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Hank Azaria Won’t Play Apu on ‘The Simpsons’ Any More

This doesn't necessarily mean Apu is leaving Springfield forever.

Gracie Films

The Simpsons wouldn’t be The Simpsons without Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, but if he stays on the show, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is going to have to be without Hank Azaria.

Azaria confirmed that he wouldn’t play Apu anymore in an interview with Slashfilm, saying it was a mutual choice made by the creative team behind the show. “We all agreed on it. We all feel like it’s the right thing and good about it,” he said.

Filmmaker Hari Kondabolu asked why it was OK for a white guy to voice a stereotypical South Asian character in his 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu. It’s impossible to see this latest move as anything but a vindication of Kondabolu’s work.

Azaria has voiced Apu since he made his debut in first-season episode “The Telltale Head,” which aired over three decades ago. But he’s been open to this direction for a while, telling Stephen Colbert in April of 2018 that he was “perfectly willing to step aside or help transition it to something new.”

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“The most important thing is, we have to listen to South Asian, Indian people in this country when they talk about how they feel and what they think about this character,” he added.

Creator Matt Groening‘s response was less satisfying. “I’m proud of what we do on the show. And I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended,” he said in an interview with USA Today. Showrunner Al Jean didn’t do much better, with a series of tweets that framed the issue as one of popularity and free speech, skirting the obvious racial issues.

The show even addressed the issue in an episode in a cringe-worthy, fourth-wall-breaking moment that turned hopeless do-gooder Lisa Simpson into a rightwing “free speech warrior,”, if only for a moment.

It’s good to see Groening and Jean move on from this childish response and recognize the need for a show in its fourth decade of existence to change with the times even if it means acknowledging some uncomfortable truths.

But while he knows he won’t play Apu anymore, Azaria doesn’t know what the future holds for the Kwik-E-Mart proprietor.

“What they’re going to do with the character is their call,” Azaria said. “It’s up to them and they haven’t sorted it out yet. All we’ve agreed on is I won’t do the voice anymore.”