In the latest win for inclusive voice casting in animation, Harry Shearer is stepping down from voicing Dr. Hibbert on “The Simpsons” (via The Wrap.) The character, who first appeared in the 1990 second season of the iconic series, will be voiced by beloved voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson, best known for voicing Cleveland Brown Jr. on Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” and “The Cleveland Show.” The change will go into effect as of next week’s episode, according to a statement from “Simpsons” studio 20th Television.
Shearer’s exit comes about eight months after a June 2020 announcement in solidarity with the George Floyd protests that “The Simpsons” would no longer voice Black characters with white actors. “Moving forward, ‘The Simpsons’ will no longer have white actors voice nonwhite characters,” the network said in a brief statement at the time.
Dr. Hibbert is not the most notorious case of cross-racial voice casting on “The Simpsons.” That distinction goes to Apu, the Kwik-E-Mart owner originated and voiced for many years by Hank Azaria. Indian and Indian-American communities decried Apu as a racist stereotype and Azaria’s outsized accent as offensive. In 2017, stand-up comedian Hari Kondabolu made a feature documentary called “The Problem With Apu.” Azaria stepped aside from voicing Apu in January of 2020.
“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.”
Shearer is iconic to “The Simpsons” fans and Christopher Guest fans alike. He provides voices for Principal Skinner, Kent Brockman, Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, and many more. He famously co-wrote “This Is Spinal Tap” and has appeared in “Waiting For Guffman,” “A Mighty Wind,” and “For Your Consideration.”