The actor who voices Apu in The Simpsons has said that he is willing to “step aside” following recent criticism over the character.
Last year, comedian Hari Kondabolu’s The Problem With Apu documentary looked at the problematic nature of the Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.
In response to initial criticism that the character is a racist stereotype, The Simpsons aired an episode earlier this month (‘No Good Read Goes Unpunished’) that saw Marge and Lisa approach the issue.
In one scene, Lisa turns to the camera and recites the monologue: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”. The camera then pans to a framed photo of Apu, which features the words, “Don’t have a cow, Apu”. Watch in the clip below.
Following the episode’s airing, the show’s tackling of the subject was criticised and labelled “toothless” by some fans.
Simpsons showrunner Al Jean has since said that the show will “continue to try to find an answer” that is both “popular” and “right”.
"Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect… What can you do?" pic.twitter.com/Bj7qE2FXWN
— soham (@sohamberlamps) April 9, 2018
Appearing on the Late Show in the US, Hank Azaria – who also voices Moe, Carl, Comic Book Guy and Chief Wiggum – called on the show to employ more South Asian writers and said that he wanted to “help transition” the character into “something new”.
“The idea that anybody was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad,” Azaria told host Stephen Colbert.
“It was certainly not my intention, I wanted to spread laughter and joy… the idea that it was used to marginalise people is upsetting”.
Azaria continued: “I’ve given this a lot of thought, really a lot of thought, and, as I say, my eyes have been opened and I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people in this country when they talk what they feel and how they think about this character and what their American experience of it has been.”
“As you know, in television terms listening to voices means inclusion in the writers’ room. I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the room, not in a token way, but genuinely informing whatever new direction the character takes, including how it is voiced or not voiced.”
“I’m perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new. I really hope that’s what The Simpsons does, it not only makes sense but it just seems like the right thing to do to me.”
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) April 25, 2018
Hari Kondabolu, the comedian responsible for the original documentary, has since responded to Azaria’s comment on Twitter, thanking him and saying that he “appreciate[s] what you said & how you said it”.
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 25, 2018
See Azaria’s Late Show interview in full:
Azaria has worked on The Simpsons since 1989.