exciting.”
He Wrote on ‘Johnny Bravo’
While at Hanna-Barbera, MacFarlane got to write for cartoons like Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Laboratory and Cow and Chicken.
‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’
He’s also credited with writing four episodes of the 1990s animated spin-off cartoon.
He’s Donated to the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive
In 2012, he donated papers from Sagan to the Library of Congress, who promptly created the Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive. “The work of Carl Sagan has been a profound influence in my life,” he said in a statement, “and the life of every individual who recognizes the importance of humanity’s ongoing commitment to the exploration of our universe. The continuance of our journey outward into space should always occupy some part of our collective attention, regardless of whatever Snooki did last week.”
He’s a Democrat
MacFarlane supported Bernie Sanders for the 2016 presidential campaign and, following the primaries, backed Hillary Clinton. For the 2020 election, he supported Pete Buttigieg and endorsed Joe Biden following his victory in the primaries.
He Was Supposed to Be on American Airlines Flight 11 on 9/11
MacFarlane was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles on the hijacked flight, but thanks to a hangover and his travel agent giving him the wrong departure time, he missed boarding by 10 minutes. “The only reason it hasn’t really affected me as it maybe could have is I didn’t really know that I was in any danger until after it was over, so I never had that panic moment,” he once said. “After the fact it was sobering, but people have a lot of close calls; you’re crossing the street, and you almost get hit by a car — this one just happened to be related to something massive. I really can’t let it affect me because I’m a comedy writer. I have to put that in the back of my head.”
‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’
MacFarlane was an executive producer on the 2014 Neil deGrasse Tyson reboot.
Musical Training with the Best
When MacFarlane first came to Los Angeles, he trained with Lee and Sally Sweetland, the vocal trainers of legends like Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra.
He’s an Atheist
In case there was anyone who didn’t already know that. “I do not believe in God. I’m an atheist. I consider myself a critical thinker, and it fascinates me that in the 21st century, most people still believe in, as George Carlin puts it, ‘the invisible man living in the sky,’” he once quipped.
A TV Record
At 24, MacFarlane became the youngest showrunner in television history when Family Guy debuted.
Comedy Central’s Roastmaster
MacFarlane has been the roastmaster of three Comedy Central roasts (David Hasselhoff, Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen), officially making him the most used roastmaster to date.
He Credits His Family for His Sense of Humor
“A lot of that came from my family, actually,” he told IGN, referring to his penchant for pushing boundaries. “Everybody in my family had a real sick, twisted sense of humor. Most of the jokes we make in our house, we would just never even dream of making anywhere else. Just sick, horrible stuff. That wasn’t anything new to college. We’d always been a bunch of sick bastards.”
He’s Rebooting ‘The Naked Gun’ Franchise
He Pissed Off Adrien Brody
When Maxim once asked him who’s really gotten mad at him for ripping on them in Family Guy, MacFarlane said he once ran into Brody at a party and that the actor wasn’t too thrilled with him. “Adrien Brody wasn’t too happy with me, which really bummed me out because I think he’s a fantastic actor,” MacFarlane said.
What He Loves About ‘Star Trek’
“It was important to take a cue from Gene Roddenberry that somehow we’ve gotten past money,” he told the New Yorker on what he loved about Star Trek and what he tried to incorporate into The Orville. “Money can’t be a factor. It’s too primitive. I really love that, in Star Trek, reputation becomes the main form of currency in the absence of money. When you think about it, it’s not the warp drive, it’s not the transporter, it’s the replicator. We give a little nod to that in The Orville.
On Explaining Stewie
MacFarlane once explained how Stewie’s family can both hear him talk and not take anything he says to heart. “Yeah, the best analogy I can come up with — there was an incident where my cousin’s 4-year-old son was leaving our house, and he turned to my mother and said, ‘I’ll see you in hell,’” he said. “No one really knew where he picked that up, but everyone was laughing their asses off because here was this 4-year-old telling my mother he would see her in hell. So basically, if you look at it like that, let’s say hypothetically the kid was deadly serious, which Stewie was, people would still say, ‘Oh, isn’t that cute.’ So they can understand him; they just didn’t take it seriously.”
Inspired by George W. Bush
“We were so frustrated with the Bush administration that we would just spend days bitching and complaining, and we figured we should channel this into something creative and hopefully profitable,” MacFarlane said about the initial driving force behind American Dad.
On Being Super Proud of ‘American Dad’
“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,” MacFarlane told Maxim back in 2012. “There’s a strangeness that they have managed to keep intact. They haven’t let it become mainstream in its sensibility.”
MacFarlane has credited folks like Jackie Gleason, Bill Maher, Mel Brooks and Monty Python as his comedy influences, with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Gordon MacRae and the Rat Pack being his musical inspirations.
His production company, Fuzzy Door, is named after a door in his house in college that was always covered in leopard-printed fake fur.
The Easiest Character…
“You know what’s strange? Tom Tucker, the news guy, was always the easiest character of all to do for some reason,” MacFarlane told IGN. “I guess it was because everything is delivered in that newsy, this is all very formal, and everything is 100 percent under control, and this is what’s going on. He was sort of modeled after the cigarette spokesman from the 1940s commercials.”
...And the Hardest
“Stewie was definitely — that took the most energy,” he said. “I mean, both Stewie and Peter were high-energy characters. Just as far as sheer exhaustion, Stewie was definitely at the top of the list. I was usually red in the face after I got done with Stewie scenes.”
He’s Recorded with Barbra Streisand
MacFarlane joined her for a duet on her album, Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway.
He Has Seven Studio Albums to His Name
Blue Skies, his seventh album, dropped in 2022.
His ‘Bones’ Cameo
MacFarlane had a cameo voicing Stewie in a Bones episode where Booth has a tumor-induced hallucination.
On Falling Out of a Moving Volkswagen As a Kid
“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,” he told Maxim. “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 carpool. The brakes 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 two and landed on her ass, and she was fine. And then the bus went up on a snowbank 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.”
A Union Man
MacFarlane fully participated in the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike, even calling out Fox for wanting to continue producing Family Guy due to contractual stipulations. During this year’s WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike, he donated $1 million to The Entertainment Community Fund to help those affected by the strike.
On the Power of Science-Fiction
“Science fiction is the only genre that really allows you to explore issues with a point of view without seeming preachy,” MacFarlane told the New Yorker. “And, practically speaking, it is undeniable that shows like the original Star Trek begat a generation of scientists and engineers and astrophysicists. That spaceship looked like the crowning achievement of mankind. What kid is going to watch The Hunger Games and go, ‘Man, I want to be a scientist?’ The Orville is part drama, part comedy, but we did go out of our way to make the ship real, and to make it appealing, and to make it look like a place you’d want to be. Even though there are jokes in the show, it was very important that the world of The Orville still be very real, that you could look at it and go, ‘That seems like a fun future. I hope that’s where we wind up.’ That, to me, is the power of science fiction.”
The Voice of Emperor Palpatine
MacFarlane provided the voice of the Star Wars villain for some sketches on Robot Chicken.
He Has a Frog Named After Him
In 2022, a newly discovered, very toxic frog species was named after MacFarlane: the Hyloscirtus sethmacfarlanei. It’s the thought that counts.