Who doesn't have the word "Stewie!" imprinted on their brain in Lois Griffin’s signature nasal drawl?
The actor behind Lois from Family Guy, Alex Borstein, recently toured Ireland with her new comedy show Alex Borstein and the Amstergang. She sat down with Ryan Tubridy to talk Family Guy, her role in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, and the death-defying courage of her Hungarian grandmother - listen above.
Alex dedicated her 2019 Emmy award for Best Supporting Actress in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel to her mother and her grandmother. The pair survived the holocaust in Nazi-occupied Hungary, thanks to a decision her grandmother made in the face of almost certain death. Alex described how, in 1944, the far-right Hungarian Arrow Cross party were still murdering thousands of Jews in Budapest, even though they knew the war was almost over. She says her grandmother, a young cousin and Alex’s infant mother had all been rounded up and were waiting in line to be shot, when her grandmother did something surprising:
"She stepped out, walked out, took her star off of her arm and went back into the building in the Ghetto, gathered what she could and started walking. And literally walked and walked and walked and walked and walked."
Alex said her grandmother had spoken to the guard, a fellow Hungarian, to sound him out before she stepped out of the line:
"She said, you know, 'What happens if I step out of line?’ And his words were, ‘I don’t have the heart to shoot you but somebody will.’ And she was like, ok, well, ‘It’s either going to happen as I’m looking at you or walking away, so let it be as I am walking away’."
The risk paid off and all three escaped with their lives. Alex says the qualities she loved and admired in her grandmother also made her "unrelenting" and "tough" and left a lasting impact on her as an artiste. She grew up in a bilingual home, which had its advantages, she says:
"I think growing up with a foreign language in the house and hearing it with her and my mother, I think that actually gives you an ear for characters, for accents, for creating a three-dimensional character."
Meeting Seth McFarlane in 1998 when he was creating the pilot for Family Guy landed Alex Borstein in both the voice booth and the writers’ room. Ryan asks her how comedy writers know how far they can push a joke and Alex says not everything makes the final cut:
"I wrote on the show for many years and in the writers’ room, I mean the writers’ room is a disgusting, filthy, awful… You would be arrested if any of that was anywhere else."
Alex says, for her, pushing the comedy envelope is more about sending up people who hold certain views, than about targeting minorities.
"What we’re making fun of is the Archie Bunker of it all. Making fun of the person who actually believes this, and not this minority group. That’s not the target. We’re punching up, not down. And animation’s the best place to do it. You can get away with a lot more coming out of Peter Griffin’s animated face, than you would now coming out of Archie Bunker’s face. It’s a lot easier to take something from a cartoon character."
Listen back to more from The Ryan Tubridy Show here.