The actor announced his decision last month amid a growing backlash against the Indian American convenience-store owner and the stereotypes he pushed. “Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” Azaria said. “It just didn’t feel right.”
In a statement, the executive producers of The Simpsons said: “We respect Hank’s journey in regard to Apu. We have granted his wish to no longer voice the character.” They also suggested that Apu would continue to be a character on The Simpsons in some way, although they did not specify who would voice him: “Apu is beloved worldwide,” they said. “We love him too. Stay tuned.”
Azaria has been with The Simpsons since Season One and has voiced dozens of the denizens of Springfield, although his portrayal of Apu has understandably drawn criticism given that Azaria is white.
Most notably, in 2017, comedian Hari Kondabolu released the documentary The Problem With Apu, which explored the various ways Apu — who, for several decades, was arguably the most prominent South Asian character on American television — perpetuated nasty stereotypes. While The Simpsons dismissed the issue in a 2018 episode that was widely criticized, Azaria told Stephen Colbert that same year that he would be willing to step away from the character.
Speaking with the Times, Azaria said, “What happened with this character is a window into an important issue. It’s a good way to start the conversation. I can be accountable and try to make up for it as best I can.”
Azaria acknowledged that his initial reaction to the Apu controversy and Kondabolu’s documentary was overly defensive. But he said his thinking began to change as he learned more about representation and spoke with Indian American friends, such as the actor Utkarsh Ambudkar, who guested as Apu’s brother on a 2016 episode of The Simpsons.
A key turning point, Azaria said, was realizing that while he may not be offended by a prominent character that mocked white Jewish men like himself, “[If] that character were the only representation of Jewish people in American culture for 20 years, which is the case with Apu, I might not love that.”
Kondabolu also offered his thoughts on Azaria’s decision and the future of Apu, saying, “Whatever happens with the character, to me, is secondary. I’m happy that Hank did the work that a lot of people wouldn’t have. I feel like he’s a really thoughtful person and he got the bigger picture.”