In a long New York Times interview with culture writer Dave Itzkoff, Azaria said that voicing the character “just didn’t feel right” after criticisms of its stereotyping emerged. Azaria first disclosed his decision in an interview at the Television Critics Assn. winter gathering.
The Simpsons producers said in a statement that “We respect Hank’s journey in regard to Apu. We have granted his wish to no longer voice the character.” However, they refused to rule out another actor voicing the character or continuing with Apu on the show. “Apu is beloved worldwide. We love him too. Stay tuned.”
Azaria has done many voices on the show in addition to Apu (introduced in 1990), including bartender Mo, Chief Wiggum, and Professor Frink. But Apu and his catchphrase, “Thank you! Come again!” has since been revealed as something that bothers many, including people of Indian descent.
“Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore,” Azaria said to the Times. “It just didn’t feel right.”
Azaria hopes his decision to end his association with Apu will lead to some soul-searching and dialog on ethnic representations.
“What happened with this character is a window into an important issue,” Azaria said. “It’s a good way to start the conversation. I can be accountable and try to make up for it as best I can.”
Azaria drew his character from accents overheard in his native New York. He also said the 1968 Blake Edwards comedy, The Party, in which Peter Sellers wore brownface to play an Indian actor, was part of his study. He claims he didn’t know the depiction was considered racist.
“That represents a real blind spot I had,” Azaria said. “There I am, joyfully basing a character on what was already considered quite upsetting.”
The situation began to fester when comedian Hari Kondabolu complained about Azaria’s portrayal. He detailed that in a 2017 documentary, The Problem With Apu, inviting comment from other Indian-American actors and performers.
Azaria, who didn’t participate in the film, wasn’t immediately sure what to do.
“But then I started thinking, if that character were the only representation of Jewish people in American culture for 20 years, which was the case with Apu, I might not love that,” he said.
Finally, after discussions with friends and reading comments and articles in the wake of the film, Azaria decided not to continue with the character.
“When I expressed how uncomfortable I was doing the voice of the character, they were very sympathetic and supportive,” Azaria said. “We were all in agreement.”