When the vocal talent behind Fox’s “Family Guy” first took to the stage at Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival in July 2004, their presentation was hardly ambitious. Cast members Alex Borstein, Mila Kunis, Seth Green, Mike Henry and series creator Seth MacFarlane simply sat on director’s chairs, read a script from an episode, sang a few songs and took questions from the audience. In spite of the absence of the show’s high-impact slapstick visuals, the stage production — dubbed “Family Guy Live” — proved to be a hit with the fans and an unexpected kick for the cast, not to mention a useful promotional tool for Fox. Since then, the “Family Guy” gang has taken the show on the road to select cities, earning rapturous receptions that never fail to surprise the cast.
“Every time we get to one of the venues we’re going to perform at, we do a sound check and we run through the show, and it’s always terrible,” says Borstein, who voices mom Lois, newscaster Tricia Takanawa and other characters. “It sounds awful, and you think, ‘Why are we doing this?’ And then you go into the theater with the people, and it’s like ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ They’re quoting some of the lines back to you.”
“That’s what’s fantastic about live events,” says Evi Regev of JFL. “You have that immediate gratification of the success of your product, where you can feel the energy and you build off of it.”
The genesis for “Family Guy Live” goes back to 2003, when the show was just beginning to enjoy success on DVD. As the manager of programming and touring operations for JFL, Regev had previously brought the voices of “The Simpsons” to the festival’s stage in 2002. When he contacted Fox executives about doing something similar with “Family Guy,” they were receptive, in spite of having canceled the show the previous year.
“They thought it was really a great way to build even more momentum for the product,” Regev says. “Then it snowballed once they saw how fun it was.”
In April 2005, 20th Century Fox TV and JFL promoted the show’s return to the primetime lineup with “Family Guy Live” performances in Los Angeles and New York. This year, they took it to Montreal for a return engagement at JFL in July, then to Chicago in September to simultaneously hype the debut of the show’s sixth season and its launch into national syndication.
With each successive engagement, the cast has brought more to the show, adding lines and changing jokes to include local references, and treating the audience to sneak peeks of unaired footage. Regev is especially impressed with how the cast stays behind to mingle with the fans and sign autographs until the venue staff has to pull them away.
“The reason for that is because we would not be there without them,” Borstein explains. “They bought the DVDs and brought us back to life.”