Family Guy experienced a major behind-the-scenes change when veteran voice actor Mike Henry decided to step down from his decades-long role as Cleveland Brown. Luckily, the producers were able to find a fitting replacement in YouTuber Arif Zahir. There’s a good chance there may have been some doubt on fans’ part when Henry first announced his decision, as it left the character’s immediate future up in the air. However, it looks like the show’s creatives never had plans to retire Peter Griffin’s best friend altogether.
While recently discussing Zahir’s casting, Family Guy executive producer Richard Appel explained that it would have been a shame to write Cleveland out of the show after Henry vacated the role. But Appel, Seth MacFarlane and their team believe the character brings too much to the show to be taken away so abruptly:
He’s a great character, and great for Peter and Quagmire and Joe to interact with. When you have the luxury of having 20 seasons, it’s nice that you can rely on the shared history of those four characters. It was a flowchart with one box: Can we find the second most perfect Cleveland — and someone who could live up to Mike’s standards.
Appel made a fair point when discussing the situation with Variety. Likewise, Arif Zahir admitted to the trade that he would’ve been disappointed if Cleveland had been written out. Still, he also says he would’ve respected the wishes of MacFarlane, Henry and everyone involved had they opted to move in that direction.
Zahir, a longtime Family Guy fan, has been doing Cleveland Brown interpretations for years, and his talent for impersonating the slow-talking character would eventually gain him fans on social media. This helped get him on Family Guy’s radar, and he won the part after the casting officials at Family Guy “cast a wide net.”
Since Zahir’s casting, Mike Henry has shown support for the up-and-coming voice actor. When Zahir initially announced the news of his casting on Instagram, Henry commented, expressing his excitement about working with him and offering to talk “Cleve to Cleve.” Zahir excitedly reciprocated his sentiments.
It’s good to see that Family Guy ultimately opted not to get rid of Cleveland. The character has been a staple on the show since 1999 and has become very popular among fans. It was this popularity that helped earn the character his self-titled spinoff series, The Cleveland Show. Although the show would only run for four seasons and wouldn’t earn rave reviews, Cleveland was promptly brought back to Family Guy.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of love for Cleveland Brown within the fanbase and among the creatives at Family Guy. Arif Zahir’s casting helps to solidify his place on the show, and it’s exciting to think about what the actor does with this beloved character.