The actor, who has voiced the Fox cartoon’s Kwik-E-Mart owner since 1990, appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert Tuesday night, where he addressed the recent controversy over his Indian-American character.
In case you need a refresher, The Simpsons — which has long received criticism for its stereotypical portrayal of Apu, most prominently from comedian Hari Kondabolu and his documentary The Problem With Apu — alluded to the controversy in its April 8 episode. After Marge discovered that a favorite book of hers as a child was riddled with outdated stereotypes, Lisa chimed in to say, “Something that started out decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect,” before glancing at a portrait of Apu.
Days later, Simpsons showrunner Al Jean responded to criticism of the episode, vowing to find “an answer that is popular [and] more important.”
In his interview with Colbert, Azaria confessed that he didn’t know Apu would become a part of the April 8 Simpsons episode, nor did he agree with the show’s response to criticism of the character.
“If anybody came away from that segment feeling like they should lighten up or take a joke better or grow a thicker skin… that’s certainly not the way I feel about it,” he said. “It’s definitely not the message that I want to send.”
Azaria added that “we have to listen” when South Asian and Indian people talk about their experience with Apu, going on to suggest that The Simpsons‘ writers’ room should be more diverse and inclusive — even if that means he stops portraying the character as a result.
“I really want to see Indian and South Asian writers in the room — not in a token way, but genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take, including how it is voiced or not voiced,” he said. “I’m perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition it into something new. I really hope that’s what The Simpsons does. It not only makes sense, but it just feels like the right thing to do to me.”
Azaria appeared on The Late Show to promote Season 2 of Brockmire, which premieres tonight at 10/9c on IFC. Press PLAY above to watch his full response to the controversy, then drop a comment below with your thoughts.