Hank Azaria addressed the controversy surrounding The Simpsons‘ character Apu when the actor, who voices the Kwik-E-Mart owner, visited the Late Show.
“It’s come to my attention more and more, especially over the last couple of years, that people in the south Asian community in this country have been fairly upset by the voice and characterization,” Azaria told Stephen Colbert.
“It’s sparked a lot of conversation about what should be done with the character going forward, which is not so easy to answer.”
Now in its 29th season, The Simpsons has seen Apu become a point of contention for the series following the release of The Problem With Apu, a documentary by Hari Kondabolu that explored how the character, one of the most prominent Indian characters on television, has fostered stereotypes about the south Asian community.
“And I’ve tried to express this before: You know the idea that anybody – young or old, past or present – was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad,” Azaria said. “It was certainly not my attention, I wanted to spread laughter and joy with this character. And the idea that it’s brought pain and suffering in any way, that it’s used to marginalize people, it’s upsetting, genuinely.”
Azaria also discussed The Simpsons‘ shaky, dispassionate handling of the Apu controversy in an episode earlier this year, when the series – using Marge’s bedtime story to Lisa – questioned why the Apu character had gone from beloved to politically incorrect, and promised to deal with the situation at a later date, if at all.
“I had nothing to do with the writing and the voicing. Apu doesn’t speak in that segment,” Azaria said of the scene. “It was a late addition that I saw right around the same time everybody else in America did, so I didn’t know it was going to be in it until I saw it. I think that if anybody came away from that segment thinking that they should lighten up or take a joke better or grow a thicker skin … That’s certainly not the way I feel about.”
As for his own opinion on the future of Apu, Azaria said, “I think the most important thing is we have to listen to the south Asian people, the Indian people in this country when they talk about what they feel and what they think of this character, and what their American experience of it has been… In television terms, listening to voices means inclusion in the writers’ room. I really want to see south Asian writers in the 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 happy to step aside or help transition it into something new.”
Following Azaria’s Late Show appearance, Kondabolu tweeted, “Thank you, @HankAzaria. I appreciate what you said & how you said it.”