Hank Azaria has spoken out about the controversy that surrounded his portrayal of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in The Simpsons.
Many viewers of the renowned primetime cartoon show would recognize Apu as an Indian immigrant who owns the popular convenience shop Kwik-E-Mart. He is well-known for his catchphrase, “Thank you, please come again.”
The character’s initial voice was given by 59-year-old Hank Azaria, who made his Apu debut in 1989 and lasted for 29 seasons. However, in the 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu, comedian Hari Kondabolu, who is of Indian descent, called out the actor and show creators.
Kondabolu highlighted his dissatisfaction with the character’s real-life implications and Hollywood’s frequent representations of South Asians.
As a result, Hank Azaria announced in 2020 that he would be stepping down from the position.
Hank Azaria last apologized for playing the character on Dax Shepard’s popular Armchair Expert podcast in 2021, saying, “Part of me feels like I need to personally apologize to every single Indian person in this country.” “And sometimes I do,” according to The Independent.
However, he didn’t have a public conversation with the 40-year-old writer until recently when the pair addressed the controversy in NPR’s podcast Code Switch, in the recent episode titled, ‘The Fallout of a Callout’.
The actor admitted that he was “afraid” to discuss the issue with Kondabolu and refused his requests to appear in the documentary.
“I was really freaked out,” Hank Azaria told him on the podcast. “You know, you’re a comedian, and some of your stuff is gotcha, you know, and has bite to it, as well it should. It’s hilarious and it makes good points. Being on the other end of that really, really scared me, you know?”
“I don’t know if I would have felt safe to have the conversation privately, let alone roll them, you know, we’re going to record it,” he added.
The host questioned Hank Azaria if he thought his portrayal of Apu had created a place for the “dehumanization” of Brown people in America.
“Yeah I have thought about that,” he said. “And it’s important to point out that pre-Hari, I had not thought about that stuff… I had to be told 54 times before it sunk in. I think about that all the time now.”
He continued: “Through my role in Apu and what I created in Hollywood messaging – which is a big deal in this country and around the world – I helped to create a pretty marginalizing, dehumanizing stereotype.”
The voice actor recalled reading a news story about a Middle-Eastern man who was attacked and called Apu by his assaulters, and said: “I think if I had any doubts at that point… I got the answer. Apu had become a slur,” to which Kondabolu agreed by saying: “When something is used in hate violence, it’s pretty clear.”
Apu has been absent from the series since Hank Azaria’s departure from the role.