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Hank Azaria on voicing Apu in The Simpsons: ‘I’m perfectly willing to step aside’

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The Simpsons recently aired an episode that tried to dismiss criticism that Apu was a racist caricature

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Last night on The Late Show, Hank Azaria addressed the controversy surrounding The Simpsons’ Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, a character he voices that has been accused of being a racist caricature. In response to Stephen Colbert’s question about what should happen to the character, Azaria mentioned the need for more diversity in the writers’ room, and said he was “perfectly willing to step aside or help transition it to something new.”

“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 said.

Azaria’s statements are a departure from The Simpsons’ own dismissive response to criticism earlier this month. In an episode called “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” Lisa, who is often charged with being the show’s voice of reason, says, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” before the camera pans to a framed photo of Apu signed “Don’t have a cow!” Azaria told Colbert he wasn’t involved with the voicing or writing of that episode.

After that episode aired, Simpsons showrunner Al Jean tweeted that he would “continue to try to find an answer that is popular and more important right.”

Criticism surrounding Apu, an Indian who owns the Kwik-E-Mart and speaks with a thick accent, escalated last year when truTV released a documentary by comedian Hari Kondabolu called The Problem with Apu. “Everything with Apu is like this running joke,” Kondabolu said in an interview with The New York Times. “And the running joke is that he’s Indian.”

Fans have responded by suggesting that the solution to the problem is much simpler than imagined. “Do you know how easy it is to put this to bed?” said one. “Really. Just saying, “Hey, we understand that this was hurtful now. It’s not what we wanted, but that’s what it is. We apologize, and are going to learn to create something less hurtful to many of our fans.” This is the wrong battle.”

Azaria, who has voiced Apu since the show’s first season, has briefly addressed the documentary already. In response to a question from a TMZ reporter last year, he said, “I think the documentary made some interesting points and gave us a lot to think about… It’s an important conversation and definitely one worth having.”