Since last voicing Apu on “The Simpsons” in 2017, Hank Azaria says he now feels the character is “basically a slur at this point” and that he should apologize “to every single Indian person in this country” for voicing the character for nearly three decades.
On Dax Shepard and Monica Padman’s “Armchair Expert” podcast, Azaria discussed how his feelings about Apu have changed in recent years and that he now feels guilty for taking the role.
“I’ve had a date with destiny with this thing for about 31 years,” Azaria said before personally apologizing to Padman, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants.
“I know you weren’t asking for that, but it’s important. I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels like I need to go around to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize. And sometimes I do when it comes up.”
Azaria first voiced Apu in 1990, in “The Telltale Head” episode. It wasn’t until comedian Hari Kondabolu put out “The Problem with Apu,” a 2017 documentary that examined the character’s cultural impact, that he started to have second thoughts.
“I got called out publicly,” Azaria said on the podcast. He credits Alcoholics Anonymous with giving him the tools to approach the controversy over the character.
“I needed to shut up ... and listen and learn. And that took a while. This was not a two-week process: I needed to educate myself a lot,” he said. “If I had not gotten sober, I promise you it wouldn’t have taken much wine for me to be in my feelings one night and fire off a tweet that I felt justified in firing off. Some kind of defensive, white-fragile tweet. Boy, was I glad I had a system in place where I could look at this thing.”
Azaria also spoke with many Indian American colleagues, including Utkarsh Ambudkar, who voiced Apu’s nephew on a 2016 “Simpsons” episode, but it was the words of a 17-year-old high school student at his kid’s school that touched him most.
“I was speaking at my son’s school, I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input,” Azaria said. “A 17-year-old … he’s never even seen ‘The Simpsons’ but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country.”
“With tears in his eyes, he said to me, ‘Will you please tell the writers in Hollywood that what they do and what they come up with really matters in people’s lives, and it has consequences?’ I was like, ‘Yes, my friend — I will tell them that.’”
Azaria officially said he would no longer voice the character in January 2020.
He said that while the show’s creators had “very good intentions” and “tried to do a funny, thoughtful character,” it “doesn’t mean there weren’t real negative consequences.”
“Part of my amends for all this is that I’m continuing to educate myself,” he said.
You can hear the podcast below.