Seth Macfarlane relaxes by sitting in his tasteful mansion, listening to big-band albums, watching old musicals and playing piano; he works by sitting at the kitchen counter and scribbling fart jokes. The creator of the animated, highly offensive Fox TV shows Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show throws enormous Gatsby-like parties at his house and books a full orchestra. He is polite and thoughtful, with an easy laugh. It's as if you walked into the offices of Mad magazine in the 1960s and found out the editor was William F. Buckley Jr.
MacFarlane, 38, is visibly happy as he stands in a recording studio overseeing the 82-piece band that's scoring the DVD extras for his first movie, Ted. One of the extras is a joke cut from the beginning of the film, when a bunch of Boston kids beat up a Jewish boy as a birthday gift to Jesus. "There were a lot of Jesus jokes, so we figured, Let's go easy on the bastard," says MacFarlane, after asking the composer to skip the diminuendo as the kid gets pummeled on the screen above him. "You pick your Christ humor carefully. You don't go for both palms and feet."
Ted (out June 29) is about a boy whose Christmas wish is for his teddy bear to come to life and be his best friend forever and how, 30 years later, having a pot-smoking, foulmouthed 2-foot-tall stuffed roommate can screw up your career and relationships. While the movie has all the R-rated verbal crudeness that MacFarlane can't put on his network shows, it's also got a gooier center. Which is pretty new for him. He wanted to replicate the generally sunny tone of 1980s summer movies like Back to the Future and E.T.--and MacFarlane himself has a very sunny attitude. Not just because when he sold Family Guy to Fox at 24, he became the youngest person ever to run a network show. Not just because when Fox gave him a five-year contract for more than $100 million in 2008, he became the highest-paid TV writer in history. The dude is just sunny. His favorite movie is The Sound of Music. He'd like to make a science-fiction show because, he says, "I feel like dystopia has taken over. Growing up, I watched Captain Picard on the Enterprise. It was a future you wanted to live in. Everything wasn't coated in black oil. It took outer space and made it look like Dynasty."
He might have the same liberal-tarian frustrations as his buddy Bill Maher--both are atheists who feel strongly about global warming, pot legalization and gay marriage--but he's got none of the vitriol. MacFarlane liked his parents. (His late mom did administrative work at the Connecticut prep school where his dad taught; his sister Rachael now does voices on Family Guy and American Dad!) "The guys who can pitch five good jokes in a minute are miserable and had a tougher childhood," he says. "It takes me a little longer. I have to work a little harder."