Family Guy has found its new Cleveland Brown. Voice actor Arif Zahir, also known as Azerrz, who does impressions of Cleveland on YouTube, has been tapped to replace Mike Henry, Cleveland’s original portrayer. Henry stepped down from voicing the character after more than 20 years in June in order to allow a Black actor to take over the role.
Zahir will begin voicing Cleveland in Season 19, which was announced as part of a two-season pickup earlier this week and is beginning production now. Henry will still voice Cleveland in Season 18; episodes of that season had already been completed or were in advanced stages of animation when Henry exited the role. Season 18 premieres Sunday night with the show’s 350th episode.
“It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years,” Henry tweeted in June. “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role.” He will continue to provide other voices and write for the show.
“I welcome Arif to the Family Guy team,” Henry said in a statement announcing Zahir’s casting. “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. 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.”
“Firstly, I’m eternally grateful to have received this once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Zahir. “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. 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 [executive producers] 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 has been part of the Family Guy cast since the series first debuted in 1999, and also voiced Cleveland and Rallo Tubbs, Cleveland’s stepson, on the spin-off series The Cleveland Show. Currently, Henry also voices a character named Consuela, who is a Latina maid, on Family Guy. There’s been no word yet whether he will continue to play her or not.
The announcement comes the day after Fox’s other long-running animated sitcom, The Simpsons, announced that Black actor Alex Désert would provide the voice for Black character Carl Carlson, who was previously voiced by Hank Azaria, in the Season 32 premiere. The Simpsons will no longer employ white actors to voice non-white characters. Other white actors who voice characters of color in animated series who have exited their roles include Jenny Slate, whose character on Netflix’s Big Mouth will now be voiced by Black writer Ayo Edebiri, and Kristen Bell, who left the role of Molly, a mixed-race character on Apple TV+’s animated series Central Park who will now be voiced by Emmy Raver-Lampman.