It’s been eighteen years since Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy first hit the small screen — a new animated series that bridged the gap between The Simpsons‘ dysfunctional family and South Park’s twisted sense of humor. The show has survived cancellation, spawned a spin-off, and become one of the best-known adult-oriented animations in pop culture. And while its success is multi-faceted, a lot of the appeal lies in the family dynamic… and the endearingly brainless enthusiasm of its main character, Peter Griffin.
The ‘Homer Simpson’ of the Griffin family, Peter is a beer-swilling lout who is surprisingly charming thanks to a child-like enthusiasm for everything. He acts before thinking, often accidentally hurting people (emotionally and physically) with his brashness, but he’s got a good heart and loves his family (except Meg. Nobody likes Meg.). From toy factory employee to brewery worker (and with a few random jobs thrown in for good measure), he’s managed to get up to all kinds of misadventures with his wife Lois, his kids Chris, Meg, and Stewie, and of course, his wise-cracking, martini-drinking dog, Brian. But there’s more to Peter Griffin than just a satire of the American family man…
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Peter Griffin.
15. He Is Based On A Real Person…
Peter Griffin’s personality comes from the stereotypical sitcom dad — a bumbling oaf who is useless around the house and with the kids, and spends his time drinking beer and watching sports. In many ways, he is a caricature of all kinds of real people. His voice, however, is inspired by one man in particular: Mr. Paul Timmins.
Timmins, a Rhode Island native, was a security guard at the Rhode Island School of Design when Seth MacFarlane (the creator of the show) was studying there. He would “shoot the breeze” with MacFarlane, who loved laughing at his big voice and distinctive accent. He has often spoken about using real Rhode Island guys like Timmins as the inspiration for Peter’s voice. “I knew a thousand Peter Griffins growing up in New England. Guys who would not think before they spoke… there was no self-editing mechanism.” Timmins (who was interviewed by ABC after the 2013 Oscars about his connection to the show) also wears round glasses, and was heavier when he knew MacFarlane.
14. …And On A Previous MacFarlane Character
While Seth MacFarlane was at the Rhode Island School of Design, laughing at the voices of the security guards, he was also busy creating a different animated film: The Life of Larry. This then led to a follow-up short titled Larry & Steve, about a middle-aged man and his intellectual dog. The Larry & Steve short was broadcast on Cartoon Network, where it was seen by Fox, who hired MacFarlane to create a series based on the characters. This show, of course, became Family Guy.
Although Peter is based on Larry, there are several big differences between the two characters. Larry (whose full name is Larry Cummings) appears older than Peter, with white hair and male pattern baldness. He’s also significantly slimmer than Peter, and doesn’t wear glasses. He does, however, have a wife named Lois, a Rhode Island accent, a slob of a teenage son (named Milt) and of course, a brainiac dog.
13. Peter’s Father Is Also Based On Real People
Peter Griffin actually has two fathers in the series, Francis Griffin, the cold Irish Catholic who raised him, and Mickey McFinnigan, the drunken Irishman who is revealed to be his biological father. Mickey looks almost exactly like Peter, but with a big red beard, and is the town drunk. He’s also (loosely) based on people that MacFarlane knew in real life. In an interview with Great Reporter, MacFarlane explains:
In an interview with Great Reporter, MacFarlane explains: “When I was growing up, my father had lots of friends: big, vocal, opinionated New England, Irish Catholics. They were all bursting at the seams with personality, and Family Guy came out of a lot of those archetypes that I spent years observing.”
Unsurprisingly, this archetype can be seen in Peter himself, as well as in both of his fathers on the show, but it is actually closest to Peter’s Irish father, not his Rhode Island one. However, if the words “New England” are omitted from that quote, it describes Mickey to a T.
12. He Is Voiced By Seth MacFarlane
As well as having created the show, MacFarlane actually voices several of the characters, including Peter Griffin. He has voiced Peter since the very beginning, as well as Brian, Stewie, Quagmire, Tom Tucker, Carter Pewterschmidt, and Dr. Hartman. He also voices occasional guest characters on the show. Although he spends most of his time on the show in Peter’s voice, MacFarlance actually sounds most like Brian naturally, which often surprises fans.
He has previously said that he chose to do the voice work for the characters because he thought it would be easier for him to do it than to find someone else and try and convey to them exactly the kind of tone and style that he was after. And of course, to begin with, money was an issue, and doing his own voices was easier on the budget for the pilot! Once he started, Peter’s voice became so iconic that it didn’t make sense to have anyone else take over.
11. MacFarlane Won An Emmy For Peter’s Voice
Family Guy may be known for its low-brow humor, but don’t let that fool you. It’s an award-winning series, and it’s picked up quite a few major accolades in the past two decades. In fact, it has won a grand total of six Primetime Emmys over the years, including Outstanding Individual in Animation, Outstanding Sound Mixing, Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation, and Outstanding Music and Lyrics. It’s also been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program no less than four times, and Outstanding Comedy Program once.
In addition to a slew of other awards, MacFarlane’s voice work as Peter Griffin has won him awards as well. (Of course, these are technically for all his voice work, but Peter’s is the most distinctive of the voices that he does, and the main character.) He has won the Emmy for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance twice, and been nominated an additional four times for the award.
10. MacFarlane Isn’t The Only Actor To Voice Peter
Although MacFarlane is responsible for Peter’s distinctive voice, he’s not the only actor to bring him to life over the years. In a couple of episodes, Peter’s shenanigans have led to his voice changing, which has allowed other big names to step in and provide the Griffin patriarch’s vocals.
In season 5’s “No Meals On Wheels”, Patrick Stewart steps in to voice the character in a cut scene, although MacFarlane provides his regular voice for the rest of the episode. In season 7’s “Family Gay”, when Peter is taking part in a series of medical experiments, he is treated with the ‘Seth Rogen Gene’ and is voiced by the A-List comedian for a few scenes. (Again, MacFarlane’s voice is used for the rest of the episode). Finally, in season 8’s “Road To The Multiverse”, where multiple versions of the family appear, a Japanese Peter was voiced by Jameson Yang (who also voiced Japanese Stewie and Japanese Chris).
9. MacFarlane’s Favorite Series Moment Involves Peter…
MacFarlane has been asked many times about his favorite moments in the series, and lists his absolute favorite as one that sums up the kind of man that Peter is: when he feeds a TV Tom Selleck in season 2’s “Da Boom”. This Y2K-inspired episode is, as usual, filled with cutaway scenes, and it is one of these that is the creator’s favorite moment.
When the family is starving and searching for food, Lois mourns how much food they had wasted over the years when they never had to worry about going hungry. The episode cuts to a flashback of Peter kneeling in front of the TV, watching Magnum PI, and spoon-feeding the character. That is, he is attempting to spoon-feed him (and no one but him!), but is actually just smearing food all over the screen. He also tells off John Hillerman’s Higgins like a dog, telling him not to try and “steal Tom Selleck’s food“.
8. …And So Does His Least Favorite
Peter is also a key part of MacFarlane’s least favorite episode of the series (unsurprising, given that as the protagonist, he is a key part of every episode on the show). In 2010, MacFarlane tweeted that he believed that season 2’s “Fore, Father” is the least funny episode of the show. In this episode, Peter and Chris run into trouble on a fishing trip, and Peter decides that he has been a bad father, and that someone else should take over for a while. Chris ends up spending time with Quagmire, while Peter coaches Cleveland’s son Cleveland Jr on the golf course. Peter’s parenting (or lack thereof) is essentially all that happens this episode, although Brian does also manage to convince Stewie that he is being mind-controlled by vaccines.
It’s certainly not Family Guy’s proudest moment, although it’s also possible that MacFarlane has since bumped another episode to the top (or bottom) spot, as the tweet about “Fore, Father” is now seven years old.
7. Peter Has Appeared In Other Animated Series…
As well as being the star of his own series, Peter Griffin has made several cameo appearances in other adult-oriented animated shows. The Cleveland Show, a Family Guy spin-off, has hosted several of the Family Guy stars over the years, including the Griffins. In addition, Peter Griffin has appeared on another of MacFarlane’s animations: American Dad. In fact, all three MacFarlane shows were involved in a three-part crossover when a hurricane hit Quahog, Stoolbend and Langley Falls. In Family Guy, the crossover episode occurs in season 10’s “Seahorse Seashell Party”.
Outside of the MacFarlane universe, Family Guy and The Simpsons had their own crossover, “The Simpsons Guy”, in season 13. The crossover poked fun at claims that Family Guy is a rip-off of The Simpsons, with Peter and Homer getting involved in a court case over Pawtucket Patriot being a rip off of Duff. Finally, Peter has also had a (very) brief cameo on South Park. In the episode “Canada On Strike”, the South Park kids are flipping through TV channels when Family Guy comes on, and Cartman yells “No! We are NOT resorting to that!” — not the first time that South Park has taken a swing at Family Guy over the years.
6. …And In Advertising Campaigns
As well as appearing in other animated series, Peter Griffin even starred in an ad campaign for Subway sandwiches in 2008. Peter appeared in ads to promote the chain’s ‘Massive Feast Sandwich’, where he stood in front of the classic ad clips of a sandwich being made and talked about how delicious it is, before signing off with a jab at Jared, the long-time spokesperson for the brand.
According to Chief Marketing Officer Tony Pace, the character was chosen for the ad campaign because, “Peter’s a good representation of the people who are interested in the Feast, and Family Guy is a show that appeals to that target audience.”. Comparing the target market for a product to a fat, stupid cartoon of a man is certainly an interesting approach, but the character’s ads were definitely funny and very well-received. Despite this, Peter hasn’t appeared in any other promotional work for Subway since.
5. Peter’s Kids Look Like Him
At first glance, the Griffin family doesn’t look too similar, but there is actually an intentional resemblance drawn into the characters. Both Meg and Chris take half their features from Lois, and half from Peter — that this is not immediately obvious is a testament to how well it is done. Meg has the same hair and glasses as Peter, although she more strongly resembles her mother, with the same triangular nose. Chris, meanwhile, has his father’s nose, mouth, and chin (and waistline). His hair doesn’t seem to come directly from anyone, but the earliest versions of Lois were blonde, which could explain his coloring. Stewie, being a baby, is too young to have much of a resemblance to anyone.
Of course, anyone who has been watching the show for a long time will probably have noticed the Griffin family’s trademark features (especially with characters like Peter’s father, Mickey, who looks exactly like him).
4. Peter Is Surprisingly Musical
Despite being big and dumb for the most part, over the years, Peter has shown an impressive musical aptitude. In the season 4 episode “Fast Times At Buddy Cianci Jr. High”, it is revealed that Peter took trombone lessons in junior college, and he plays the trombone in the episode. He also sings and plays guitar in several episodes, including season 4’s “The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire”, “Deep Throats” (where his past in a folk band with Lois is a major plot point), and season 6’s “Padre de Familia”, where he plays guitar and sings to the troops. He’s also something of a prodigy with the piano, but only when drunk, as we discover in season 2’s “Wasted Talent”, when Lois decides to keep Peter inebriated in order to have him enter a piano competition as her student.
3. Peter’s Age Changes
Much like the Simpsons, the Griffins have remained basically the same age for the past eighteen years, although some episodes have centered around characters’ birthdays (and of course, neighbor Bonnie did eventually give birth after being pregnant for several seasons). Peter’s age has therefore remained at somewhere around forty for much of the show, but the exact figure (and how it relates to Lois’ age) has changed once or twice.
In season 5’s “The Tan Aquatic with Steve Zissou”, Lois gives her age as 42 and Peter’s age as 43. This matches up with previous flashback episodes that put Peter as a year older than his wife. However, in season 14’s “Underage Peter”, when the legal drinking age is raised to 50, Peter is said to be 42. A couple of episodes also put Peter and Lois at the same age, like season 5’s “Meet The Quagmires”. One episode (season 15’s “Peters Lost Youth”) even puts Peter’s age at 58. We may never know the truth.
2. Peter’s Nemesis Is Named Ernie
Peter manages to make a few enemies throughout the series due to his total lack of responsibility or care, but he’s got one nemesis in particular: a giant chicken named Ernie. Ernie the giant chicken is a long-running gag in the show, since he first appeared in season 2’s “Da Boom”. Since then, he appears regularly to get into massive, destructive fights with Peter, brawls that often take the pair across town and lead to serious injuries (that are, in true cartoon form, gone within moments). The scenes are some of the longest in the show, and Ernie is the most commonly recurring antagonist in the series. He also has a British counterpart, a giant Pheasant, and lives a peaceful existence other than his long-running feud with Peter.
His name is revealed in season 5’s “No Chris Left Behind”, where the two makeup and go out for dinner with their wives. Ernie’s wife Nicole uses his name at dinner, but the feud quickly reignites over the check.
1. Peter’s Twitter Handle Is PumpkinEater (& His Real Name Is Justin)
Yup, Peter Griffin is on Twitter. In the season 11 episode “Friends Without Benefits”, it is revealed that the character’s Twitter handle is @pumkineater69_. The handle comes from the old rhyme “Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater”, with a little dirty joke on the end. The account actually does exist, too. It was created in December 2012, the same time that the episode first aired, but it’s not verified (likely fan-made).
Peter’s real name has also been revealed in the show, and it’s not technically Peter Griffin. In season 13’s “Quagmire’s Mom”, he learns that his birth certificate reads “Justin Peter Griffin”, and he has been using his middle name his whole life. He immediately starts acting like a ‘Justin’, and becomes a hipster, getting Quagmire into all kinds of trouble, until Lois tells him that she will change his name to just Peter to get him to stop. After this episode, he goes back to Peter and, as always, forgets all about it.
Do you know of any other fun facts about the Family Guy lead? Will the Peter/Ernie feud ever end? Sound off in the comments!