Azaria never meant to offend anyone.
Hank Azaria has been a staple in The Simpsons since the show began in 1990. The talented voice actor plays Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, an Indian store clerk, but he also voices many other characters. The depressed Bartender Moe Szyslak, the idiotic police Chief Wiggum, and the nerdy Comic Book Guy are all voiced by Azaria as well.
Azaria recently visited The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and spoke about the racial stereotypes that he has fueled by voicing Apu for almost three decades. Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu made a documentary entitled The Problem with Apu where he speaks about how he feels like The Simpsons was the only place where he saw a South Asian character on television in the 90's. Kondabolu believes that Americans were only given one depiction of South Asian culture for years, one that was fueled by Apu. Apu works at a small convenience shop, has many children, and is tied down in an arranged marriage.
Speaking with Colbert, Azaria said that the documentary, and the debate that it has spawned, has "opened his eyes." "It's come to my attention more and more, especially over the last couple of years, that people in the South Asian community in this country have been fairly upset by the voice and characterization," Azaria stated. "I've tried to express this before. You know the idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad," he continued. "It was certainly not my attention, I wanted to spread laughter and joy with this character. And the idea that it's brought pain and suffering in any way, that it's used to marginalize people, it's upsetting, genuinely."
Azaria also denounced the weak "apology" that The Simpsons included in an episode, where they pretty much state that political correctness is ruining comedy. "It was a late addition that I saw right around the same time everybody else in America did, so I didn't know it was going to be in it until I saw it," he stated. "I think that if anybody came away from that segment thinking that they should lighten up or take a joke better or grow a thicker skin… that's certainly not the way I feel about." Check out the full segment below.