The search for a new voice actor for Family Guy‘s Cleveland Brown is over, Variety confirmed today. Black YouTuber Arif Zahir will now voice the character replacing the previous actor Mike Henry (The Orville).
— Family Guy (@FamilyGuyonFOX) September 25, 2020
This will be Zahir’s first role in television – but that doesn’t mean he’s unfamiliar with the role. On his YouTube Channel “Azerrz,” Zahir performs impressions of various people and characters, from Kendrick Lamar to Donald Trump to Cleveland Brown himself. He launched his channel back in 2013 with only Cleveland Brown impressions, slowly branching out over the years. His channel currently has over 6 million subscribers, with views routinely garnering millions of views.
This year, a variety of animated series began to recast white actors who were playing characters of color. Jenny Slate (Parks and Recreation) left her role on Big Mouth in June, with Ayo Edebiri (Sunnyside) taking over the role. In January, Hank Azaria (The Smurfs) announced he will no longer voice the Indian character Apu, with The Simpsons cast and crew ultimately deciding to have only people of color play such roles. Most notably, Henry announced in June that he would step down from the role of Cleveland, despite originating the role in 1999.
Zahir became a popular suggestion as a replacement, with a fan petition to have him replace Henry reaching over 19,000 supporters. Zahir told Variety that he was humbled to see the support, saying that “When I heard that Mike Henry was stepping down from the role of Cleveland Brown — my favorite cartoon character of all time — I was shocked and saddened, assuming we’d never see him again.” However, he also expressed his excitement to take over the role, telling Variety that “When I learned I would get to take over the role? Overabundant gratitude. To Mike, you created something truly special and I promise I will do my absolute best to honor your legacy. To Rich Appel, Alec Sulkin and Seth MacFarlane, thank you for this incredible gift. And to the millions of fans who love this show, I promise not to let you down.”
Henry also promised fans that he will stick around in some capacity. In a statement published in Variety, Henry said “I look forward to getting to know Arif and working with him to make sure Cleveland stays every bit as awesome as he has always been. Arif’s vocal talent is obvious, but his understanding of Cleveland and his respect for the character give me confidence that he is in the right hands.”
As recording was finished some time ago, Henry will continue to voice the character for the upcoming Season 18. Zahir will take over beginning with Season 19. Recently, The Simpsons revealed a new voice actor for the character of Carl Carlson, replazing Azaria. Family Guy is available to stream on Hulu.