TV

Hank Azaria Has Broken His Silence On The Growing Furore Over Apu From ‘The Simpsons’

The Simpsons team are thinking about what to do next.

Hank Azaria, the voice actor who plays Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (among many others) on The Simpsons, has finally spoken out about what he thinks of the persisting discussions around the character, who has become somewhat controversial lately.

If this is all new to you, here’s the background: a recently released documentary, The Problem With Apu, critiques the show’s treatment of the character in relation to race. The doco tracks both the history of the character, as well as its reception and influence in popular culture.

“I think it’s an important conversation and one definitely worth having,” Azaria told TMZ after being approached on the street. “Definitely anybody that was hurt or offended by it, or by any character or vocal performance… it’s really upsetting that it was offensive or hurtful to anybody.”

The actor says the whole Simpsons team is “still thinking about it”. “It’s a lot to digest.”

For a long time — perhaps still — Apu was the most famous representation of a South Asian person on TV. Though he’s beloved within the universe and fandom, he’s also a highly stereotypical character with a strong accent voiced by a white guy. Yep, it’s a bit of a Chris Lilley situation.

The documentary follows comedian Hari Kondabolu as he reckons with his relationship to the character, and explores how Apu has affected the lives of others. These others include people like Kal Penn, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minhaj, Maulik Pancholy and Aziz Ansari — all of whom have had negative experiences with the character when trying to make a name for themselves in the entertainment industry.

As Kondabolu notes, these are conversations which have been going on for awhile now.

Hank Azaria declined requests to be interviewed in the documentary, but the fact that he’s now getting ambushed by TMZ shows what an effect the doco is having in the US right now.

“I think the documentary made some really interesting points and gave us a lot at The Simpsons to think about,” Azaria said. “We really are thinking about it.”

These aren’t the first public comments Azaria has made about the criticisms of Apu. In 2012 he responded to a viral monologue Kondabolu did on the character. “If the only representation of Jews in our culture was Robin Williams’ impression of a Yiddish guy [from The Birdcage starring both Williams and Azaria], I guess I might be upset with that too,” he said at the time.

He also said he was struck by one line from Kondabolu: that the accent sounds like “a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father”.

Off the back of all this, some people have suggested it would make sense to kill off the character. But Kondabolu has spoken out against this proposal. This morning he posted a plea to The Simpsons writers on Twitter:

Like Azaria said, there’s definitely a lot for the showrunners to think about!