For better or worse, Seth MacFarlane is one of the most successful men in comedy today. It all began with MacFarlane’s longest lasting and most popular television show, Family Guy, gradually exploding into an entertainment empire that includes countless other sitcoms, both animated and live action, in addition to a number of films, albums, and even books. The catch is that for every time MacFarlane makes his fans laugh, there seems to be two or three shockingly offensive moments that make everyone else wonder what was supposed to be so funny.
In many respects, MacFarlane’s wanton disrespect for, well, everything, is a big part of why his audience loves him. Certain people seem to find the idea of offending others hilarious, and truth be told, when presented in the right way, sometimes it can be. That said, there’s a fine line between playing with overly-sensitive types and acting like a crass bully about very serious issues. At times, this behavior is even at odds with what MacFarlane claims are his own personal beliefs, mocking the very laurels he claims to uphold.
Ultimately, it’s up to fans of Family Guy, The Orville, American Dad, or MacFarlane’s increasing cavalcade of movies whether or not this necessarily effects his legacy. As already noted, to many MacFarlane supporters, that he continues to mock all comers even as the spotlight has been shined on his offensive behavior is a sign of bravery and comedic courage. Others, however, may eventually reach their boiling point with him and abandon ship if he starts joking about the wrong things. Keep reading to learn about 15 times Seth MacFarlane took a joke way too far.
15 The Orville Makes An Episode About A Girl
In all fairness to Seth MacFarlane, despite how this list may make things look, the man isn’t necessarily trying to be a funny jerk all the time. On rare occasions, he’s even trying to send a positive message. Unfortunately, this can wind up just as bad as when he’s being blatantly offensive, because coating a serious statement with his sense of humor can warp a forward-thinking idea into something that’s just really confusing. That’s what many critics believe happened in the third episode of MacFarlane’s Star Trek parody The Orville, winkingly titled, “About A Girl.” The issue lies in a newborn female character of the Moclan species, a tribe that had previously been all male before her birth. For this reason, the tribunal demands she immediately undergo a sex change operation and become male like all the others.
From there, things kind of spiral into a vaguely offensive debate on the laurels of being male versus female. As per usual, this mostly meant questionable jokes that entirely missed the point at hand. Some critics even felt the episode confused transgender and intersex issues, to the extent it felt like MacFarlane didn’t know the difference. Granted, this isn’t as bad as the overtly offensive items on this list, but confusing the mainstream public on an issue they already don’t understand definitely isn’t helping.
14 The Prom Night Baby
“Once you get away with ‘Prom Night Dumpster Baby,’ that opens up a new precedent.” These are the words of Family Guy writer Wellesley Wild speaking to the New York Post about Seth MacFarlane’s most offensive jokes, and indeed, this one really blew the lid off of what they could get away with on primetime. This particular cutaway gag had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plot, which would have made it exceedingly easy for Fox to cut it from the episode. For whatever reason, though, the network agreed to air a segment where a bunch of children left by their teenage parents to die in a dumpster danced around like they were in a Busby Berkeley movie.
To give the gag the slightest bit of context, the song and dance begins when Peter offhandedly tells Lois he won’t throw Quagmire “out on the street” like the type of characters singing the song. Despite depressing lyrics like, “I miss my mom, but she’s at the prom,” and the use of umbilical cords as fancy props, Wild and the other writers nonetheless found a way to defend the ordeal. In their eyes, because prom night dumpster babies are a real thing, any controversy should be focused on the teenagers making it happen, and not the Family Guy writers mocking it.
13 A Million Ways To Offend In The West
Filled with over-the-top characters and taking place in humorously simpler times, the Western genre is arguably more rife for parody than any other. Unfortunately, when Seth MacFarlane took a stab at the idea with A Million Ways to Die in the West, the results were less Blazing Saddles and more, well, old-timey Family Guy. This is to say that while there were a few clever ideas sprinkled throughout, MacFarlane’s usual subjects of offensive humor and extreme gross out jokes took up the vast majority of the run-time. One joke in particular was so offensive and out of place audiences had no idea how to react, a possibility MacFarlane and his writers were surely aware of.
The scene in question relates to a target practice game using outrageously caricatures performing every stereotype in the book as the targets. According to co-writer Wellesley Wild, the idea was to “[make] commentary about how terribly racist everyone was,” and yeah, people in the 1800s were definitely quite terrible indeed. However, the movie came out in 2014, way after this sort of thing was in any way considered an acceptable topic for humor. In fact, audiences were so uncomfortable with the original scene that a post-credit sequence was later added featuring Jamie Foxx shooting the man who operates the game.
12 Steven And Helen make an appearance
It’s bad enough when Family Guy or other Seth MacFarlane shows promote the terrible behavior of fictional characters. When they start mocking real people, it’s obviously even worse, especially when the cartoon versions of these people have virtually nothing in common with the real ones aside from appearances. Technically, Brian’s college professor “Steve” doesn’t quite fit this trend, because the last name “Hawking” was never supplied (and the first name wasn’t mentioned until he made his second appearance). However, as a physically disabled man in a wheelchair speaking through a voice box, it was very clear what the animators were trying to do.
Regardless of what they named this character or who he was or wasn’t based on, it’s no surprise MacFarlane handled everything about him in the most offensive way possible. Not only is he completely defined by his disabilities in the same way as Joe Swanson in the show, but he also uses this fact as an excuse to be a complete jerk to everyone he meets. He even goes so far as to embarrass his wife, Helen, in public during a dinner party. Oh, and obviously she’s in a wheelchair and severely disabled as well, because Family Guy always tries to push it way too far.
11 Using Real People
When Seth MacFarlane helmed projects poke fun at celebrities or public figures in an outlandish or absurd way, it’s really not that big of a deal. Once parody becomes literally unbelievable, the only way real people could get offended is if they were being too sensitive. However, there’s still a way for this to go too far, when the situations the real people are placed in are strongly based on real events. That’s what happened in the episode “Model Misbehavior,” when John Hinckley, Jr. fired a weapon to set off a boat race. As if it weren’t offensive enough to use a man who tried killing a president as a punch line, the gag was followed by Jodie Foster walking on screen and claiming she may have been wrong about him.
In real life, Hinckley infamously wounded Ronald Reagan and several of his aides. This was apparently an attempt to impress Foster, who Hinckley had been obsessed with since her performance in Taxi Driver. The story is almost crazy enough that it sounds like a Family Guy joke already, but it was unfortunately all too real. Twisting it into a joke that Hinckley’s horrible plan actually could have worked came too soon to make people who remembered it laugh.
10 Absolutely Everything About Joe Swanson
Quagmire is definitely the worst of Peter Griffin’s friends, yet neighbor Joe Swanson might be sending just as bad a message to viewers. Almost every single joke related to Joe has been at the expense of people with disabilities, typically in the most insulting way possible. In fact, there are countless instances where the entire joke is that Joe is in a wheelchair, and thus his friends all consider him less of a human than someone who can walk. Family Guy is clearly aware of how this could hurt a person with disabilities, having Joe regularly appear outrageously depressed, with his one moment of extreme happiness being when he thought he was dying.
The counterbalance to all the negatives about Joe is that he also happens to be an extremely good cop, showing just how much people with disabilities can achieve despite their condition. However, the mockery is so severe, Joe doesn’t even care about this, and there reaches a point in later seasons when it’s very easy for fans to forget about where Joe came from. Joe’s own wife and family view him as a failure, with Bonnie in particular seeing no problem in cheating on him after the accident. Unlike with Quagmire’s worst impulses, there’s never even a moment where other characters acknowledge how messed up Joe’s life has become.
9 The Strange Life of Mr. Herbert
Forget about Joe Swanson and Glenn Quagmire — Family Guy has an even more offensive side character creeping outside the windows of all children in Quahog. Initially, the strange old Mr. Herbert (who may actually be named John Silverbird) was just an elderly neighbor of the Griffin family. Very quickly, however, it was clear he had a seriously unhealthy crush on the teenage Chris Griffin. More than that, the entire population is aware of this, and none of them seem to have all that much of a problem with it.
There’s really no way to make something like this funny, yet Family Guy and Mr. Herbert nonetheless go about the idea in a particularly offensive way. Like almost all side characters in MacFarlane's works, Herbert is an extremely one note character with no signs of redemption or acknowledgement to the audience what a villain he is. Instead, he’s somehow become one of the show’s most popular creations, appearing in toys and merchandising despite his relatively low number of appearances. In this respect, Herbert may explain why a list like this won’t chance any of MacFarlane’s fans’ opinions.
8 Kevin Swanson, Soldier of Misfortune
Because Seth MacFarlane wasn’t done turning the Swanson family into the most tragic group on Family Guy, he decided to make Joe and Bonnie’s son Kevin have a worse life than either of his parents. It didn’t start that way, though. Initially, Kevin was just a normal kid living next door to the Griffins, with the big change in his life not coming until after Fox canceled and then revived Family Guy a few years later. Eventually, fans noticed Kevin had been missing for a while, leading to an off-hand comment about how the poor kid passed away in Iraq. Then, a couple years after that, Kevin suddenly reappeared, alive and well.
Turns out Kevin couldn’t handle the rigors of war, going AWOL upon witnessing other members of the army harm Iraqi citizens. Understandably, this trajectory leaves Kevin extremely depressed, to the extent he very clearly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Rather than deal with this serious condition with any level of respect, the extreme weight it puts on Kevin’s shoulders is exclusively used as a punch line. Specifically, Kevin tries to hurt himself all the time, and no one seems to care in the slightest. This is all too close to how much of society ignores people with PTSD, trivializing a growing concern in mental health.
7 The Musical
Wasting no time at all, season five episode twelve of Family Guy, titled “Peter-assment,” opened with a completely irrelevant scene that easily contained all of the most offensive jokes of the night. It starts with Peter and Lois moderately excited for Stewie’s first major role in a pre-school play, which almost sounds deceptively heartwarming for a Seth MacFarlane creation. Indeed, said performance was part of the fictional play “Terry Schiavo: The Musical,” which out-offends South Park’s “Helen Keller: The Musical” by a solid century of “too soon.”
Quite frankly, the title should be more than enough to explain everything wrong about this bit. However, in typical Family Guy fashion, MacFarlane and company double down on the audacity almost immediately, with a doctor informing Michael Schiavo of his wife's situation. It snowballs from there, with lyrics that seriously cross the line. No matter where one falls on the debate, this sort of language is shockingly dehumanizing, merely serving as an unfunny reminder of how terrible the situation really was.
6 Ted Doesn’t Understand a lot of things
Much like all of Seth MacFarlane’s television shows, his first major live action film, Ted, was largely a collection of offensive jokes and absurd situations with little overarching plot. Nonetheless, also like Family Guy and the other cartoons, Ted was a massive hit, earning enough money that studios quickly decided it deserved a sequel, simply titled Ted 2. This time around, the irascible teddy bear and his human buddy John fight the law over Ted’s legal status when the stuffed animal runs into difficulty having children. Almost immediately, this causes them to wander into a sperm bank, and hijinks predictably ensue.
The location alone might be enough for some audiences to feel a little uneasy with this one, and it only gets worse from there. Just as quickly as MacFarlane put John and Ted into this scenario, he had them fumble around and knock over a huge batch of donations, all of which were rejected for containing DNA with sickle-cell anemia. Reacting to the situation, Ted jokes that John covered himself in someone else's genetic material, making an inappropriate ethnic joke. First of all, it doesn’t make sense because almost anyone can get sickle-cell. More importantly, sickle-cell is a real and somewhat obscure disease that people actually suffer from, and seeing their pain singled out caused many on social media to complain.
5 Brian Falls For Ida
Now more than ever, society is ever so slowly starting to accept and acknowledge transgender people as a regular part of reality. Naturally, that meant Seth MacFarlane had to weigh in with some jokes on the subject, and unsurprisingly, they did not go especially well. The topic was actually covered on two of MacFarlane’s shows thus far, and as the more popular flagship of his empire, Family Guy’s attempt naturally received more attention. In the show, the transgender individual in question is Quagmire’s biological father, introduced as Dan, only to quickly change his name to Ida after transitioning from male to female.
Right away, it’s clear Family Guy didn’t understand how actual reassignment works, implying the process takes mere minutes if not just seconds. Peter and Lois are also clearly ignorant of the whole subject, making some really inappropriate comments. It only gets worse from there, as the episode progresses to a point where Brian and Ida begin a physical relationship. When Brian learns about his new girlfriend’s previous identity, he’s so disgusted he vomits for nearly an entire minute in one of the longest, grossest gags the show ever aired. Obviously, civil rights groups weren’t very happy, but they weren’t surprised given MacFarlane’s track record.
4 Cleveland Can’t Handle Auntie Momma
Honestly, people shouldn’t have been particularly shocked when Brian Griffin lost his lunch over Ida Quagmire. After all, just five short months earlier, Seth MacFarlane made an almost identical “joke” on The Cleveland Show…twice. In the show’s very first season, Cleveland’s new wife Donna introduced her boisterous Auntie Momma, a clear send up of Tyler Perry’s Madea in appearance and her love of “outrageous” humor. The only real difference is that Auntie Momma was secretly a trans woman and had hid this fact from her family for decades.
Just like when Family Guy later introduced a trans character, Auntie Momma was severely flawed from the start in that she only had an operation to give her niece a positive female role model, a decision we highly doubt any actual human has ever made. Also identical to Family Guy is the way Cleveland’s father LeVar reacts after starting a relationship with Auntie Momma and subsequently learning about her history, which is to say he vomits uncontrollably. In fact, Cleveland did the same thing when he initially discovered the situation. Using the same joke three times in a row is usually lazy, and when it’s this offensive, it almost feels like it isn’t a joke at all, but genuinely how the writers feel.
3 Brian and Stewie go back in time
Every once in a blue moon, even Seth MacFarlane is aware that his jokes go a bit too far. That was definitely the case in what might have been his most offensive joke ever, taking place in the final moments of Family Guy’s season 10 episode “Back to the Pilot.” After a suitably entertaining blast from the past filled with references to the show’s history, the episode focuses on the paradoxes caused by time travel when Brian attempts to prevent a horrific event that actually happened in real life. Heroic as that sounds, there are always consequences to such things, and Brian’s actions inadvertently lead to a second Civil War and severe nuclear fallout. Obviously, he and Stewie had to fix things, which they did by simply going back in time even further and ensuring Brian never did anything to change history.
By and large, the plot closely draws the line between what is and isn’t acceptable through the notion of how absurd it all is. The problem most fans had came at the very end, though, when Stewie and Brian succinctly recapped their adventure by gleefully shouting out that they caused the horrific event they tried to prevent in the first place, leading to a leaping high five. Immediately, even Stewie had to admit how horrible that would look out of context, and indeed, many critics were quick to say only ten years after, the joke came way, way too soon.
2 Hosting The Oscars Didn’t Mean Seth Appreciates Film
Somehow, even four TV shows, several major movies, and a handful of albums weren’t enough to oversaturate the Seth MacFarlane market. If anything, Seth’s omnipresence only made him a bigger commodity to Hollywood, which is how he wound up hosting the 2013 Academy Award ceremony. Right away, MacFarlane brought his questionable sense of humor along with him, kicking things off with a borderline misogynistic opening number . MacFarlane’s typical inappropriate references were also in full effect, yet it was this initial song that had many women in attendance immediately wondering how he got hired for the gig.
The song is probably exactly what you would expect, unless you happen to have any semblance of good taste. The worst part is MacFarlane’s number didn’t just highlight particularly alluring scenes, but also emotional performances involving devastating scenarios. He also threw the fact Scarlett Johansson’s phone was hacked in with a bunch of movie roles that women actually chose to perform, as if it were the same thing. In any event, to reduce movies like The Accused or Boys Don’t Cry down to “a woman was topless and it was cool” is an insult to the actresses involved and any real person who went through similar harrowing experiences as the characters in them.
1 Glenn Quagmire, The weird Neighbor
Various TV shows have been using the idea of promiscuous men and women as a source of comedy for decades, so initially, Family Guy’s Glenn Quagmire fit right in with sitcom history. However, whenever Quagmire is on screen for more than a few quick jokes about how he hits on every female in the world, he almost always takes a turn for the supremely creepy. It’s not even a stretch to call Quagmire a borderline predator, seeking out vulnerable and disadvantaged women to have his way with them in highly questionable fashion.
From a character perspective, it’s also a problem that Quagmire’s actions are occasionally inconsistent. Sometimes he’ll genuinely attempt to date women and have regular relationships, only to offer his rebound a quick “colada,” which normalizes his worst instincts as merely an exaggerated version of his usual behavior. It’s one thing for a guy to get obsessed with Tinder and have it adversely affect his friendships, but wandering into a bathroom, finding teenager, and yelling out, “Dear diary: Jackpot!” makes him an entirely different sort of animal. Worst of all, no matter how despicable Quagmire’s antics get, everyone always brushes him off with a smile and a laugh, completely ignoring how he’s destroying these women’s lives.