In an Deadline interview, Azaria said the uproar over his voicing of the Apu character on the ‘Simpson’ began to take a toll on him. “Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” Azaria told the Times. “It just didn’t feel right.”
The show came under fire in 2018 for the way in which it responded to the controversy. Among those leading this charge was comedian, Hari Kondabolu, who called out Apu’s portrayal as a racist stereotype. His 2017 documentary, The Problem With Apu, brought this issue to the forefront and forced a ‘real talk’ cultural conversation.
Kondabolu first discussed the representational issues with Apu during a 2012 segment of W. Kamau Bell’s Totally Biased), which served as a launching point for the documentary. The documentary featured emerging Indian American stars like Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn and Hasan Minhaj all gave their two cents about what Apu means to them.
“There’s now enough Indian people where I don’t need to like you just because you’re Indian,” Kondabolu said in 2012, highlighting a small influx of South Asian representation on television. “Because growing up, I had no choice but to like this: Apu, a cartoon character voiced by Hank Azaria, a white guy. A white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father. If I saw Hank Azaria do that voice at a party, I would kick the shit out of him. Or I’d imagine kicking the shit out of him.”
The Simpsons producers and writers sought to avoid getting into deeper conversations about Apu. However, the show finally addressed the controversy in a episode in 2018. The show’s producers responded to the controversy by having Lisa Simpson, often the Simpson family’s moral center, to voice how the show viewed this controversy. In the episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,“ Marge Simpson reads a book to daughter Lisa that has been changed from its original version to something not so controversial. After Marge finished the book Lisa Simpson said, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?,” asked Lisa. The show then panned to a picture of Apu. Marge chimes in to say some things will be dealt with "at a later date” before both break the fourth wall and tell the camera, “If at all.”
Really? The show’s producers basically told Indian Americans to F#$@# Off. Fortunately, many (or at least enough) Indian Americans did not just take it. Most acknowledged the show for finally addressing the issue but insisted [Simpsons writers and producers] do something about it.
Right after the episode aired Kondabolu responded on Twitter “The Simpsons” missed the point of his documentary. In a longer tweet. . “Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad. In ‘The Problem with Apu,’ I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.” Then he followed that tweet with this dig to the series, which at the time was in its 29th season: “Congratulations to the Simpsons for being talked about & being seen as relevant again.”
Kondabolu wasn’t alone in his disappointment with how the show handled the controversy; comedian W. Kamau Bell also tweeted his frustration, making special note of the fact that the writers chose to have Lisa be the character who tackles it. “I think the fact that they put this ‘argument’ in the mouth of Lisa’s character, the character who usually champions the underdogs and is supposed to be the most thoughtful and liberal character, is what makes this the most ridiculous (as in worthy of ridicule) and toothless response,” he wrote.
Showrunner Al Jean appeared to anticipate some backlash, as he tweeted there’d be a “Twitter explosion” by the episode’s end. He retweeted several defenses of the show, including one user who called Lisa breaking the fourth wall “one of the best moments of my year so far.” He also retweeted a user who praised the way “The Simpsons” tackled what he called a “non-issue.” Unfortunately, progressive liberal Bill Maher sided with The Simpsons response.
Maher is the same guy who causally drops the N word on his show had to quickly apologize after the African American community voiced their outrage. Here’s how Ice Cube confronted Bill Maher.
It’s funny Maher quickly apologized to the African American community but tells the South Asian community to get over it because the Apu character has been around 20 years. Someone should ask Maher why he didn’t tell Ice Cube and the African American community to get over it.
Long story short… The Simpsons lost. Apu’s voice has been muted for now thanks to Hank Azaria announcement he wanted no part of this controversy.