Hank Azaria recently said goodbye to one of television’s most beloved but also controversial animated characters. And he’s finally explaining why.
Azaria, who is perhaps best known for bringing to life Apu in the long-running sitcom “The Simpsons,” told the New York Times in an interview published Tuesday that he made his decision after many years of reflecting, processing and listening to the voices of people who explained why Apu was hurtful.
“Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” Azaria said. “It just didn’t feel right.”
For three decades, the actor has voiced dozens of inhabitants of the fictional town of Springfield. But Apu is perhaps the most problematic, especially through a modern lens: He is an immigrant from India who owns the local Kwik-E-Mart convenience store and is known for his catchphrase, “Thank you! Come again!” His thick Indian accent and singsong voice depict him as simple-minded, and even his last name, Nahasapeemapetilon, has been thought to welcome ridicule.
Through the years, “The Simpsons” actor and the show faced increasing criticism from people who find the character an offensive, racial stereotype. Many of the critics are of Indian descent, including comic Hari Kondabolu, whose 2017 documentary, “The Problem With Apu,” explored the negative tropes perpetuated by the character.
The show’s executive producers told the New York Times in a statement that they “respect Hank’s journey in regard to Apu. We have granted his wish to no longer voice the character.” But the fate of Apu remains unknown. “Apu is beloved worldwide. We love him too. Stay tuned,” the statement added.
Azaria first announced he was retiring the convenience store proprietor last month on the website /Film. During an appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” in 2018, Azaria addressed the mounting controversy and added that he was “perfectly willing and happy to step aside and transition [Apu] into something new... it just feels like the right thing to do to me. “
Azaria was initially unwilling to hear the arguments about why Apu’s character was divisive, he told the New York Times. But he started listening and now believes his experience can spark more dialogue about representation in popular culture.
“What happened with this character is a window into an important issue,” said Azaria. “It’s a good way to start the conversation. I can be accountable and try to make up for it as best I can.”