Hank Azaria has been in the voice acting business for decades, starting with a few minor live-action roles in the late 1980s, and hitting it big in 1989 when he was cast on The Simpsons. From there, he rocketed to voice actor stardom (which is significantly different from live action stardom, even for The Simpsons cast). Azaria even got to the point where he didn’t even need to do commercials anymore – which is pretty much every actor’s immediate goal.
Hank Azaria is truly a man of many voices, and he lives by it. Azaria voices many of the classic side characters of the series, including Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, Professor Frink, Superintendent Chalmers, Duffman, Snake… the list goes on. It even includes the one-off, but much loved, character Frank Grimes.
Then there’s Apu. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is the convenient store owner in The Simpsons‘ fiction town of Springfield. He is a South Asian character – a very stereotypical South Asian character – voiced by Azaria. Apu, Azaria and The Simpsons has received some over-due criticism recently regarding this character from South Asian-Americans – notably comedian Hari Kondabolu, who created the documentary The Problem with Apu, which explores the significant negative effects the character has had on South Asian-Americans.
Stephen Colbert, the “go there” interviewer of late night, went there. He asked Azaria about the consequences of his performance, and Azaria’s response was somehow both sympathetic and dismissive.
In the past, Azaria has been aggressively dismissive of these criticisms. He refused to appear on The Problem with Apu, and doesn’t come across well in the documentary for it. But as the interview went on, Azaria showed that he’s coming around to fully realizing how troublesome and damaging Apu has actually been for many people.
It’s been a long journey for Azaria to get to this point. Will he hold himself to his word? Will he actively try to right the damage he’s caused? The Simpsons is still going strong after 29 seasons and has had a great, both in size and quality, cast of supporting characters over the years – many of whom have been quietly and grandiosely retired. If Azaria is currently “willing to step aside”, then the next step is to willingly retire the voice.
Catch more of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing weeknights at 11.35 et/pt on Global, and watch the latest episodes online here on GlobalTV.com! And be sure to catch new episodes of The Simpsons Sundays at 7.30 et/pt on Global!