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On The Late Show, Hank Azaria says recasting Apu “seems like the right thing to do”

Hank Azaria, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

Midway through an interview largely given over to the ongoing discussion about the problematic nature of his 29-year run as Springfield’s most prominent South Asian character voiced by a white guy, Hank Azaria told Stephen Colbert that he was just as unpleasantly surprised by The Simpsonsrecent, defensive non-apology as anyone. After Late Show host Colbert half-apologized for “holding [Azaria’s] feet to the fire” with his questions, Azaria claimed that, like a lot of viewers, he didn’t know about the show’s unsubtle reference to the controversy until he watched the episode. Noting, “I had nothing to do with the writing or voicing” of the aside in question—in which Lisa Simpson, of all people, basically tells Indian-Americans hurt by Azaria’s stereotypical portrayal to get over it—the Emmy-winning actor distanced himself from the show’s response pretty unequivocally. Referring to those who agree with this imposter Lisa’s implication that “people need to lighten up or grow a thicker skin,” Azaria said, “That’s certainly not the way I feel about it,” adding, “That’s definitely not the message I want to send.” (Unlike, say, Simpsons showrunner Al Jean.)

Technically on The Late Show to promote the upcoming second season of the very funny Brockmire, Azaria instead devoted the bulk of his time to answering Colbert’s Apu questions. While not mentioning the documentary by name, Azaria seemed to have given a lot of thought to the points brought up in Hari Kondabolu’s The Problem With Apu, saying that his own thinking on the issue of representation and stereotyping has evolved over the show’s long, long run. Admitting that he once agreed with fake-Lisa that Apu’s characterization wasn’t a big deal, Azaria explained that, after listening to people in the South Asian community, “the idea that anyone, young or old, past or present, was teased” using his performance as inspiration “makes me sad.” And if his proclamation that “the idea that it was used to marginalize people is upsetting” doesn’t take into account the clip of Azaria blithely doing Apu at a 2016 college graduation speech shown in Kondabolu’s film, still, coming out staunchly against the show’s recent messaging debacle seems a step in the right direction. Especially since Azaria states that hiring actual South Asian writers—or even a new, not-white voice actor—to address Apu Nahasapeemapetilon’s true place in Springfield “certainly seems like the right thing to do.”


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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.