One of the comedic brains behind the popular animated series Family Guy gives DigitalJournal.com a peek behind the curtain to unveil the truth behind Fox's censors, his thoughts on Sarah Palin's criticism of the show and rumours of a Family Guy film.
You've seen Alec Sulkin's name if you've stuck around watching the final credits of a Family Guy show. He might be billed as a writer or co-executive producer. No matter his label, Sulkin is known to be instrumental in shaping Fox's edgy animated series.
Now in its eighth season and airing on Sunday night, Family Guy recently made headlines for one of its controversial episodes, this time featuring a girl with Down Syndrome who says her mom is the former governor of Alaska. Sarah Palin responded by calling the show creators "cruel, cold-hearted people."
When asked about his reaction to Palin's outburst, Sulkin tells DigitalJournal.com from his L.A. home: "I actually think Palin was overjoyed we gave her another few weeks of relevancy and an opportunity to speak to media." He paused, before adding, "She's right, we are cruel jerks."
Sulkin is quick to admit Family Guy writers take pot shots at every public figure and ethnic group, a hallmark of the show's appeal to some. To others, it's bad taste. But few can deny Family Guy's relevance in today's cultural zeitgeist; Stewie T-shirts have become commonplace and Family Guy has become so popular the show creators released a spinoff this season called The Cleveland Show.
Screenshot of Family Guy episode called Blue Harvest, where the cartoon characters play characters from Star Wars
Recently, Family Guy aired a new episode featuring a segment about Terri Schiavo, an American woman in a vegetative state who was taken off life support at the request of a Florida court. The Family Guy characters were attending a musical based on Schiavo, and Stewie was dressed as the plug that was inevitably pulled. Yes, it might make the sensitive among us cringe, but Family Guy fans would consider this reference mild in comparison to other insulting segments.
How does this kind of material pass through Fox's staunch censors?
Sulkin says each show has to go through various censorship levels and lawyers. "Some of the best jokes are cut," he admits. "I'm disappointed when something deemed too offensive is cut," Sulkin says, "but we get away with a lot too."
Family Guy writers have gone after Jews, lesbians, African-Americans, paraplegics, pedophiles, the Pope, pro-lifers, pro-choice advocates, you name it. But there are a few quirky rules Fox mandates for the Family Guy writers.
For some reason, Sulkin says, Family Guy can't include the word "Jesus" as an exclamation, as in "Jesus, what a horrible restaurant!" But Fox will allow a character named Jesus to interact with Family Guy characters in ungodly ways.
Also, Sulkin finds it strange Family Guy can't include sexual innuendo statements, such as "doing it", but can then portray steamy make-out sessions that lead to implied sex. "Or we can call someone a dirty Jew, and it's OK by Fox standards," Sulkin adds.
Family Guy includes the kind of one-liners few parents would want their kids to hear, but Mom and Dad can blame Sulkin for some of that material - Sulkin says he enjoys pitching 9/11 jokes because "it's funny to hear that stuff coming from cartoon characters."
Sulkin is also credited for producing the script for the popular Blue Harvest episode, where Family Guy characters played roles from Star Wars. He recalls how the show became a reality: "One time I was smoking a cigarette with [Family Guy creator] Seth MacFarlane outside a karaoke bar and we were joking about Star Wars and he said it'd be great to have a Family Guy episode revolve around Star Wars and he thought I should write it. Blue Harvest became a dream come true."
Writing for Family Guy was also a dream realized for Sulkin, 37, who interned at Saturday Night Live in 1995 before he moved on to write for The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn (1999-2004). He sheds some light on Kilborn: "He's just like his on-air persona, smart and smug, but very funny." In one way, Sulkin notes, working for Kilborn prepared him to write "individually wrapped jokes" for Family Guy.
"I always wanted to be comedy writer for TV shows," Sulkin says. "There was no drive to write for dramas or anything else."
The Cleveland Show is a spinoff from the popular animated series Family Guy
Recently, Sulkin has gotten busier writing for both Family Guy and the spinoff The Cleveland Show, while also voicing a few characters for the latter. How would he rate the success of the spinoff? "Cleveland has a heart that few characters have on Family Guy. These shows end on a sweet moment, different than how Family Guy ends. I hope it's on the air for a long time."
Some Family Guy fans have been talking about feature film possibilities, something cartoon fans saw with The Simpsons and South Park. Is a Family Guy film in the works?
"Not that I know of," Sulkin reveals. "Those kind of decisions are made in a different office." Sulkin says it's a hot discussion topic with colleagues, and he believes the film will be a reality at some point. "It would make major money for Fox so I'm not sure why they wouldn't do it."
Actor and comedian Sarah Silverman
Sulkin's association with Family Guy is not the main reason his name has been bandied about in celeb circles recently. Search for his name on Google and you'll likely see dozens of stories linking him to a certain potty-mouthed comedian. He started to date Sarah Silverman, known for her role in The Aristocrats and starring in her self-titled show on Comedy Central. Of all places to meet, they linked up through Twitter.
"Twitter has completely changed my life, since my friends say I've gotten more out of the service than most," he half-jokes.
Tweeting under the handle @sulk, the comedy writer says Silverman found his feed hilarious and started direct-messaging him. They soon started seeing each other in L.A. "Seth is really excited about this relationship," Sulkin says, adding how MacFarlane is hinting to Sulkin he'd like Silverman to guest-voice on Family Guy sometime. But The Simpsons beat him to it - Silverman voiced Bart's love interest last week.
If a Silverman guest-spot is still unconfirmed, what can Family Guy fans expect this season? Sulkin mentions a few storylines that will soon embroil the Griffin family: Quagmire's sister will appear in an episode about domestic abuse ("trust me, we'll make it funny") and Lois will battle a high school rival who will soon be a recurring character on the show. The Griffins might also take a tour of Amish country, Sulkin hints.