Hank Azaria has been the voice of Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on The Simpsons since the very first season all the way back in the olden days of 1990. Over the years, there’s been hate about Hank voicing a stereotypical Indian character and many think it’s some Mickey-Rooney-In-Breakfast-At-Tiffany’s foolery. But the hate got louder after the release of a documentary called The Problem with Apu, which was written by comedian Hari Kondabolu. The Simpsons responded in a way that should be featured in a book called How To Respond To A Controversy In The Worst Possible Way. They made Lisa Simpson be the one to basically tell everyone who has a problem with Apu to go down to the Kwik-E-Mart and get themselves some Aspirin to crush up and sprinkle on their hurt butts.
Hank was on The Late Show last night to promote his other show Brockmire, and the first thing he talked about after sitting down was how beautiful the theater is. I think that was his way of saying, “Can’t we just talk about these plush suits and that gorgeous ceiling and please, please, please not mention the name that rhymes with Achu?” But Stephen Colbert went right into how many South Asians cringe at the thought of Apu.
At first, Hank didn’t understand the hate, but now he does and it feels his body with the sads knowing that little assholes have used Apu to bully South Asian American kids.
“It has come to my attention more and more, especially the last couple of years, as you say, that people in the South Asian community in this country have been fairly upset by the voice and characterization of Apu. It’s sparked a lot of conversation about what should be done with the character going forward, which is not so easy to answer. I’ve tried to express this before. You know, the idea that anybody who is young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad. It was certainly not my intention. I wanted to spread laughter and joy with this character. The idea that it’s brought pain and suffering in any way, that is used to marginalize people, it is upsetting. Genuinely.”
Colbert moved into The Simpsons’ response and how many saw the message as: Get over it, you snowflake PC bitch ass whiners you! While sounding like he’s spent some time in the office of a damage control publicist, Hank said that message isn’t one he shares and that he hopes the creators bring in some South Asian writers to move Apu in a new direction, and he’s okay if that means his days of doing an Indian accent on the show are done. Besides, he’s got 4,500 other characters on The Simpsons he voices.
“That’s certainly not that way I feel about it and that’s definitely not that message I want to send out. I’ve given this a lot of thought, really a lot of thought, and as I say, my eyes have been open. And I think the most important thing is that we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people in this country when they talk about what they feel and what 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 this character may take including how it is voiced or not voiced. I am 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 feels like the right thing to do to me.”
Hari is happy with everything Hank said about what to do with Apu:
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 25, 2018
On the other side are people who are scratching their heads over the outrage, because they can’t understand how people are mad now since Apu has always been like that. I think that’s the point. 28 years ago, there weren’t many, if any, Indian characters on TV, so people may have been like, “An Indian character in a primetime TV show who is voiced by a white guy… sure, I’ll take it!” But now that things have evolved and there’s more South Asians on TV, they’re looking at Apu like, “Errr…” My guess is that The Simpsons will take Hank Azaria’s advice and have Apu move back to India, and a Korean immigrant will buy the Kwik-E-Mart and change the name to Hurry Up And Buy, and yes the Korean immigrant will be voiced by Nancy Cartwright.
Speaking of, Hank could’ve moved the talk away from the Apu situation by saying to Colbert, “You know Bart is still a Scientologist. Crazy, right!”