Brow Beat

Hank Azaria on The Simpsons’ Apu: “I’m Perfectly Willing to Step Aside”

Earlier this month, The Simpsons directly addressed the renewed controversy around Apu, the Indian-American character at the center of comedian Hari Kondabolu’s smart, critical TruTV documentary The Problem With Apu. The episode, which involved shrugging at its critics and shaming them for being too “politically correct,” left much to be desired, and suggested that the show’s creators had zero intentions of seriously reconsidering how a long-outdated character has been the source of ire and shame for a significant number of Americans.

While appearing on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Tuesday evening, Hank Azaria defended the episode a bit, noting that he didn’t feel as though it had been condescending and “definitely” didn’t want viewers to come away from it thinking that they should “lighten up.” Still, he admitted that he’s given his role in all of this—as the white voice behind the character for nearly 30 years—“a lot of thought.” He continued:

I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people in this country, when they talk about what they feel and how they think about this character, and what their American experience of it has been. … Listening to voices means inclusion in the writers’ room. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writer/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 willing and happy to step aside or help it transition into something new.

While shooting the documentary, Azaria turned down numerous requests from Kondabolu to have a conversation with him on camera about Apu’s legacy. Kondabolu, for his part, seems pleased with Azaria’s statements on The Late Show: