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Hank Azaria Has Answers to His Apu Problem

The Simpsons has been caught up in a controversy around one of their oldest characters, Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Hank Azaria voices the character and has won multiple Emmys for his portrayal of Apu. The controversy, brought into the public discourse by Hari Kondabolu’s film The Problem With Apu is that it’s racist for Apu to have that voice and work a blue collar job, and Kondabolu has said that if Apu was rich there would be no problem with the accent.

Here’s the thing about Hari Kondabolu; he isn’t funny. His stand-up act isn’t so much about telling jokes and making people laugh as it is about making political points about issues. I know what what you’re thinking, lots of comedians are political, like Lewis Black and Bill Hicks. You’re right, but they actually told jokes in a way that was funny. Have a listen to Kondabolu’s set on Conan, which, bear in mind, is supposed to be your tightest, funniest five minutes to sell yourself to a wider audience.

Wow, the priest at my grandmother’s funeral got bigger laughs than that. That right there is how you get to be the least-funny guest on @Midnight, a show which frequently hosted Jen Kirkman and Moshe Kasher.

Meanwhile, Stephen Colbert has been trying to live up to his image as the hard-hitting late night host who asks the uncomfortable questions, which I know is what I’m looking for when someone is plugging their latest comic book adaptation. We need more people who are going to ask the tough questions about race and class and gender to the guy who played Paste Pot Pete in Spider-Man. Hank Azaria was no exception, with Colbert pressing for a comment on the controversy, which has worsened in the past few weeks since the show acknowledged the controversy and answered by essentially saying “who cares?”

I think Azaria handled himself pretty well in the interview, saying:

“I’ve given this a lot of thought. As I say, my eyes have been opened. And I think the most important thing is we have to listen to South Asian people, Indian people in this country, when they talk about what they feel and how they think about this character and what their American experience of it has been. Listening to voices in television means inclusion in the writer’s room. I really want to see Indian, 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. I am 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.”

I think that’s a great idea, honestly. There are a lot of really funny Indian and South Asian comedy writers and comics today who could contribute a lot. For example, Aparna Nancherla would be a great addition to the writing staff, I love her, she’s hilarious. Just, you know, don’t hire Hari Kondabolu, people already think The Simpsons‘ newer episodes aren’t funny.

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