Hank Azaria is considering “stepping aside” from the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on The Simpsons, following the controversial reaction to the character.
The animated series has come under fire for its depiction of Apu, which some believe represents a lazy Indian stereotype. Comedian Hari Kondabolu has led the criticism and even made a documentary, The Problem With Apu, which highlighted his issues with the character.
Speaking as part of an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Azaria, who voices Apu, admitted the controversy had “opened my eyes” to the issue and admitted more diversity was required in the Simpsons writers’ room.
“Of course, I understand. It’s come to my attention more and more over the past couple years,” he said. “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.”
“I’ve given this a lot of thought, and as I say my eyes have been opened. I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it. ‘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 Simpsons attempted to address the Apu issue in the episode No Good Read Goes Unpunished. In the episode, Marge realises the book she has been reading to Lisa, The Princess In The Garden, is full of lazy stereotypes.
Later, she is visited by its author Heloise Hodgeson Burwell, along with Rudyard Kipling, as part of a dream in which they convince her to change the book to modern standards.
When they she reads the new version to Lisa, however, her daughter remarks that is has taken “the spirit and character out of a book”.
“What am I supposed to do?” Marge asks to which Lisa replies, looking at the camera: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
A photo of Apu alongside the caption “Don’t have a cow” then appears next to her bed, to further hammer home the point. Marge then says: “Some things will be dealt with at a later date,”with Lisa chiming in: “If at all”.
The response didn’t go down too well with fans, and Azaria was keen to distance himself from it.
“I had nothing to do with the writing or the voicing [in that episode]. I think if anyone came away from that segment thinking they need to lighten up…that’s definitely not the message that I want to send,” he said,
Kondabolu has previously described Azaria’s portrayal of Apu as “a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.”
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.