USA Today interviewed Matt Groening on the occasion of The Simpsons’ 636th episode Sunday, which breaks Gunsmoke’s record for the most episodes of any prime-time scripted television series. It’s a significant milestone for a legendary show, but it comes as The Simpsons is at the center of its largest controversy since elementary schools banned Bart Simpson T-shirts out of fears they would make underachievers cool. Comedian Hari Kondabolu’s problem with The Simpsons is more serious: His film The Problem With Apu looks critically at the show’s Indian convenience store owner, voiced with an accent by Hank Azaria, who is white. Azaria, appearing on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, seemed open to Kondabolu’s concerns, although the show itself has been dismissive. It will not surprise anyone that the 64-year-old creator of a 29-year-old television show was a little prickly on the subject—here’s the relevant exchange:
Do you have any thoughts on the criticism of Apu as a stereotype?
Groening: Not really. I’m proud of what we do on the show. And I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.
In the April 8 episode, which addressed the Apu criticism and reignited controversy, what did it mean when Marge said, “Some things will be addressed at a later date,” and Lisa said, “If at all”?
Groening: We’ll let the show speak for itself.
Groening directly connects the current controversy with the Simpsons t-shirt bans of the early 1990s, telling USA Today that he felt at the time that “people [were] pretending to be offended by Bart’s very mild sassiness,” and it’s easy to see why that experience would color his perception of Kondabolu’s criticisms today. But it’s never a great idea to suggest that your critics are being disingenuous unless you genuinely don’t care what they think and want them to go away. (Sometimes that’s exactly the right move!) But Kondabolu has approached the issue seriously and sincerely and deserves to be taken seriously by the show’s creators. One of the best jokes from the show’s glory days depicted Groening as a reclusive crank with an eyepatch, a bolo tie, and a revolver. It would be a shame if, like so many of the show’s predictions, that one came true.