Speaking to reporters at the Television Critics Assn. press tour Friday in Pasadena, Calif., Azaria said he was aware of the concerns raised by comedian Hari Kondabolu in his documentary “The Problem with Apu,” which argues that the character, a convenience store owner, perpetuates negative stereotypes.
“The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased or worse based on the character of Apu on ‘The Simpsons,’ the voice or any other tropes of the character is distressing,” said Azaria. “And especially in post 9/11 America, the idea that anybody was marginalized based on it or had a hard time was very upsetting to me personally and professionally.”
Azaria, who has played Apu for nearly 30 years on the Fox sitcom (and earned three Emmy Awards for his work), said he only ever intended to “make people laugh and bring joy,” he said. “So that it caused any kind of pain or suffering in any way, it’s disturbing, actually.”
Azaria said “The Simpsons” exists on that fine line between what’s funny and what’s insulting. “’The Simpsons’ over the years has been pretty humorously offensive to all manner of people Republicans, Brazilians, presidents, high school principals, school principals, Italians, you name it,” he said. “And they take a lot of pride over there in not apologizing for any of that. I think, over the years, they’ve done a really good job of being, shall we say, uniformly offensive without being outright hurtful.”
Going forward, though, he said “The Simpsons” producers will address the controversy, although what they ultimately decide to do is not up to him. “They are giving it a lot of thought,” he said. “We’ve discussed it a little bit, and they will definitely address, maybe publicly, but certainly creatively within the context of the show, what they want to do, if anything, differently with the character.”
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