It appears that Hank Azaria has made a final decision about his future with The Simpsons character Apu. Speaking to Slashfilm at TCA, the actor revealed that he’s chosen to stop voicing the character going forward. “All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore, unless there’s someway to transition it or something,” he said. “What they’re going to do with the character is their call. It’s up to them and they haven’t sorted it out yet. All we’ve agreed on is I won’t do the voice anymore.” Azaria added that it was a “mutual decision” between him and the show, adding that they “all feel like it’s the right thing and good about it.” A rep for The Simpsons declined to confirm the news or respond to Azaria’s comments.
Azaria’s longtime role voicing Apu on The Simpsons became the center of a controversy back in 2017, when comedian Hari Kondabolu released a documentary on the topic titled The Problem With Apu exploring the implications of the Apu role — something many South Asians viewed as a racist caricature. “It’s weird to love something but to have it hurt you in this way. It’s weird that I was embarrassed by the way my parents spoke because of it … I knew that it was going to be harder to create things and be an entertainer because expectations were often based on it,” Kondabolu told Splitsider after the documentary’s release. “And yet, I still love the show. It gave me more than I took away.”
Both Azaria and The Simpsons responded to the documentary soon after, with Azaria calling it “a lot to digest” and The Simpsons, in early 2018, airing a clip of Marge and Lisa that ended with the thinly veiled reference: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” Speaking to Stephen Colbert in April 2018, Azaria said he was giving the issue “a lot of thought,” and after calling for more South Asian representation in the Simpsons writers’ room, he said he’d be open to stepping down from voicing Apu: “I’m perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new. I really hope that’s what The Simpsons does. It not only makes sense, but it just feels like the right thing to do to me.”
Simpsons creator Matt Groening weighed in a few months later, telling the New York Times he thought “people feel so aggrieved and crazed and powerless that they’re picking the wrong battles … I am sorry that The Simpsons would be criticized for having an Indian character that, because of our extraordinary popularity — I expected other people to do it. I go, maybe he’s a problem, but who’s better? Who’s a better Indian animated character in the last 30 years?” Still, now that it appears that Azaria has walked away from the character, that doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing Apu in the future — Groening confirmed to fans last August there were no plans to write Apu off the show, saying, “Yes. We love Apu. We’re proud of Apu.” Guess we’ll all have to watch The Simpsons to find out.
Update Tuesday, February 25 at 7:30 a.m.: Azaria explained his decision to the New York Times, adding that it took years of learning and thinking to come to this conclusion. “Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” he said. “It just didn’t feel right.” In a statement to the Times, the show said, “We respect Hank’s journey in regard to Apu. We have granted his wish to no longer voice the character.” As for the Kwik-E-Mart owner? “Apu is beloved worldwide,” they added cryptically. “We love him too. Stay tuned.”