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January 12, 2018

Hank Azaria: Offense Caused By ‘The Simpsons’ Apu Is “Very Upsetting;” Season 2 ‘Brockmire’

While at TCA on Friday in his capacity as star and EP of IPC’s Brockmire, Hank Azaria addressed the controversy surrounding Apu Nahasapeemapetilon–a character he voices on The Simpsons.

Apu is an Indian store clerk, and criticism was mostly sparked by writer-comedian Hari Kondabolu with his TruTV documentary called The Problem With Apu, which commented on the choice to have a white man voicing an Indian character.

Azaria said he had watched the documentary and that “the idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased, or worse, based on the character of Apu in The Simpsons, the voice, or any other other tropes of the character, is distressing, and especially post 9/11 in America, the idea that anybody was marginalized based on it, or had a hard time, is very upsetting to me, personally and professionally.

“It’s a character that I’ve done for 29 years now and I’ve done it with a lot of love and joy and with pride,” he went on. “That certainly wasn’t the intent. The intent was to make people laugh and to bring joy, so that it caused any kind of suffering or pain in any way, it’s disturbing actually. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, I don’t see the character of Apu as one dimensional, I see him as having a lot of wonderful qualities and great assets and, you know, as far as The Simpsons is concerned, with comedy as you know, it’s often a fine line between what’s comedy and what’s offensive and insulting and upsetting. The Simpsons over the years has been pretty humorously offensive to all manner of people. Republicans, Brazilians, presidents, high school principals, Italians, and they take a lot of pride over there in not apologizing for any of that, and you know, I think over the years they’ve done a really good job of being, shall we say, uniformly offensive, without being outright hurtful.”

The future is, as yet, uncertain for Apu, and Azaria said, “it’s really not just up to me,” but he was quick to voice support to those who’d experience offense. “I think it’s really important when people express themselves about racial issues, what they feel is unfair or upsetting and distressing, what makes them feel angry or sad or hurt,” he said. “The most important thing is to listen and try to understand, to try to sympathize, which is what I’m doing. I know The Simpsons guys are doing that too.”

Clearly that the matter is under review higher up the chain of command at the show. “They’re giving it a lot of thought,” Azaria said. “We’ve discussed it a bit and they will definitely address, maybe publicly, but certainly creatively in the context of the show, what they want to do, if anything, differently with the character.”

As for Azaria’s Brockmire, it’s now moving into its second season. The show follows Jim Brockmire (Azaria), a formerly successful major league baseball announcer down on his luck and trying to reclaim his career. This new season will be set in New Orleans and will focus on the relationship between Brockmire and his best friend Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams).

“We wanted to explore their dynamic,” EP and writer Joel Church Cooper said, “and also explore what it is about Charles that makes him stay–the psychology of that, and then to have him decide he wants some things to himself. That’s the arc of his character over the season.”

For Brockmire, hanging onto his friend has become of paramount importance. “Charles is really his last friend in the world and he can’t let him go,” Cooper said.

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