Hank Azaria appeared on Colbert last night to discuss his new show Brockmire but the first order of business was to address the recent controversy about his portrayal of Apu on The Simpsons. Last year, the documentary The Problem with Apu pointed a well-deserved spotlight on the fact that character of the Kwik–E-Mart owner has always been played as the broadest of caractitures and that Azaria – an American of Greek, Spanish, and Jewish heritage—probably shouldn’t be voicing an Indian character. It’s more than problematic, it’s positively anachronistic and needs to stop.
“Do you understand why some Indian American or South Asian American actors are offended by that character?” Colbert asksed.
“Yeah, not just actors. Of course I understand,” Azaria said, adding: “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 moving 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 bring 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.”
He also said that he had nothing to do with The Simpsons’ recent response to the uproar (which did NOT go over well), and said he wants there to be “inclusion in the writers’ room” and that he was “perfectly willing to step aside” to allow a South Asian actor take over the role or if the show were to imply South Asian writers who wished to take the character in another direction.
The audience applauded.
Of course social media was very divided, with many applauding Azaria’s newfound wokeness, and others humbugging the whole political correctness thing and decrying it as silly overreaction by triggered snowflakes.
“The Simpsons are making fun of stereotypes. If they stop with Apu they need to stop with all the characters and end the show.”
“But those stereotypes are being used to hurt and disrespect people. The intention matters if the outcome hurst people.”
“If that was their motive they failed miserable. A joke that cases hurt and pain on innocent people is no joke.”
“If I were an enterprising young grad student, I would write a dissertation on the societal changes over the last 30 years that have resulted in The Simpsons moving from being a culture war target for the far right to becoming a target for the far left.”
“I would rather see a dissertation on how The Simpson’s moved from being an instrument for social change to an instrument for perpetuating negative cultural steriotypes. It would teach our society a much needed lesson.”
“Give me a break , it’s the Simpson’s, I’m sure there are bigger issues we could be talking about.”
“It’s been fine for over 20 years. People have forgotten how to laugh. I haven’t..and I won’t. If a tv show can make people angry after making them laugh for all this time..the problem is the person..not the show.”
“People used to laugh at minstrel shows too. These days, a minstrel show would make people angry. Why? Because minstrel shows are a problem. Not the people who would get angry.”
“I understand the problem with Apu though I enjoyed the character. In years gone by the same thing happened with Speedy Gonzales.”
“I remember the Frito Bandito controversy. I remember not understanding what was wrong with the character and watched Richardo Montalban speak before Congress. It was the first time I remember hearing of him other than the Chrystler commercials. Can you imagine? That elegant, cultured man had to explain why stereotypes like the Frito Bandito, Speedy Gonzales, and Jose Jimenez were harmful to his people and our society. Representation does matter. I can’t look at those characters today with anything but regret.”
“The thought police want to sanitize anything and everything they can to make themselves significant. Moral posturing.”
“Maybe they should quit Homer and the sterio type of the over weight out of shape beer drinking white man. And Lisa. We all know about those smarmy smart kids. The entire show is about stereo typed characters.”
“As Steve Martin said, “Comedy is not pretty”. Can nothing be made fun of anymore? Political Correctness is ruining comedy. This is but one example. They make fun of everyone on this show and if you know Apu’s character he is in fact one of the wisest characters on the show”
And on and on into the night.