Since the 1999 debut of his hit series Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane has been best known for his filthy fiefdom of anarchic, envelope-pushing cartoons. Lately he’s been expanding his empire, hosting SNL, recording a Grammy-nominated album of standards and show tunes, and directing a Hollywood blockbuster, Ted, in which MacFarlane gave voice to a horny, drug-abusing toy bear. His official coronation as a showbiz don came earlier this month, when he was announced as next year’s Oscar host. But the 39-year-old confesses, “I love a good fart joke.”
Why do the Oscars frequently suck, and how will you make them better?
All of them have had redeeming qualities. It’s about finding that balance between doing what I do but acknowledging that this is the Academy Awards, not the roast of Donald Trump. It’s walking that line between old-fashioned showmanship and allowing it to be contemporary with a little bit of bite. Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal are two hosts who walked that line. There’s a moment on Family Guy that’s just Gene Kelly dancing with Stewie – that’s what we have to achieve, a dance between the traditional and the new.
Are you going to write the show with your Family Guy team?
The staff hasn’t been assembled. But this is not going to be Family Guy Meets the Oscars. Hosts who come in with a specific brand and try to turn the show into the brand, it never works. You have to adapt yourself to the Oscars, not vice versa.
For all its success, Family Guy is sometimes dismissed as frat-boy humor. Does that surprise you?
A lot of that comes, I think, from people who haven’t actually seen the show. They’re going with what they’ve heard. The show itself contains a degree of frat-boy humor – there are fart jokes, there are shit jokes. But we try to include an equal amount of intelligent humor. If it makes you laugh, what’s wrong with that? There’s room for both highbrow and lowbrow.
Louis C.K. has said he loves Family Guy, but the show has also been mocked by The Simpsons and South Park. Did you ever feel like you were on the outside of some comedy in-crowd?
At one point, that was the case. But the Family Guy crowd and the Simpsons crowd have become friendly over time. I thought the South Park episode making fun of us was funny and accurate. But what I don’t understand is the personal venom that they spew in the press about the show and about me, where it’s not in the context of a joke. That’s a little baffling. They let loose with this vitriol in every interview I read with them. It’d be interesting to know where it comes from, because I don’t know them.
As someone who pokes fun at pieties, what are your thoughts on the Innocence of Muslims video and the riots it provoked?
In all honesty, I glaze over with this stuff because it happens all the time over there. There’s just constant boiling rage – it’s like, “What else is new?” It’s just another round of religious-based fury. It’s like following the presidential race. I’m yawning. I’m numb.
You’re rebooting the Carl Sagan science show Cosmos. Do you hope creationists tune in? Among others. The show doesn’t have an agenda. It’s going to be educational. Science has become politicized, and that’s an embarrassment. Evolution doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not, no more than gravity does. I want to rekindle excitement over what we’ve achieved as a species with the space program. We can’t afford to regress back to the days of superstition.
Ted was about a kid who retains a childhood fantasy into adulthood. You’re unmarried, and you make your living in cartoons. Do you feel a bit like an overgrown kid?
Oddly, I don’t relate a lot to that character. I never had a stuffed animal I wished would come to life. The story felt universal enough to resonate. But working in entertainment, you have to retain a degree of childishness. That’s one reason Spielberg has been so successful: He’s been able to maintain that sense of wonder into adulthood. I suppose that makes people like us a little more stunted than everyone else, emotionally.
This is from the October 25th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.