As only leftists can, a conversation between actor Hank Azaria and comedian Hari Kondabolu six years in the making featured both as victim and victimizer over the “regretful” portrayal of a character on “The Simpsons.”
Since 1989, Azaria has voiced a slew of characters in more than 700 episodes of the long-running animated series, including bartender Moe Szyslak, Police Chief Wiggum and Comic Book Guy. But it was his performance as Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon that set cancel culture after the actor and made Kondabolu want to “kick the sh*t out of him.”
In a conversation on NPR’s “Code Switch” podcast titled, “The Fallout of a Callout,” Azaria told host Gene Demby about his reaction to Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary, “The Problem With Apu,” and how he was afraid to talk about any supposed harms that had been attributed to his comedic performance as an Indian character.
“I was really freaked out. You know, you’re a comedian, and some of your stuff is gotcha, you know, and has bite to it, as well it should. It’s hilarious and it makes good points. Being on the other end of that really, really scared me, you know?” he said.
“I don’t know if I would have felt safe to have the conversation privately, let alone roll them, you know, we’re going to record it,” Azaria added. “I helped to create a pretty marginalizing, dehumanizing stereotype.”
Regardless of whether the backlash was warranted, the actor’s concerns were as Kondabolu had gone on record on “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” saying, “If I saw Hank Azaria do that voice at a party, I would kick the sh*t out of him…Or I’d imagine kicking the sh*t out of him.”
The documentarian referred to the portrayal of Apu as reminiscent of “a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.”
Kondabolu further expressed his belief that Azaria’s performance had been linked to numerous crimes against clerks that he had read about while working at the Queens District Attorney’s Hate Crimes Bureau in New York during college.
“The idea that anyone young or old, past or present, being bullied based on Apu really makes me sad,” Azaria had said on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in 2018. “It certainly was not my intention. I wanted to bring joy and laughter to people.”
On social media, Azaria called the discussion, “A very important and productive chat ” during which he explained how Apu came to be. “And then that week or the following week, there was an Apu line and it was just written as clerk. And the producer — the director I was working with at the time said: ‘Can you do an Indian accent?’ And I said: ‘Well, I can try and did my version of an Indian accent, and that was it.”
A very important and productive chat with @harikondabolu. Listen here. https://t.co/y4nd6cEvpK
— Hank Azaria (@HankAzaria) April 26, 2023
“The only really Indian accent that I had context for, apart from guys who worked at the 7-Eleven that I was near in LA, was Peter Sellers in ‘The Party,'” he went on. “It was an homage to that, you know, one of my heroes.”
Since the initial backlash, the character of Apu had been sidelined on “The Simpsons” and Azaria expressed his gratitude to Kondabolu for making an issue out of his performance. “I’m so grateful for having — for Hari, you pushing — dragging me and pushing me into this conversation.”
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