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Hank Azaria says he educated himself before quitting The Simpsons' Apu character

  • In his first in-depth interview since revealing he quit the Apu role, Azaria tells The New York Times he knew that there was a controversy brewing around Apu for years, even before comedian Hari Kondabolu's The Problem with Apu documentary was released in 2017. But at the time, he was unsure what to do. “I didn’t want to knee-jerk drop it if I didn’t feel that was right, nor did I want to stubbornly keep doing it if that wasn’t right,” he says. Azaria says he decided to educate himself about the impact of Apu's character on Indian-Americans, reading articles about representation and attending seminars about racism and social consciousness. “Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” says Azaria. “It just didn’t feel right.” Azaria also consulted with the actor Utkarsh Ambudkar, who appeared in The Problem with Apu and who worked with Azaria on Brockmire and The Simpsons, where he played Apu's nephew. "I felt a genuine dedication to growth, for himself, as a human being,” says Ambudkar. “He wanted to get on the right side of the narrative.” Ambudkar adds: "As a South Asian, I wish that it had happened 15 years ago. I love Hank very much, but his Indian accent is garbage.” Azaria says he modeled Apu on Peter Sellers' bumbling brownface Indian portrayal in the 1968 Blake Edwards comedy movie The Party, and had no idea it was racist. “That represents a real blind spot I had,” Azaria says with some disappointment. “There I am, joyfully basing a character on what was already considered quite upsetting.” Azaria says he also had to ask himself, as a Jewish man, what he would think if a stereotypical portrayal was the only representation of Jews in pop-culture. “But then I started thinking, if that character were the only representation of Jewish people in American culture for 20 years, which was the case with Apu, I might not love that,” he says. Kondabolu, who has always maintained that he doesn't want The Simpsons to get rid of Apu, says he's happy to see Azaria's transformation. “Whatever happens with the character, to me, is secondary,” says Kondabolu. “I’m happy that Hank did the work that a lot of people wouldn’t have. I feel like he’s a really thoughtful person and he got the bigger picture.” In a statement, the executive producers of The Simpsons said of Azaria's decision: “We respect Hank’s journey in regard to Apu. We have granted his wish to no longer voice the character.”

    TOPICS: Hank Azaria, FOX, The Problem With Apu, The Simpsons, Hari Kondabolu, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Indian-Americans and TV