Even Family Guy’s Arif Zahir was stunned when he took over Cleveland

“I was completely baffled,” Arif Zahir says, describing his reaction to receiving some genuinely life-changing news from Fox Television. “I got a call, sent it to voicemail because I thought it was spam. I checked the voicemail … and it was the executive producer [of Family Guy].”

A number of animated characters from color were changed to better reflect their identities during the Black Lives Matters protests in 2020. Big Mouth’s Missy, voiced by Jenny Slate, and Central Park’s Molly, voiced by Kristen Bell, were both mixed race who were eventually replaced by Ayo Edebiri and Emmy Raver-Lampman, respectively. Family GuyUnderwent its own changes: Mike Henry announced that he would be leaving the position on Twitter. Henry had voiced Cleveland for more than 20 years. “persons of color should play characters of color.”Zahir is a YouTuber well-known for imitating iconic characters and was hired by the show to assume the role in season 20.

“It was extremely intimidating,” says Zahir, especially considering it’s one of the first times that an actor stepped down from a major, long-running role to hand it off to a person of color. “When [the voice actors for]Scooby Doo and Shaggy from the Looney Tunes [were replaced], that was because the actors got old and couldn’t do the voices anymore, so they got new actors. This was a situation where he was still able to do it but it was his choice to step down and a new person came into such a big iconic role.”

Zahir, drawn to the character’s distinct voice and calm personality, started doing Cleveland impressions in high school. Since he began his YouTube channel 8 years ago, his rendition of the Cleveland voice is a staple. Henry was stepping down. He inspired him to take the following steps: TikTok to post a video

“If there’s an area where a person of color is able to step into a role, obviously that should be given or attempted to be auditioned for,” says Zahir. “I personally don’t believe as a voice actor that obviously every single race has to be played by that race — that’s the power of voice acting. But I’m saying if there’s a position where they could have that, why not give that person a shot?”

Zahir was stunned by the passionate and immediate reaction of long-time fans when the casting was revealed. Although he knew that fans loved the voice actor and their character, Zahir was overwhelmed by the volume of reaction. Lots

“The first day I got it it was like my phone was like Zoom-zoom-zoomFrom literally 6 a.m. up to 6 a.m. on the next day. [People were like] ‘love it’ ‘oh my god’ ‘love it’ ‘this guy sucks’ ‘oh my god I got you freak,’” he laughs. “I was like ‘Oh no, my god, do they hate me?!’ But luckily, I had the support of my friends in the comments., ‘Hey check this video out he actually does sound like Cleveland’ and people would go ‘he sucks’ and then watch the video and come back and go ‘alright he’s pretty good I’ll give him a shot.’ The eyes on me from millions of people, that I was not expecting.”

With the importance of the role’s legacy and fan expectations, Zahir said that Henry was an extremely helpful mentor during the entire process. Henry shared his thoughts on creating Henry the character and giving him life over two decades. He wished Zahir all the best.

“He told me the words that describe what Cleveland: kindness, compassion, empathy and humor. And I take that to the studio every single time I record with that mind,” says Zahir.

Season 20 Family GuyIt is being aired on Fox.

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