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Hank Azaria and Hari Kondabolu are finally getting a chance to have a public conversation about the latter’s documentary The Problem With Apu.
During an episode of NPR’s podcast Code Switch, Azaria joined Kondabolu to discuss the comedian and writer’s 2017 project that criticized the Simpsons character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon as a South Asian stereotype and called out the fact that a white actor voiced him. Azaria had voiced the Kwik-E-Mart employee since the long-running comedy’s first season before announcing in early 2020 that he would no longer portray the character. The show has not recast the role.
Kondabolu told Azaria that he had wanted to have him appear in the truTV documentary in the hopes that this would discourage angry reactions to the film, in addition to giving the discussion closure. Kondabolu recalled feeling upset when the actor opted against appearing in The Problem With Apu, which Kondabolu wrote and Michael Melamedoff directed. “It’s funny because I kind of figured you’d say no, but I was still upset about it,” Kondabolu said. “I was like, ‘God, does he not realize what this could be?'”
For his part, Azaria remembered feeling “afraid” of participating in an on-camera discussion with Kondabolu at the time. “I was really freaked out,” the Brockmire actor said. “You’re a comedian, and some of your stuff is ‘gotcha’ and has bite to it, as well it should. It’s hilarious and makes good points. Being on the other end of that really, really scared me. Like I said to you at the time, I didn’t feel safe … I don’t know if I would have felt safe to have the conversation privately, let alone, ‘Roll em — we’re gonna record it.'”
Kondabolu said that there “is a lot of irony and frustration” to the point that he has sometimes questioned having made the documentary, given that it has indelibly linked him to a stereotypical character, and he also discussed the death threats he said he has received over the film. Azaria said that he now appreciates the documentary’s impact and apologized for not having publicly affirmed this initially.
“I’m so grateful for, Hari, you dragging and pushing me into this conversation,” Azaria said. He added about The Problem With Apu: “It’s still so personally embarrassing to me. And again, whatever I felt personally about it is not a drop a bucket — a drop in the ocean — compared to what you just referred to, which is what your community has had to deal with as a result of it.”
During a 2021 episode of the Armchair Expert podcast, Azaria explained that he took time to listen to complaints about the character, which included attending several seminars, before stepping away from the role. “I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that,” he said at the time. “Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize. And sometimes I do.”
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