Mike Henry and I go way back. We attended the same school here for many years, lived next door to each other as kids -- I even babysat for him and his writer/director and brother Patrick. So this makes me the obvious influence in his wonderful success as a writer, producer and voiceover artist (he's Cleveland, Greased Up Deaf Guy and the pedophilic Herbert) for Fox's huge hit "Family Guy."
Actually, to the chagrin of his locally famous artist parents portrait artist Barbara Sullivan Henry and her husband, longtime Virginia Commonwealth University sculpture department instructor Charles Henry had no aspirations to be involved with show business until he was out of college. But ultimately he did pursue an entertainment career and is widely known for his work as a writer/producer/voice actor on one of the most popular animated shows on television.
Henry is relaxing at his Richmond residence while the writers union and powers that rule residual payments on DVD sales are hashing it out in Hollywood. We met at a local coffee shop to talk about his career, the hallmark 100th episode of "Family Guy" and his take on badly written writers' strike picket signs. One thing he could not share is what he calls some "exciting news about an upcoming 'Family Guy'-related project" to be announced after the strike is over.
Style: How did you end up in Hollywood as a writer?
Mike Henry: Right before I moved to New York, I went up to RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], where my brother [Patrick] was in school, and I acted in his films. I did all these crazy characters. One of the guys there was Seth MacFarlane, who created "Family Guy" a couple of years later. Seth and I immediately hit it off and made each other laugh, so we stayed in touch for a couple of years, and he sold "Family Guy." In the meantime, I'd been in New York acting in commercials, doing a bunch of short films for ["Saturday Night Live" producer] Lorne Michaels. Then Seth called with "Family Guy," so I went to work on that as a writer and voice actor.
So the concept was already there for that show when you went out to L.A.?
For "Family Guy"? Yeah.
And then you went out there and sort of joined his band of Merry Men.
So he invited me to write those gags for the show and create some characters for the show. That started in 1998 and I've been there ever since, except for when we were canceled for a few years. In the meantime my brother and I shot this short film called "Kicked in the Nuts." You can see "Kicked in the Nuts" at kickedinthenuts.com.
You still have that Web site?
Oh, yes. That's been downloaded 5 million times, and we actually have a DVD coming out.
You guys just had your 100th episode of "Family Guy." What was that like?
Cool. We had this big ol' hundredth episode party with a lot of promotion. It's awesome. [The show] pretty much died after 50 [episodes], and since it got brought back, there's been so much support behind it. Our ratings are huge. We beat "The Simpsons" a lot. It's validating.
What about the writers' strike?
I think the writers do have a reasonable gripe here. They're getting such a small fraction of the DVD revenues, and particularly on "Family Guy," which is I think overall one of the top two or three TV shows sold on DVD ever as far as gross receipts go. We [writers] don't get jack.
And without the writer there would be no product at all.
Yeah. There is no provision whatsoever off of that [DVD sales for writers]. I hope they resolve it soon. If not, then I'll just relax.
That's because you have all that voiceover money coming in, so what do you care?
Well, they've halted production, so I'm not making any money off that right now.
I understand that Fox is planning to finish three more new episodes of "Family Guy." What do you think about that?
It is really uncool if [Fox executives] go ahead and air those because of them not having Seth MacFarlane's final touches.
So the final edits are what have not been done, correct?
Right. They will get non-writers and people who are not on strike like the sound editors to do their jobs. Little things will be missing, like jokes we might add to fill a pause or some musical elements.
Do you think that will affect the quality of those episodes?
They will definitely not be as good or tight as Seth-approved episodes. The network is playing hardball. It is really not cool to air those shows without Seth's doing the final call.
What do you think of the crappy slogans of the striking writers?
You know what? Honestly, the writers didn't write the slogans. They're on strike.
So you think it was someone in the union office?
Yeah, someone else wrote them. The writers did not write their signs. Thus the "crappy" slogans.
Good to know. So if you could write one now, what would it be?
If I was gonna write one, it would say You know what? I'm not allowed to say right now. I'm not allowed to pitch it to you.
The writers' strike strikes again. S