Move over Quahog — Long Island has its own Peter Griffin, and this time, he’s more than a character on a television show. He’s the real deal.
Deer Park resident and cosplay enthusiast Robert Franzese, 26, spiraled into Internet fame earlier this week when a video of his adventures impersonating Peter Griffin at the 2014 New York Comic Con went viral, garnering nearly 7 million views since the video was posted to YouTube on Jan. 6.
“It’s incredibly humbling, it really is,” Franzese of said people’s reaction to him doing cosplay, the act of dressing up as animated character. “I read the comments from fans sometimes, and I just have to sit back and say ‘wow.’ It can be very moving, to see how I impact people.”
Clad in green pants, a white shirt and round-framed glasses (ones he had from playing Santa Claus at countless office parties) Franzese portrays Family Guy’s lewd cartoon dad in the documentary-style video. The video opens with Franzese in character at the Babylon train station before heading to the convention.
Franzese’s flawless vocal impression and shockingly realistic semblance is what prompted his rise to fame — a journey that actually began back in 2012, when he first wore the costume to Comic Con completely on a whim.
“I had been going to Comic Con when I could since 2008, but 2012 was the first year I actually dressed up,” Franzese said. “On the second day, I went as Peter Griffin — it was an easy costume and I wanted to be comfortable. While I was there, I just started doing the voice and people really responded to it. I didn’t break character that day for five hours.”
“I had never been anyone famous, I mean, who wanted to take pictures with me?” Franzese, who describes himself as a “geek,” said later. “But I was getting so much attention, it was surreal.”
When a fan video of Franzese at the 2012 convention resurfaced on social media website Reddit in July 2013, it went viral, gaining more than 500,000 views. The success prompted him to take the character to the next level, starting his own character-based Facebook page and rebranding his personal YouTube channel as the “Real Life Peter Griffin.”
“I remember it, one of my friends messaged me on Facebook and said, ‘Dude, you’re trending,’” Franzese said. “I barely even knew what that meant at the time. But when I saw it, how people were responding to me, I realized that this could have a lot of potential.”
Since 2013, Franzese has visited several comic conventions nationwide as Peter Griffin, most notably at the Great Allentown Comic Con, where he was asked to do stand-up in character. The video of his standup went viral in early 2014, garnering close to 1.9 million views.
Franzese also does cosplay as Sergeant Slaughter — the WWE Hall of Famer whose character became part of the animated series “G.I. Joe” -- as a member of the Long Island based-G.I. Joe cosplay group The Finest. The group makes regular appearances at local comic conventions, like ICON at Stony Brook University, and Eternal Con, held at the Cradle of Aviation in Garden City.
Franzese says his interest in cosplay began when he was growing up in Deer Park.
“My mother would call me the ‘man of many faces’ because I was always doing impressions of character voices on TV. It was something that just came naturally to me — I’d like to think of myself as being a vocal chameleon.”
In light of his recent fame, New York Comic Con personally invited Franzese to attend the 2015 convention in October. He plans on attending as Peter Griffin yet again.
“At this point, I have to bring it back, how can I not?” he said.
But for Franzese, what's most important isn't the fame, but the friends he has made along the way.
“If you love something, go for it. Really, you have nothing to lose,” Franzese said. “If I was timid and never dressed up for any of these conventions, I never would be where I am today, with the amazing community of friends I have now.”