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Hank Azaria acknowledges problematic Simpsons past, defends problematic Idol present

Hank Azaria reflects on dropping The Simpsons role Apu and picking up The Idol role Chaim

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Hank Azaria talks Apu and The Idol
Hank Azaria
Photo: Roy Rochlin (Getty Images)

Hank Azaria is no stranger to controversy. The problem with Apu, The Simpsons character he voiced for years, came to a head in 2017 with The Problem With Apu, a documentary by comedian Hari Kondabolu. The character has since been acknowledged and accepted as a racially insensitive stereotype, including by Azaria, who was initially resistant to the criticism. “On the one hand, I didn’t want to cave to so-called ‘PC pressure’ or ‘the woke mob’—whatever you want to call it,” he says in a new interview with The Independent. “On the other hand, I didn’t want to continue to engage in a harmful practice if that’s what I was doing.”

He definitely was doing it in the case of The Simpsons, as laid out by Kondabolu. The pair recently discussed the issue publicly for the first time on NPR’s Code Switch, an experience that “felt healing for everybody involved,” Azaria tells The Independent. “I think it’s a good example of how a really uncomfortable conversation can turn into a really productive one.” (On the podcast, he said if he “had any doubts” about Apu being problematic, a racist attack on a store clerk where the assailants yelled “Apu” changed his mind: “Apu had become a slur.”)


Now, Azaria doesn’t voice any non-white characters on The Simpsons at all. “There was no public outcry over” the other characters he dropped, “And they weren’t considered stereotypical or harmful in any way. But I realized if nothing else, why am I taking the job away from an actor of color with so much less opportunity than I have?”

While Azaria is open to the issues with The Simpsons, his new series The Idol is a different story. “From the outside, that appears like chaos,” Azaria says of rumors that the series’ production went “off the rails. “From the inside, it’s thrillingly creative, especially when there’s a guy who’s really watching what you’re doing, and really trying to help you bring out the best version of that.”


“I wasn’t involved in any of the sexual shenanigans in [The Idol]. But I can tell you that there was tremendous respect, collaboration, feedback, and checking in from Sam [Levinson, the showrunner] about whether everybody was comfortable with what was going on,” Azaria says in defense of The Weeknd’s much-discussed HBO show. “I understand anybody being daunted or triggered by what they might be seeing. That’s understandable. All I can say is in making it, a lot of care was taken with everybody.”