Hari Kondabolu and Hank Azaria Finally Sit Down To Discuss ‘The Problem With Apu’

By DA Staff 28 April 2023 2 mins read

Comedian Hari Kondabolu sits down with Hank Azaria, voice behind 'Simpsons' character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon to discuss 'The Problem With Apu'

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Six years after the release of his documentary The Problem With Apu, comedian Hari Kondabolu finally landed his white whale and sat down to have a conversation with Hank Azaria, the voice actor behind the controversial Simpsons character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. On its release, the documentary had kickstarted a public conversation about racial stereotypes and South Asian representation in pop culture, which Kondabolu hoped to resolve through a conversation with Azaria. That goal finally came to fruition this week, when the duo sat down together for the first time on NPR’s Code Switch podcast.

In the episode—titled The Fallout of a Callout—Kondabolu elaborates on the aftermath of his film and the negative consequences when people of colour are written and represented by mostly white writers and actors. Kondabolu described Azaria’s enactment of the Kwik-E-Mart owner as “a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father” in his documentary. During the podcast—which aims at highlighting issues of race with humour and empathy—the comedian said, “Representation has weight, but it’s not necessarily the act of violence in itself. But the person who was making [Apu] wanted a very specific effect out of the images and words that they used.”

In response, Azaria spoke about how grateful he was to Kondabolu for “dragging and pushing him into this conversation.” He admits that he didn’t see the problem with the character until he saw the film which made him realise the potential harm he had caused to people he admired.

“I helped to create a pretty marginalising and dehumanising stereotype,” Azaria says on the podcast. He remembers reading a news article about a Middle-Eastern store owner being called Apu and attacked, which is when it dawned on him that his character had become a slur.

The candid conversation was a full circle moment considering much of Kondabolu’s film focused on having a conversation with the voice actor. Azaria had already apologised publicly for the harm he has caused on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Armchair Expert with Dax Sheppard. “The idea that anyone young or old, past or present, being bullied based on Apu really makes me sad,” he told Colbert in 2018. “It certainly was not my intention. I wanted to bring joy and laughter to people.”

The last Simpsons episode with Azaria as Apu aired in 2017. The character has not featured in any stories since but has appeared in the background of some episodes.


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