Appearing on the Armchair Expert podcast, Azaria, who formally stepped down from playing the long-running and controversial character in 2020, spoke to hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman about the steps he'd taken to educate himself around the implications of a Caucasian man voicing an Indian character.
“I was speaking at my son's school, I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input,” Azaria said. “A 17-year-old ... he's never even seen The Simpsons but knows what Apu means. It's practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country.”
“I really do apologize,” Azaria continued. “It's important. I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologise. And sometimes I do.”
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon was previously a frequent character on the beloved animation, but has been accused of perpetuating harmful stereotypes about South Asian people.
The character was quietly phased out in 2016, recurring only as an occasional background character.
Last year, it was announced that white actors would no longer voice non-white characters on the comedy. Addressing the decision, Simpsons creator Matt Groening said in March: “It was not my idea, but I’m fine with it. Who can be against diversity? So it’s great.
“However, I will just say that the actors were not hired to play specific characters,” he said. “They were hired to do whatever characters we thought of. To me, the amazing thing is seeing all our brilliant actors who can do multiple voices, do multiple voices.”
Apu was also the subject of a 2017 documentary film by comedian Hari Kondabolu titled The Problem with Apu, which explored the real-life repercussions of the character’s existence.