While no official statement from the series and its representatives has emerged so far, “The Simpsons” voice actor Hank Azaria has revealed in a new interview with /Film that he will no longer voice Apu, the Indian immigrant proprietor of the Kwik-E-Mart on the beloved animated show. In the interview, which took place during the ongoing TCA tour in Southern California, Azaria said, “I won’t be doing the voice anymore, unless there’s some way to transition it or something…What they’re going to do with the character is their call,” referring to the series’ creative team that includes executive producers Matt Groening and James L. Brooks. “It’s up to them and they haven’t sorted it out yet. All we’ve agreed on is I won’t do the voice anymore.”
Azaria has contributed voice work to the series since it began in 1989, and his character has been a source of controversy for decades. In 2017, comedian Hari Kondabolu released the documentary film “The Problem with Apu,” which outlined how audiences of South Asian descent perceived Apu as one of their sole sources of representation on TV — for better or worse. After the movie was released, Hank Azaria said on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” that he was open to the idea of no longer voicing the character.
“I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it,” Azaria said at the time. “I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the writers room…including how [Apu] is voiced or not voiced. I’m perfectly willing to step aside. It just feels like the right thing to do to me…The idea that anyone young or old, past or present, being bullied based on Apu really makes me sad. It certainly was not my intention. I wanted to bring joy and laughter to people.”
In a 2018 episode of “The Simpsons,” writers on the series addressed the controversy in a scene where Lisa looks at a framed picture of Apu and says, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
Now, according to Azaria, the decision to stop voicing Apu on the series, which has been on TV for 31 years, was a mutual one. “We all made the decision together,” Azaria told /Film during the TCA tour. “We all agreed on it. We all feel like it’s the right thing and good about it.”
In a May 2018 USA Today interview, Groening said, “I’m proud of what we do on the show. And I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.” The exact future of the character, and whether he will remain in the show, remains to be seen.
IndieWire has reached out to Fox for comment.