Andrea Fay Friedman, who has Down syndrome, was a voice actor in a recent episode of “Family Guy” criticized by Sarah Palin.
Since it was shown on Sunday, an episode of the Fox animated comedy “Family Guy” has drawn the repeated condemnation of Sarah Palin, the former Republican governor of Alaska and 2008 vice-presidential nominee.
In the episode, the teenage character Chris dates a girl named Ellen, who has Down syndrome, and who tells him over dinner that her mother is “the former governor of Alaska.” Ms. Palin, whose son Trig also has Down syndrome, has said that the “Family Guy” show “really isn’t funny” and was the work of “cruel, cold-hearted people.” Ms. Palin’s daughter Bristol has written that the “Family Guy” writers were “mocking my brother and my family,” and called them “heartless jerks.”
One person who supports the “Family Guy” staff is Andrea Fay Friedman, the 39-year-old actor and public speaker who played Ellen in that episode. Like the character, Ms. Friedman also has Down syndrome.
In an e-mail message sent on Thursday to The New York Times, Ms. Friedman wrote:
I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor. I thought the line “I am the daughter of the former governor of Alaska” was very funny. I think the word is “sarcasm.”
In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life.
Ms. Friedman also spoke by phone with ArtsBeat about her “Family Guy” episode and the controversy that followed. These are excerpts from that conversation.
Q.How did you start out as an actor?
A.Before I did “Family Guy,” I started studying at the Santa Monica Playhouse when I was 14, and then I also studied at the Stagecoach. And then I did more acting at Santa Monica College. My biggest break was “Life Goes On,” when I was 21.
Q.How were you hired to do this episode of “Family Guy”?
A.“Family Guy” talked to my dad first, before I knew about “Family Guy,” because I never watched it. But since I’m watching it, it’s really funny. They told me I was going to be animated, they were going to draw me, and I did not have to know the lines by memory. I just had to read it. It was really funny. I enjoyed it. I had a nice time doing it.
Q.Did they specifically tell you that the character you were going to play also had Down syndrome?
A.Yeah, they told me I was playing Ellen, who was Miss Bossy. I didn’t want to be bossy, but since they want me to be bossy, I just had to be as the character. I had to be bossy, as part of my process. That’s the only way to transform the real me to an animated person. So I had to do what an actor does. I just wing it and have fun with it.
Q.When you get asked to play characters who have Down syndrome, does that make you at all uncomfortable?
A.No, I’m proud of it. I’m not embarrassed. But mostly, it doesn’t matter if you have Down syndrome. Really, it just matters to have a different challenge.
Q.When did you find out about the reaction that the episode elicited from Sarah Palin and her family?
A.[laughs] That I did not even know about until my mom told me, “You’re on Channel 4!” And when I watched on Channel 4, on “Extra,” and I saw Sarah Palin with her son Trig. I’m like, “I’m not Trig. This is my life.” I was making fun of Sarah Palin, but not her son.
Q.Do you agree with what she and her daughter Bristol were saying, that the character and the jokes were insulting to people with Down syndrome?
A.It’s not really an insult. I was doing my role, I’m an actor. I’m entitled to say something. It was really funny. I was laughing at it. I had a nice time doing voiceover. It was my first time doing a voiceover, and I had fun.
Q.Do you know what other acting roles you’ve got coming up?
A.That I don’t know. [laughs] No one asked me yet. I’m still waiting. My dad gets the calls, and he tells me about it. I’d like to go back on “Saving Grace,” that’s my favorite show.
Q.What do you do when you’re not acting?
A.I work at a law firm, I’ve been here for 20 years. I’ve spoken all over the world, India and Japan. Dad taught me some Japanese. I like spending time with family and friends, go bowling and skiing, going to birthday parties.
Q.You’ve got a big birthday coming up yourself. How are you bracing yourself for the big 4-0?
A.Eh, it’s a big step. It’s a milestone. Might as well just leap for it.