Arif Zahir takes over the role from Mike Henry, who said, "Persons of color should play characters of color."
The Cleveland Show, Arif Zahir
Credit: Fox; Ben Krantz

Welcome to the new Cleveland.

Family Guy has found the actor who will replace Mike Henry, who has voiced Cleveland for the last 20 years. Actor/comedian/YouTube star Arif Zahir will be heard voicing the character next season, Fox announced on Friday. (Henry has already recorded episodes for this upcoming season, which kicks off on Sunday.)

In a week this past June that saw several white voice actors step down from their roles as characters of color, Henry announced that he would no longer play Cleveland Brown, Peter's upbeat neighbor, on Fox's veteran animated Fox comedy. "It's been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years," Henry said on Twitter. "I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color."

Zahir, a.k.a. Azerrz — whose credits include the YouTube comedy G.P.A. — is more than familiar with Peter's upbeat neighbor, having impressively impersonated him over the years, including in this viral video. There was even a recent petition to have him cast in the role.

“Firstly, I’m eternally grateful to have received this once in a lifetime opportunity," Zahir said in a statement. "When I heard that Mike Henry was stepping down from the role of Cleveland Brown — my favorite cartoon character of all time — I was shocked and saddened, assuming we’d never see him again. When I learned I would get to take over the role? Overabundant gratitude. To Mike, you created something truly special and I promise I will do my absolute best to honor your legacy. To [executive producer] Rich Appel, [executive producer] Alec Sulkin and [creator] Seth MacFarlane, thank you for this incredible gift. And to the millions of fans who love this show, I promise not to let you down.”

Henry — who will remain as a voice actor on the show — offered a gracious hello to the man who will follow in his vocal footsteps as Cleveland. “I welcome Arif to the Family Guy team," he said in a statement. "Arif’s vocal talent is obvious, but his understanding of Cleveland and his respect for the character give me confidence that he is in the right hands. I look forward to getting to know Arif and working with him to make sure Cleveland stays every bit as awesome as he has always been.”

Yesterday, it was confirmed that Alex Désert will voice Carl (previously done by Hank Azaria) in the season 32 premiere of The Simpsons. The producers of that other long-running animated Fox comedy announced back in June that white actors will no longer play non-white characters.  (Still no word on who will take over one of Azaria's most famous Simpsons characters, Apu.)

Family Guy launches its 19th season on Sept. 27 at 9:30 p.m. with its 350th episode, one in which Stewie finally utters his first word. (In the real world, that is.) "It's about what you'd think," Sulkin teased. Later this fall, the show introduces the new mayor of Quahog, played by Sam Elliott.

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