hank azaria simpsons brockmire controversy he’d ‘step aside’ from voicing Apu hank azaria friends The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Hank Azaria addressed the controversy over Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian character he voices on The Simpsons.
Simmering outrage boiled after the release of a documentary, The Problem with Apu, by comedian Hari Kondabolu, examining the notion that Apu perpetuates racial and ethnic stereotypes, and The Simpsons’ reaction. The show’s response to the uproar was a scene in which Lisa says, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” Marge responds, “Some things will be dealt with at a later date.” To which Lisa adds, “If at all.”
Azaria made it clear that he wasn’t even aware of the scene, and said of it, “I think that if anybody came away from that segment feeling that they should lighten up or take a joke better or grow a thicker skin … it’s certainly not the way I feel about it, and that’s definitely not the message that I want to send.”
Azaria said he’d like to see Indian or South Asian writers help inform a different direction for Apu and that he would be willing to let him go if necessary. Azaria would still be a huge part of The Simpsons, as he does dozens of other voices on the show.
“I’m perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new,” Azaria said. “I really hope that’s what The Simpsons does. And it not only makes sense, but it just feels like the right thing to do to me.”
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airs weeknights at 11:35 on CBS.
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Hank Azaria’s “Eyes Have Been Opened” Amid The Simpsons‘ Apu Controversy
“It has come to my attention more and more—especially the last couple of years, as you say—that people in the South Asian community in this country have been fairly upset by the voice and characterization of Apu,” Azaria said, adding, “It’s sparked a lot of conversation about what should be done with the character moving forward, which is not so easy to answer. I’ve tried to express this before. You know, the idea that anybody who is young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad. It certainly was not my intention. I wanted to bring laughter and joy with this character. The idea that it’s brought pain and suffering—in any way—that is used to marginalize people, it is upsetting. Genuinely.”
Amid backlash, a spokesperson for 20th Century Fox said, “The episode speaks for itself.” The Simpsons‘ showrunner, Al Jean, tweeted in part, “I truly appreciate all responses pro and con.”
“I’ve given this a lot of thought—really a lot of thought—and, as I say, my eyes have been opened,” he said. “I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people in this country, when they talk about what they feel and how they think about this character, and what their American experience of it has been. As you know in television terms, listening to voices means inclusion in the writers’ room. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the writers’ room—not in a token way—but genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take, including how it is voiced or not voiced. I’m perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new. I really hope that’s what The Simpsons does. It just not only makes sense, but it just feels like the right thing to do, to me.”
After the episode aired, Kondabolu reached out to Azaria via Twitter: