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Robert Franzese: The Story Behind The Real-Life Peter Griffin

"Family Guy" is one of the most popular animated shows of all time, yet its premise — a dysfunctional family gets into crazy antics while living in Quahog, Rhode Island — is surprisingly simple. The series has been airing for 21 seasons and counting, offending and entertaining countless viewers during its run. At the center of all the hilarity is Peter Griffin. He's not the smartest guy in town, his parenting skills are questionable at best, and he's prone to falling and hurting his knee, but that's why he's the man who positively can do all the things that make us laugh and cry — he's our family guy.

Although we all know Peter as an animated character, Robert Franzese has found a way to bring him out of Quahog and into the real world. Not only does Franzese look just like Peter — he also does a spot-on impression of him, earning him the title of the Real-Life Peter Griffin. Since going viral with his Peter impression in 2015, Franzese has gained a substantial online following, including 360,000 subscribers on YouTube and more than 811,000 followers on TikTok. If you want to know more about the Real-Life Peter Griffin, you've come to the right place. Keep reading to find out how Franzese got started with all of this, what the "Family Guy" team had to say about it, and more.

He first cosplayed as Peter Griffin at Comic-Con in 2012

Franzese cosplayed as Peter Griffin for the first time at New York Comic-Con in 2012, but he'd originally planned on dressing as Ghost Rider (the cowboy version, not the flaming skeleton). After wearing the Ghost Rider costume for the first day of the convention, he realized that it was uncomfortably hot, and he couldn't wear it again the next day. He decided to dress as Peter Griffin instead, and luckily for him, he already had everything he needed for it. He threw on a white button-down shirt, green pants from St. Patrick's Day, and glasses from a Santa Claus costume, then he was ready to go.

He didn't think anyone would recognize his cosplay, but people couldn't get enough of it. "I was actually at the ATM getting money out and a Peter impression just slipped out," he recalled in a conversation with Talker. "A group of people who heard burst out laughing and started following me around all afternoon. By the end of the day, the audience had tripled in size and people were crowding around me with their phones out — it was really bizarre."

While Franzese enjoyed the unexpected fun he had with his Peter costume, he didn't think anything would come of it. Then someone uploaded a video of him from that day and it got a ton of attention on Reddit. He was gaining traction as the Real-Life Peter Griffin, but his big break was still yet to come.

A video of him impersonating Peter went viral in 2015

The overwhelming positive reaction to his Peter cosplay inspired Franzese to dress as the character again at the 2014 New York Comic-Con — this time, with a documentary crew in tow. In the video, he entertains "Family Guy" fans with his spot-on Peter impression, explains why he loves doing it, and how he put the costume together. It went viral after was uploaded to YouTube in 2015 and has amassed a whopping 17 million views since.

Some videos of Franzese impersonating the character had been uploaded previously, but they hadn't gotten nearly as much attention as this one. Before he knew it, media outlets were reaching out to him for interviews, he was getting featured in articles, and some very exciting opportunities were opening up for him. People recognized that Franzese didn't just look like Peter Griffin; he really brought the character to life by mimicking his voice and making hilarious improvised jokes.

He reached out to Fuzzy Door Productions because he was worried about being sued

Franzese's Peter impression was so popular that Seth MacFarlane, the creator of "Family Guy," noticed his viral video and retweeted it in 2015. Franzese was thrilled to know that MacFarlane had seen the video, but also started worrying that he'd get in trouble with the production company that makes "Family Guy."

"I had actually reached out to Fuzzy Door Productions and wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to get sued," Franzese said during an interview in 2022. It turns out, not only were they okay with his Peter impression, his act came up during a table read and they discussed the possibility of having him in a live-action episode. That still hasn't happened as of 2023, so it seems unlikely that it will at this point, but who knows what the future holds? The show is currently still airing, so all they'd need is someone in a giant chicken suit and we'd be in for the fight of a lifetime.

He promoted a Family Guy app in 2017 and has met several voice actors from the show

After getting noticed by the "Family Guy" team in 2015, Franzese had the opportunity to work with them on the promotional campaign for the "Family Guy: Another Freakin' Mobile Game" app in 2017. The app allowed fans to fight against Ernie the Giant Chicken, complete puzzles, and see more of their favorite characters from the show ... also, for some reason, Meg was in it. Franzese attended a live stream event in Culver City, California, alongside Adam West, who voiced the mayor of Quahog for years, and several people from Jam City, the developer behind the mobile app. There were even people dressed as Stewie Griffin and Ernie the Giant Chicken, so it looked like quite the party.

Adam West isn't the only voice actor from "Family Guy" that Franzese has been able to meet. He's crossed paths with Seth Green, who voices Peter's son Chris Griffin and the nerdy Neil Goldman. Franzese has also encountered Ralph Garman who voices various minor characters like Dustin Hoffman and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not bad for someone who initially cosplayed as Peter Griffin as a last-minute backup plan.

He was mentioned on an episode of Family Guy

In 2019, Franzese achieved something most "Family Guy" fans can only dream of — he was referenced in an episode of the show. In Season 17, Episode 16 ("You Can't Handle the Booth"), the Griffin family provides commentary as if someone is watching the episode on the special features section of a DVD. During the commentary, MacFarlane says to the Griffins, "None of you are real; you are all TV characters voiced by me, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, and Mila Kunis." Peter replies, "Wait, what? Hang on a second, if I'm not real, then why does a fat nerd pretend to be me at every Comic-Con?" MacFarlane responds, "Please don't mention him. It'll only encourage him."

When asked if he was offended by the bit, Franzese said that his reaction was the complete opposite — he was honored to be referenced on the show. He never thought he'd be mentioned in an episode, and he's obviously a fan of the show's irreverent humor, so he was ecstatic about the whole situation.

He has cosplayed with other Family Guy lookalikes

Franzese isn't the only one out there with a realistic "Family Guy" cosplay. Cosplayer Mandy Kitana is sometimes known as the Real-Life Lois Griffin, and like Franzese, she makes it look like the character came to life. They've collaborated on many videos, sometimes acting like the characters as they go about their everyday lives, other times attending conventions and taking pictures with fans.

Since Peter and Lois are married, it makes sense that they'd spend most of their time together, but Franzese has met up with other "Family Guy" cosplayers as well. Anya Winchester looks quite a bit like Meg from Season 8, Episode 1 ("Road to the Multiverse") when Stewie and Brian travel to another dimension and see an attractive version of Meg who's actually still considered ugly there. Winchester has met up with her cartoon parents at several conventions so they can make fun of her and tell her to shut up — you know, the usual stuff.

Franzese has even hung out with the Real-Life Stewie Griffin. The little guy doesn't have the signature football-shaped head or evil glint in his eye, but he still looks pretty convincing in his yellow shirt and red overalls. During one of their videos together, Franzese did a voice impression of Stewie and it sounded just like the real deal.

He has a segment on his YouTube channel called Grinds My Gears

You know what really grinds our gears? When people haven't heard that the bird is the word. The most popular segment on Franzese's YouTube channel, "Grinds My Gears," is based off a similar segment from the movie "Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story." In the film, Peter hosts a news segment that he starts off by saying, "You know what really grinds my gears?" before ranting about all kinds of random things that bother him, including Lindsay Lohan, America, and how he can't find the droids he's looking for. That last one really hits home.

While the bit didn't last for very long on "Family Guy," Franzese has kept it going for years, uploading over 20 videos to his "Grinds My Gears" playlist and complaining about everything from traffic to allergies to gas prices. The two most popular videos on his channel are from this playlist; he rants about winter in one and racism in the other, and they've gotten an impressive 2.2 million views each.

He can do voice impressions of many other characters

You already know that Franzese can imitate Peter Griffin's voice, but did you know he can impersonate a ton of other characters as well? SpongeBob SquarePants, Gollum, Jar Jar Binks — the list of characters whose voices he can mimic goes on and on. So far, he's uploaded three YouTube videos showing off his voice acting skills, and he impersonates 25 characters in each video for a whopping 75 impressions total. Whoa, whoa, whoa... that's a lot of different voice impressions.

"I want people to realize that I'm not a one-trick pony and I can do more than just the 'Family Guy' stuff," he told Talker in January 2023. "Hopefully as I get more publicity, people will realize that there's more to me than meets the eye." Each video of him impersonating other characters has thousands of views, with people praising the accuracy and versatility of his voice acting in the comments, so it seems like he's well on his way. Aside from his YouTube videos, his IMDb bio also highlights his talent for voice acting, making it clear that he's capable of more than being the Real-Life Peter Griffin.

He earns a decent amount of money with his Peter impression

Franzese doesn't just imitate Peter for fun; he's also figured out how to make money from it. He gives "Family Guy" fans the chance to buy personalized videos from him or book him for various events. He's already made over 3,000 personalized videos and currently sells them for $50 each on Cameo, which is an extremely fair price considering he has just about a five-star rating. Alternatively, customers can book a live video call for $150, purchase a business video for $250, or message him for $6. The Long Island native has been booked for all sorts of occasions as well, such as birthday parties, religious events, and convention appearances.

Part of the reason for his success is that he goes beyond simply dressing as Peter. As he said to Talker, "I'm really good at improv and reactionary jokes and that's what really put me on the map," he said. "Any fat white guy can dress up like Peter Griffin, but not everyone can do what I do."

He still works a retail job, but dreams of becoming a full-time voice actor

Franzese has earned thousands of dollars as the Real-Life Peter Griffin, but that doesn't mean he does it full-time. He's been working in retail for years while making extra cash with his Peter impression.

"I go to work and I'm like a nobody," he said during the viral video from 2015. "I have a nobody job, making nobody pay, then I go to New York Comic-Con and people are pulling out phones like I'm freakin' Brad Pitt or some s***. It makes me feel like a million bucks."

He doesn't want to impersonate Peter forever, though. "I've had an absolute blast with the Peter Griffin bit, but I'd love the opportunity to do more than just cosplay in the future," he told Talker.

Franzese dreams of quitting his retail job and becoming a full-time voice actor. He's already proved that he can mimic the voices of Peter and many other characters, so maybe his vocal talent will take him beyond internet stardom. A scenario such as that would certainly qualify as ... freakin' sweet.