Family Guy is a critically acclaimed and popular animated television show created by Seth Macfarlane. The series centers around The Griffin family, which consists of parents Peter and Lois, and their children Meg, Chris, and Stewie, and the talking upright walking dog Brian. Each episode depicts the Griffin’s lives and antics, usually located in Quahog, a fictional Rhode Island city. The show features numerous characters and personalities that supplement the show’s cutaway gag humour, for which it is primarily known for, and the cultural commenting present in the writing.
Most of the show’s comedy derives from the often satirical mocking on American culture. Family Guy has achieved three Primetime and three Annie Emmy awards over its running (1998 – 2015) and has been acclaimed as one of the best, if not the best, animated television shows of all time.
Peter Griffin is Family Guy’s primary main character and arguably most well known of all the other characters, apart from his maniacal infant son Stewie. His voice, which is performed by Seth Macfarlane like many of the show’s voices, is readily recognizable with a heavy accent that parodies the typical Boston accent.
However, at the 2014 New York comic con Robert Franzese, who is now hailed as the ‘Real Life Peter Griffin’ appeared doned in the classic white button shirt, green pants, and circular round glasses that are synonymous with Family Guy’s leading character. Franzese’s face, physical appearance, attire, and uncanny ability to recreate Peter Griffin’s voice has led his videos to blow up and go viral. He began impressioning the animated character about two years ago when he went to an ATM and yelled “Oh my god I won!” in Peter Griffin’s signature voice.
In itself Family Guy is a very successful and popular show among the United States viewers; nearly any person you approached on the street will have at least heard of the series. Peter Griffin, in particular, is a character that is equally as recognizable. Over the course of the show certain phrases and behaviors have become associated with Peter Griffin, such as his favorability towards “Surfin Bird” by the Trashmen, which he sings word for word. If one were to type surfin bird in the search engine Google, the first most searched result that would appear is “Surfin Bird Family Guy”. If anything, Family Guy is an enormous entity in modern popular culture.
The video of Robert Franzese performing as the Real Life Peter Griffin gained popularity extremely quickly and became viral within a couple of days. Franzese has grown very popular in a short amount of time and now sports a facebook and twitter page dedicated to his mimicking of Peter Griffin. His popularity is based on his ability to impersonate a fictional character that another individual created. However, that character being Peter Griffin, one of the most discernable animated characters of all time, Franzese’s recreation is easily recognizable due to the massive audience that Family Guy has acquired. Most first time onlookers or viewers of the video share a common sense of awe as they witness a widely known animated character come to life before them. Franzese’s humour is quite funny, his mirroring of Peter Griffin’s antics are spot on, and because of that he has become quite a popular phenomenon. However, aside from utilizing his ability to simply regurgitating happenings on the tv show, the fact that he can transform from a normal person to largely known entity is also responsible for his explosion in popularity. As stated by Franzese,
“I’m like a nobody. I have a nobody job, making nobody pay, but then I go to New York comic con and people are pulling out phones like I’m freaking Brad Pitt.”
The act of of transforming from a ‘nobody’ to the ever popular Peter Griffin is not only inspirational to Franzese himself, but also his audience, whether they are aware of it or not. In general, people admire comedic skill and awe, which Franzese displays both of during his time as Peter Griffin. If it were not for his audience reacting in such a way, whipping out their phones and filming Franzese, he would not have become nearly as popular nor virally successful as he would be just simply cosplaying Peter Griffin. Linda Holmes, an expert on pop culture, stated in her article:
It’s good to know and think about what people ought to watch and read and listen to, ideally; all that is good stuff, and worth talking about, and worth arguing about. But it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a whole other universe of things that people care about and watch and like or get angry about, and whether they ought to or not, the fact that they do — and they way they do — tells you something about them.
As is true about most pop culture, the reactions to certain phenomenon are just as important, if not more so, as the subject matter itself. In this case, it is the fact that Franzese is able to create a suspension of disbelief effect with his acting. Peter Griffin is an animated character who is entirely fake and fictional. However, fans of the show, like myself, feel as though they are able to personally talk and interact with Peter Griffin via Franzese. There’s nothing more charming than being able to meet one of your favorite characters.
Franzese’s transformation is a simple one; he whips out a pair of round glasses from his front pocket, slips them on, and begins saying one of the many Peter Griffin catchphrases. His ability to manipulate his voice is truly adept and proves to be an almost more accurate depiction of the character than Macfarlane’s original voice. Peter Griffin’s classic “nehehehe” laugh is recreated by Franzese nearly perfectly as well as other of the show’s famous quotes, such as his rendition of Surfin Bird. According to Franzese, “It’s the reactions I get out of what I do, that gives me the joy of what I do.” He feels like a ‘million bucks’ as does his audience when he puts on the round pair of glasses and skillfully embodies the fictional character. Franzese is largely a popular success as the Real Life Peter Griffin and even caught the attention of Family Guy creator, Seth Macfarlane, and that’s freakin` sweet.