One cultural artifact I really wanted to go back and visit following the unfortunate passing of Rush Limbaugh was his bizarre voice over appearance on Family Guy. It’s a WEIRD episode.
It’s not the kind of crossover you would think would happen but it’s not that surprising if you know anything about the people involved. Despite the reputation that Seth McFarlane accumulated in the 2000s as an arch-Hollywood liberal elitist, he’s always seemed to be a fairly amiable guy behind the scenes. He’s maintained friendships with Hollywood conservatives like Adam Corolla and he seems to have sparked up a friendship with Rush Limbaugh at some point.
Limbaugh himself explained how the episode went down on an episode of his show in 2014. He’d been given two small audio cameos on the show which received positive attention. For doing that, he was invited to come in and record a full episode in character at the studio.
“Seth MacFarlane is the godfather of Family Guy, and I have a good relationship with him. I’ve always got on with him on the phone. He would be on the phone directing that the first two that I did just voice only from here…
It was entirely respectful and friendly. In fact, when we had finished and totally wrapped up, he said…
I’ll never forget this. He said, “That was just incredible work.” He said, “You wouldn’t believe the number of people who come in here and think just ’cause it’s voice, they can just lay it down and leave.” He said that ’cause every animated episode takes a year to produce…
He was extremely complimentary and thanked me and held out the option for doing more. I like the guy… He’s a smart guy, and he doesn’t want to remain predictable in the entertainment business.”The Rush Limbaugh Show, February 7th, 2014
The episode in question is one of the best episodes to come out of the recent years of Family Guy. When Limbaugh himself shows up in town, the arch liberal Brian decides he wants to confront Rush in person where he can give him a piece of his mind. When he’s finally done so, Rush asks him if he’s actually read anything he’s written or said to which Brian reluctantly admits he only knows about him based on what others have said about him. To that end, Rush gives Brian a free copy of his new book which ends up briefly converting him into a radical Republican.
What follows is a really funny character study on Brian that plays up his eccentric personality as a natural contrarian. As we realize quickly, Brian just wants to be THAT GUY in the room with the alternative “intellectual” opinion and ultimately is willing to take any side that lets him accomplish that. He ends up becoming so invested in his conservatism that he moves out of the house after an argument, starts an Odd Couple style roommate scenario living with Limbaugh and eventually tries to assault Nancy Pelosi.
The episode makes a ton of rather scorching jokes about Republics throughout. The extreme rhetoric of some conservatives is parodied as well as the actual positions of conservatives which the episode plays up to make it sound like the average Republican is for executing children. None of it comes off as cheap though. Part of the joke though comes with the fact that Rush Limbaugh himself is saying all of these lines. The jokes are all in good fun and, as the episode makes very clear, liberals aren’t beyond making fools of themselves either.
This didn’t sit well with everyone naturally. Progressive critics of Rush Limbaugh disliked how little the episode actually dug in at him and offered substantive criticisms of the controversial talks how host. Rowan Keiser at the A.V. Club called the episode “Toothless” and criticized the episode’s flaccid story. The Atlantic seemed to agree because they used the quote in their title summarizing the reviews. Most critics at least enjoyed the gimmick and the episode’s willingness to take earnest pot shots. It’s clear that Limbaugh’s fiery personality didn’t sit well with some who wanted a more scathing critique.
Being what it was, it was a great memory to go back and revisit. An episode of television like this speaks very well of the patience and good will of everyone involved that they were able to put their politics aside for a few hours in order to make the most of a funny joke. That’s a lesson we wouldn’t likely see or hear much about nowadays. We can all get along in the end if we choose too. Even the most aggressive and hostile among us are humans and there isn’t very much we couldn’t smooth out over drinks if we actually sat down together and laughed at ourselves.