Who needs the Kwik-E-Mart? Hank Azaria is ready to say goodbye to Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. The actor told “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert on Tuesday that he was “perfectly willing and happy to step aside, or help transition it into something new. I really hope that’s what ‘The Simpsons’ does. It not only makes sense, but it just feels like the right thing to do, to me.”
Azaria has voiced Apu since “The Simpsons” launched nearly three decades ago. But concerns over the stereotypical nature of the character have gained more attention after being the subject of the TruTV documentary “The Problem with Apu.” In that film, comedian Hari Kondabolu interviewed celebrities of South Asian descent about the negative impact that the character has had on them. Azaria has previously expressed concern that Apu might be deemed offensive or hurtful, and has said that the show will address the issue.
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Indeed, “The Simpsons” recently broached the subject of Apu in the episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” in a scene where Marge and Lisa noted the show still isn’t sure what to do with the character.
“It’s hard to say,” said Lisa, next to a photo of Apu. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” But the show’s decision to focus on political correctness, and use normally sensitive and progressive Lisa as the sounding board, disappointed many critics.
Weighing in on “The Simpsons” while promoting Season 2 of his live-action IFC comedy “Brockmire,” Azaria said he wasn’t aware until air (since Apu isn’t voiced in that scene) that it was going to be handled that way.
“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 or toughen up — yeah, that’s certainly not the way I feel about it,” Azaria said. “And that’s definitely not the message that I want to send.”
Azaria said he has given a lot of thought to the fare of Apu and how the show might properly address the character.
“It’s come to my attention more and more over the past couple years,” he told Colbert. “My eyes have been opened. And 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.
“In television terms, listening to voices means inclusion in the writers’ room,” he added. “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.”
In January, Azaria told reporters that “the idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased or worse based on the character of Apu on ‘The Simpsons,’ the voice or any other tropes of the character is distressing.”
“The Simpsons” executive producer Al Jean has limited his comments on the aftermath of the episode, only writing on Twitter that “I truly appreciate all responses pro and con. Will continue to try to find an answer that is popular & more important right.”
On Twitter, Kondabolu responded postively to Azaria’s comments: “Thank you, @HankAzaria. I appreciate what you said & how you said it.”
Here’s a clip from Azaria’s appearance on “The Late Show”:
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) April 25, 2018