Film Forward

Hank Azaria May Stop Voicing Apu On 'The Simpsons' But It's Not The Only Change He Suggests

"It just feels like the right thing to do to me."

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Actor Hank Azaria, who voices Indian-American Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu on The Simpsons, spoke openly to Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night's Late Show about the controversy surrounding the character. He offered a few solutions to the issue, which earned praise on Twitter.

As comedian Hari Kondabolu outlined in the TruTV documentary The Problem With Apu, many view Apu's portrayal on the series, especially by a non-Indian actor, as offensive — and some Indian Americans have even faced bullying because of it. Azaria told Colbert that this makes him "sad."

"It was certainly not my intention," he said. "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 was used to marginalize people, it's upsetting. Genuinely."

Colbert asked Azaria how he thinks the show should handle the character going forward. "I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people in this country," he said, adding, "As you know, in television terms, listening to voices means inclusion in the writers' room."

Azaria said he hopes to see more Indian and South Asian writers on The Simpsons, "genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take." He acknowledged that this may also include hiring a new voice actor, and shared, "I'm perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new."

If Azaria were to step down from the role of Apu, he certainly wouldn't be out of a job. As he told Colbert, he voices "20 or 30" regular characters on the show, as well as "dozens more" over the years. 

The discussion follows disappointment among many fans for how The Simpsons addressed the controversy during a recent episode. In the scene, Lisa Simpson says of a favorite children's book, "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect ... What can you do?" An image of Apu is then revealed, along with Bart Simpson's catchphrase "Don't have a cow."

Some saw this as the show brushing off the criticism. Azaria said he wasn't aware of the scene until he saw it with everyone else, and added, "That's definitely not the message that I want to send."

Kondabolu thanked the actor for his comments on Twitter, writing, "I appreciate what you said & how you said it."

"I really hope that's what The Simpsons does," Azaria told Colbert of his suggestions for the character. "It not only makes sense, but it just feels like the right thing to do to me."

Hear everything Azaria had to say in the video below:

Cover image: Fox

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