Hank Azaria is one of those actors you almost take for granted at this point. In a thirty year film career that began with 1990’s PRETTY WOMAN, the Queens, New York native has enjoyed a run most actors only dream off. Although Azaria’s had memorable turns in films like HEAT, THE BIRDCAGE, and MYSTERY, ALASKA, he’s mostly known for his voice work. And I’m not talking about his run as Eddie Brock/Venom in the 90s Spider-Man: The Animated Series show either. What I’m talking about of course is The Simpsons.
Across thirty-one seasons and over 660 episodes, Hank Azaria has voiced some of the most iconic animated characters of all-time. Chief Wiggum, Duffman, Disco Stu, Professor Frink, Comic Book Guy – they all owe their existence to Azaria. Of all the Simpsons characters that Hank Azaria has voiced however, arguably the most well-known is the owner and proprietor of Spingfield’s Kwik-E-Mart, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Over the decades the workaholic Indian convenience store clerk has come into contact with virtually ever character in Springfield. He was a founding member of the Pin Pals, fathered eight children, and once briefly became Springfield’s leading ladies man. Unfortunately, Azaria’s run as Apu appears to be over.
In an interview with SlashFilm at the annual TCA press tour, Hank Azaria revealed that he’s hanging up his Squishee machine. Although Azaria’s discussed laying the character aside for over two years now, this is the first confirmation he was actually doing so. Moreover, not only is Azaria no longer voicing the role, he’s not sure anyone else will either:
“What they’re going to do with the character is their call. It’s up to [Al Jean and Matt Groening] and they haven’t sorted it out yet. All we’ve agreed on is I won’t do the voice anymore. We all made the decision together. We all agreed on it. We all feel like it’s the right thing and good about it.”
While Apu is a stereotype and always has been, a movement to remove or at the very least evolve the character didn’t happen until almost three years ago. In 2017 filmmaker Michael Melamedoff released the documentary THE PROBLEM WITH APU. The film addressed the character’s cultural insensitivity and the inherent dangers of portraying Indians in a stereotypical manner. In the years since, many have championed the idea of removing the character altogether or at the very least having a Southeast-Asian actor voice Apu.
Listen I’m not insensitive to the situation at hand here. I fully understand how Apu’s character comes off as stereotypical and in some ways racist. In addition, I recognize that my opinions are inherently shaped by the fact that I’m a white male in my 40s. However, I’d like to point out that The Simpsons is and always has been a show built on stereotypes. Chief Wiggum is a fat, oafish cop. Mr. Burns is a greedy soulless billionaire. Patty and Selma are heartless DMV employees. Comic Book Guy is a basement-dwelling, overweight nerd. Mayor Quimby is a promiscuous, corrupt politician modeled on the Kennedys. Do I need to keep going?
It makes sense therefore that Apu fits into this overarching paradigm. The fact that The Simpsons is chock full of stereotypes is part of the larger joke of the entire series. It’s a meta-commentary on our society as a whole. While I’m fine with Hank Azaria stepping aside as Apu, I sincerely hope that the creators don’t dismiss the character altogether. He’s not some disposable character like Poochie or Dr. Marvin Monroe. Apu is a pillar of he The Simpsons universe and to outright drop him would be a grave mistake in my opinion.
What do you guys think? Is Hank Azaria right to step aside? Who would you like to see voice Apu? Should the creators drop the character altogether? Sound off in the comments below!