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MacFarlane is a meta-comedy machine, stacking towers of high and low cultural references, absurdism (a human-size chicken often appears to beat up the dad on Family Guy), deeply offensive humor (a bouncy tune called "You Have AIDS") and Family Guy's impossibly concise 10-second cutaway jokes, like one in which an indie director remakes Brokeback Mountain from the horses' point of view. MacFarlane is a hero to young men--Family Guy is the No. 1 scripted show among men ages 18 to 24--which is why in 2008, the Obama campaign took the risk of having him stump for the candidate in Ohio.
When Mark Wahlberg's agent, Ari Emanuel, asked him to read a script about a guy with a teddy bear written by a guy who writes cartoon shows, Wahlberg tried to say no. Emanuel harped on him; Wahlberg read it and liked it. Then he watched an episode of Family Guy. "I said, 'O.K., it's a cartoon, so I'll watch it in front of my children. It's on regular TV,'" Wahlberg says. "Stewie poops in his diaper, so he makes the dog eat the poop and so he throws up and makes the dog clean up the puke. My wife starts screaming at me and shuts it off. That was it--I was an instant fan."
Ted is about a boy-man who must grow up, and it's not surprising that MacFarlane made it at this point in his life. Since getting that $100 million contract, he has hired a trainer, lost 35 pounds, gotten his teeth whitened and slicked back his hair so he looks more like the Rat Pack entertainer he wants to be (he took six months of tap-dance lessons) than the nerd he is (he took six months of tap-dance lessons). Last year he released a Grammy-nominated swing album, Music Is Better than Words. After short relationships with models and young actresses such as Eliza Dushku and Amanda Bynes, he says he's been looking for a more serious relationship. "Actresses have a lot of daddy issues," he says. "If you're an asshole, it kind of works in your favor. I refuse to wear jewelry, so that makes it harder."
But the main reason he finally made Ted wasn't his own increasingly grownup life--it was technology. MacFarlane first planned Ted as another animated TV show but decided to do a live-action movie after seeing how motion-capture animation (seen in Avatar and The Lord of the Rings movies) could make lifelike characters. He thought motion capture would be even more powerful in comedy, where realistic expressions and gestures are more crucial than in science fiction. So MacFarlane directed a $50 million movie while wearing a spandex suit with balls stuck on it, so he could jump into scenes to perform the voice of the teddy bear.