The Problem with Apu (2017) Movie Script

I was doing this show
in Brooklyn --
in Brooklyn, diverse Brooklyn!
This kid comes up to me
and he's like,
"Dude, I think
you're really funny.
That's a big deal
coming from me.
I don't usually
find ethnic comedy funny."
I was like, "Why would you
say that to my face?
You could've tweeted that.
Why are you hurting me
in real time?
Why is this happening
right now?"
Ethnic comedy?
What does ethnic comedy mean?
It's not like my whole act is,
"Hey, brown people
look like this.
Hold up.
White people,
they look like that!"
I'll take your laughs,
I mean...
Thank -- Oh, that's a racist
Apu joke in Denver.
Boulder just went up
another notch,
just like that.
I know you from high school,
even though I don't.
You're the reason
I do comedy, sir.
You're the reason
I thought to myself,
"Nobody like us exists
except this cartoon character.
I'm gonna show up,
and I'm gonna be the best
comic in the country,
and I'm gonna make less
than I deserve in Denver."
28 years later, and the words
"Thank you, come again"
still follow me wherever I go.
Hey, my name is Hari Konadabolu,
and I'm a stand up comic
in Brooklyn, New York.
I'm the son of two immigrants
from India who,
despite me being
a stand up comic,
are still alive.
My brother Ashok and I
grew up in Queens.
Here is a picture of us
pretending to have Christmas.
I've had a great career filled
with laughter,
critical acclaim,
and me shaking the hands
of many famous white men
on television.
I should be completely happy.
But there's still one man
who haunts me --
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.
Serving the customer
is merriment enough for me.
Thank you, come again.
Hey, Ganesha.
Want a peanut?
Please do not offer
my God a peanut.
You're stealing wishes?
Please pay for your purchases
and get out and come again!
Oh, look.
It is encrusted with filth.
Oh, well.
Let's sell it anyway.
Now, this is just
between me and you.
Hari Konadabolu, everybody!
Hari Konadabolu!
I publicly declared
my war on Apu in 2012
on the FX show,
"Totally Biased
with W. Kamau Bell."
I did a piece about
Indian-Americans in the media.
We've had an amazing run
the last few years
with more Indians in
the public eye than ever before.
There's, like, 14 of us now.
There's now enough Indian people
where I don't need to like you
just because you're Indian.
Because growing up,
I had no choice
but to like this.
This all started
because you asked me
to do a piece
on your old television show,
"Totally Biased,"
when I used to write for it.
You said,
"If you don't do this,
I will fire you."
And I'm like,
"You know what?
That's -- that is...
That's good advice.
That's good advice."
That's good advice.
I couldn't imagine anybody
wanting to hear
about Indian representation.
As soon as people
got what you were doing,
and it wasn't like it was
an all Southasian audience,
but it was an audience who
understood about representation.
And it was, like,
the pop of like,
"Yes, we know exactly
what you're talking about.
We're ready.
Take us on the journey."
Apu -- a cartoon character
voiced by Hank Azaria,
a white guy.
A white guy doing an impression
of a white guy
making fun of my father.
If --
If I saw Hank Azaria
do that voice at a party,
I would kick the
out of him.
Or I'd imagine
kicking the out of him.
Now, I realize some of you
think I'm some annoying
P.C. social-justice warrior
that's very sensitive
and is obsessed
with a 28-year-old
cartoon character.
You're probably thinking,
"Come on, snowflake.
Let it go."
Well, I have let it go...
for 28 years.
Look, man.
I don't hate "The Simpsons."
In fact, I have always
loved "The Simpsons."
It's one of the main reasons
that I knew you could be smart
and funny and political
at the same time.
It taught me about
Pablo Neruda
and Gore Vidal
and Stanley Kubrick.
It shaped me into
the person and the comedian
that I am today.
And, yes, I know Apu is one of
the smartest characters
on "The Simpsons."
the bar isn't very high.
But that's not
why people liked him.
They just liked his accent.
I never heard anyone say
they liked Apu
because he exposed the idiocy
and bigotry of Americans
and the struggles
of the average immigrant.
It was just, "I love Apu.
That voice is hilarious."
Pardon me, but I would like
to see this money spent
on more police officers.
I have been shot
eight times this year.
And as a result,
I almost missed work.
I hate Apu.
Hate Apu?
Hate Apu.
And because of that,
I dislike "The Simpsons."
Wow, the whole series?
The whole series?
I love "The Simpsons."
I just don't love that character
but the whole thing?
I have never been able
to divorce the two.
I love "The Simpsons"
You hate yourself.
...'cause I comple--
This whole film
is me trying
to get over the fact
I hate myself.
How many of you were bullied
in any capacity as a child?
-Are we raising hands?
-Yeah, raising hands.
We'll do the hands thing.
Yeah. Okay.
Now, how many had
to deal with, like,
being called Apu
or that being referenced.
I'm driving with my dad
as a little kid,
and someone goes like,
"Bing, bing!"
They say like, "Oh, hey," --
and they're doing, like,
the Indian voice --
like, "Hey, I need to get
another Slurpee.
Can you tell me
where the Kwik-E-Mart is?
Thank you, come again!"
And they drive off.
I remember in seventh grade,
actually, being bullied
by this guy
who would speak to me,
with Apu's accent
or the accent that he thought
all Indians spoke with.
We lived next
to, like, 7-Eleven.
And there was always, like,
a sense of like,
"Oh, please don't let it be
an Indian person
working behind the counter
because if it is,
my friends are gonna do,
like, the Apu thing."
I just would wonder
how many Indian-American,
have had to deal with this.
This guy,
this Apu,
this one character created
so many problems
psychologically, emotionally,
for so many people.
They didn't mean for it
to happen.
We just were underrepresented,
and so we struggled.
And the kind of racism that made
Apu possible in Hollywood
still exists everywhere.
Apu represents an America
that makes fun of immigrants
and anyone who is not white.
Yes, trolls, I know.
They're yellow.
My mission is to figure out
how we ended up with Apu
and how we can get rid of him.
And I think I know someone
who might be able to help us.
1989 was a big year.
The Berlin Wall fell.
Billy Joel claimed
he didn't start a fire.
I got the chicken pox.
But most relevant for this film,
"The Simpsons" was created
and my life was never the same.
Can you give us a brief history
of "The Simpsons"?
There was a brand-new
network, Fox,
and they were
desperate for content.
And they needed content that
no one else was doing,
that would sell, and that
was a little controversial.
Why, you little!
But they were funny and smart,
and they looked really weird.
No one had really seen
animation like this on --
on network TV before.
"The Simpsons" were huge.
They were everywhere.
T-shirts, toys,
candy bar commercials,
chicken commercials,
car commercials,
and even bizarre car commercials
from France.
They were
an international phenomenon.
And you're a huge
"Simpsons" fan.
Um, yeah.
It was something
that I grew up with,
and it was something
that was always on the TV
when I came home
from school.
Did you guys grow up
watching "The Simpsons"?
I love that show.
I loved that you could watch
the episodes again and again,
and you would always get a joke
that you missed the first time.
What do you love
about "The Simpsons"?
Probably its humor.
It's pretty unique.
It just represents everything
about humanity,
I think,
but in a funny aspect.
And you know, America
went through a time
when "The Simpsons"
owned America.
I remember when that
was appointment television,
where if you didn't see
"The Simpsons" on Sunday,
you couldn't have a conversation
on Monday with some people.
Yeah. It was also edgy.
It was edgy at the time.
Ha! Ha!
La-la-la! Ha! ha!
Stop him!
He's expressing
his faith, eh?
The thing is,
is that "The Simpsons"
stereotypes all races.
They stereotype
the alcoholic, the deadbeat dad,
the "F"-up kid,
the over-achieving daughter.
They stereotype Italians,
Chinese, Japanese.
They spare no expense.
The problem is,
is we didn't have
any other representation
in this country.
There was no Aziz,
no Mindy, no Kal,
no that dude
who was on "Lost,"
and that other dude
from "Heroes,"
and that dude that's
in the Apu documentary.
No politicians or reporters,
and no whatever
Deepak Chopra is.
This is all we had.
Apu reflected
how America viewed us --
And that creates a problem
when the most popular show
on television,
which it was,
is showing
mainstream America
what an Indian is.
And it's a potbellied dude
who can't speak English,
has zero --
is an idiot, basically.
So, where did this walking
stereotype come from?
I mean,
other than the gates of hell.
I read somewhere
that Apu,
they originally did not
want to make him
and Indian convenience
store owner
because they thought it was
too much of a stereotype.
It's completely
Right away they were like,
"Can you do an Indian voice,
and how offensive
can you make it," basically.
I literally --
I would, immediately began
to talk this way and...
And I was like, "It's not
tremendously accurate.
It's a little...
They're like,
"Meh, it's all right."
So, Hank Azaria,
a brilliant voice-over actor
who does many of
"The Simpsons" characters,
is told to do this stereotypical
voice by producers.
Or was he?
Apu, he was not intended
to be a character.
He was called "clerk."
He had one line,
"35 cents, please."
And I wrote in the script,
"He is not an Indian."
'Cause I said,
"That is a comedy clich."
I see, yeah.
And we get to the table reading,
and Hank Azaria goes,
"35 cents, please."
And it got
this giant laugh,
and, suddenly,
Apu was an Indian.
"35 cents, please."
Man, that is some
brilliant comedy writing.
So, what I do know for sure is
that a white dude created
a stereotypical Indian voice,
and a bunch of white writers
in a room laughed
at said stereotypical
Indian voice.
And this led to the creation
of my childhood bully
and a walking insult
to my parents.
Are you sure
you want a child, Apu?
You know I do.
I mean, there comes a time
in a man's life
when he asks himself,
"Who will float my corpse
down the Ganges?"
So, that's you guys.
Today, you look like
Apu today, somewhat.
No, that's not funny.
Why do I look like Apu today?
The hair, I think.
-Apu hair.
-Apu hair!
I don't have Apu hair.
Hey, Apu.
Apu hair.
When you see that character,
do either of you identify
with that character
in any way?
I don't think so.
Does it bother you at all
that it's a white actor
that does the voice of Apu?
Hank Azaria
is a talented guy.
They paid him, he did it.
And he did it good.
Why do you think you tolerate
this kind of stuff
more than we would?
First of all,
we came here.
We had to succeed,
no matter what.
It doesn't mean that
we are not offended by it.
Why do you feel like
we don't tolerate it?
Times have changed.
You have security,
and you belong here.
You're an American.
So, "Simpsons" creator
Matt Groening makes
this Indian store clerk
a series regular,
and names him
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.
But where does the name
come from?
Well, his last name,
comes from the Sanskrit word
And his first name, well,
I'll let Matt explain
why he chose "Apu."
I named Apu
after the trilogy,
the Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray.
And I highly recommend
this series of movies --
fantastic landmarks
in world cinema.
Can you tell us
what the Apu Trilogy is?
The Apu Trilogy is the story
of it's hero,
a young boy named Apu,
who we follow over
the course of three films.
You see in the course
of his life both a young man
grow up
and actually deepen,
but also, you see
the modernization of India.
As someone
who's a scholar of Ray,
who knows those films
very well,
how do you feel
about that choice?
His story's the story of
a multidimensional human being
who grows living through pain
and tragedy and beauty.
And to have that name then be
associated with the Apu
of the convenience store,
of course, is such
a huge diminishment.
And even though
Matt Groening
created "The Simpsons,"
it's Hank Azaria
who does the voice
and can literally silence Apu.
I was feeling hopeful I could
get Hank to speak to me,
especially since he had
spoken about this once before
in a Huffington Post article
from 2013,
"Is It Time to Retire Apu?"
by Mallika Rao.
When you spoke to Hank Azaria,
was there a defensiveness?
For the first time,
he wants to talk about
how he feels uncomfortable
with the voice.
Did he do Apu
over the phone?
He did briefly.
He-He talked about
how the voice is very musical.
He did the accent.
He mentioned you --
Well, he didn't know
your name,
but he said that there was
an Indian comic
who he'd seen a video of,
who just went off on Apu.
Had he not thought about it
until he saw my bit?
Right. He hadn't, so...
So, for, like, 20 --
At that point, maybe, like,
21, 22 years,
he had not thought
about it?
He hadn't
thought about it
from the perspective
of a real Apu,
and real Indian person.
So Hank has
thought about this.
And if I got to Hank before,
I'm sure I can get to him again.
To understand
my quest to get rid of Apu,
you need to understand
the complicated
and diverse experiences
of Southasian-Americans
in this country.
I spent the first nine years
of my life
in Jackson Heights, Queens --
the most diverse part
of the most diverse borough
of the most diverse city
in the world.
It is my favorite place
and every white supremacist's
I grew up near 74th Street
in what's called "Little India."
But to be fair, this isn't
actually Little India.
It's more Little Southasia
'cause you have people
from all over the region here,
whether that be India
or Pakistan
or Sri Lanka,
Bangladesh, Nepal,
Buton, or the Maldives,
and sometimes
Tibet and Afghanistan.
The borders kind of change
depending on political reasons
or who the U.S. is bombing
at that particular moment.
Afghanistan has since been
moved to the Middle East.
But all these countries have
different make ups, right?
They have different languages
and cultures and religions.
But when you grow up
in this country,
it doesn't really matter
'cause you're still
gonna be called Apu.
Well, look! It is Mr. Homer,
my favorite customer.
Please, feel free to paw
through my Playdudes
and tell me to go back
to some country
I am not actually from.
He sort of does
the stand-in work
for a lot of different
kinds of issues
to immigration and race.
Every time there was
a certain kind of focus
on Apu's character
in relationship
to some kind
of universal norm,
the way in which they talked
about it was usually
in a particular
stereotypical way.
If there was an episode
that was on marriage,
Apu, of course, had to have
the arranged marriage.
Then it is agreed.
Your third daughter
will marry our first son.
If there was an episode
on having children,
then Apu had to have
eight children.
My whaaaat?
have a long half-life.
They tend to last
for a while
unless we are committed to
and good at telling
our own story.
Is it weird that we're talking
about Indian stereotypes
and you're
an Indian doctor?
Is that strange
in the slightest to you?
But getting an honest story
into the mainstream
is incredibly difficult.
Good morning...
It's Wednesday!
Or Hump Day, according
to Jizzy and the Wiz
on 102.7, "The Octopus,"
Rancho Cucamonga's number-one
all-'80s rock station!
This is
a father-son story.
This is really about how you
dealt with these two cultures --
this Indian household
that were living in
and this American culture that
you were now a part of.
We were in a meeting
at Fox one day,
and everybody had
to stand up
and say what their role was
on the pilot.
So, "Hi, I'm so-and-so.
I'm Executive Producer."
"Hi, I'm so-and-so.
I'm the script supervisor."
I stood up and I go, "Hi,
Rohitash Rao, and I'm Indian."
That's all I had to say,
'cause I was the only one
in the room
that could say that.
And I looked around
the room and I'm like,
"What are we getting into?
How are we making
an Indian show right now?"
Like, "How are we together?
How is this gonna work?"
And from that moment, I'm like,
"I think we're"
There's this idea that,
okay, well,
if there's four white people,
anybody will watch it.
That's mainstream.
That's accessible.
But if it's four Asian people
or four black people,
it becomes like,
"Oh, this is a black show,"
or, "This is a black movie."
I guess it just boils down
to, like, why is it that
when there's a show
full of white people,
that's considered
okay and mainstream?
If it's
funny and interesting,
I don't really care
who's in it, you know.
We watch animated movies
that are about fish.
What bothered me most about Apu
was the way he stood in
for my parents,
replacing their real stories,
their real struggles,
and their really
complicated lives
with a accent.
My dad was an English major,
so his command
of the English language
was ridiculous.
And so he wanted to
be a writer.
My dad wrote,
sent in his application,
and, you know,
they see "Eric Peters"
and they read it
and how well written it is,
They're like, "Oh, perfect.
Let's bring this guy in."
My dad walked in.
My dad looked very
much like you.
They're like, "Sorry, sir.
The job's been filled."
And then he just had to take
a job as a meat inspector
for the rest of his life,
you know.
My mom, who grew up
in a middle-class family,
but that was very --
in a society
that was very
male-dominated in India
and about what it took for her
to get her own education.
When I was growing up,
I found it really embarrassing
that my dad wanted to spend
so much time with us
to the point
where my dad became
the baseball coach
of my little league team.
My dad didn't know baseball.
He knew cricket.
So, he would teach us
how to play cricket.
So, we're trying
to swing a bat
like a golf club,
you know?
Telling the pitcher
to bounce the ball over.
Yeah, look back,
and I realize it was only
because it was
out of love.
He wanted to spend time
with his son.
That's why he did it.
At the same time, I should say,
we were a pretty good team
because we could catch
with our bare hands.
we got to be pretty good.
Our parents are heroes.
And there are millions
of other immigrants like them
how came over in the face
of incredible uncertainty,
taking incredible risk,
to build a life
in a new country.
Racist depictions
of minority groups
is as American as...racism.
From advertising
to political cartoons
to vaudeville to...
Meet me at the zoo
in the morning at 9:00.
Yeah, with the rest
of the monkeys?
With the rest
of the monkeys.
Yeah, I'll bring
my grandpa with me.
Dear God!
I decided I needed to talk
to an expert on the matter,
someone with an EGOT.
Can you define minstrelsy
and briefly discuss,
like, the history
of minstrelsy?
Minstrel shows began
when white people decided
they wanted to be able
to do the cake walk.
Because there were not
black folks on stage,
so white people dressed
as black people
and put on
the blackface.
I wanted to ask you
about your collection
of black Americana.
You have a very
large personal collection.
I call it Negrobilia.
A lot of racist imagery.
It's blackface.
It's clearly stuff that was made
to mock black people.
I don't even think
it was that deep.
I have this thing
from the Coon Chicken Inn.
That was the name
of a restaurant.
I don't think
they were thinking,
"Oh, we gonna get 'em now!"
I think they were like,
"That's funny."
What else
is in the collection?
One of my favorite
is a German postcard.
There's a little white girl,
a little white boy,
and this other little blackface
is in the middle.
And she says to him,
"Lick him
and see if he's chocolate."
If you've never
seen black people...
we look chocolate.
So, you're telling me
there might've been
an epidemic at some point,
where people were
licking black people to see
if they tasted like chocolate?
And if you
played your cards right,
you could make it
work for you, too.
And I'm a big believer
in facing it.
You've got to see
what it was.
So that's why you have
the collection.
But it doesn't horrify you
when you see it?
No, no. No.
Not at all?
No, because when you deal
with ignorance,
how can you be
pissed off?
They don't know
any better.
They're trying
to make a living.
They're making cookie jars.
But Hank isn't ignorant.
He knows
there's a problem with Apu,
yet he still does this.
Remember, please,
children, that in life,
there is nothing that is
not so disgusting
that it cannot be sold
on a heated roller
at a nearly
criminal mark-up.
Based on your definition
of minstrelsy,
does Apu count as a minstrel
since it's brown paint,
a white guy's voice?
I would say so,
but he's not
singing and dancing, is he?
Who needs the Kwik-E-Mart
Now, here's the tricky part
Oh, won't you rhyme with me?
Yeah, there's --
there's --
Okay, then, he's in
the minstrel show, too.
If he's singing and dancing,
he's in.
He has
all the qualifications.
He has
all the qualifications.
Maybe if Hank realized Apu is
no different than this
or this...
or this,
he might, I don't know, stop.
We needed to talk
to Hank Azaria.
And, luckily, I have agents.
- Hey, man. It's Hari.
- Hey, Hari.
Yeah, I was just wondering
if we have any news about Hank,
like, if anyone has said
anything from his camp
about, like,
doing the film.
Yeah, check your e-mail.
You sent me an e-mail?
You're gonna want to read it.
Okay, so, it's a forward
from his publicist.
"Hank wanted me to
pass this article on to you."
And it's the same
Huff-Po article
that me and him were
both quoted in,
like, three years ago.
So he's, basically,
saying that
he doesn't want to
do the film
and he's not gonna
talk about it anymore.
You okay?
No, I'm fine.
You sure?
No, I'm okay.
No, I'm okay.
I'm fine.
Look, we'll give him a beep...
...and we'll figure out
the next steps.
Okay. Bye.
Well, it's been months,
and Hank Azaria appears to be
ignoring my requests
to talk about Apu on camera.
If I don't get him
to retire the voice,
this whole thing is a failure!
And by thing, I might
possibly mean my career.
So I decided
to "Politically Re-Active,"
my podcast with Kamau,
to sic my fans on Hank.
So, Hari, you're working
on something too, aren't you?
Yes, I am, Kamau.
Thank you for asking.
I'm making a documentary
about Apu from "The Simpsons,"
which I am
very excited about.
We're trying to get Hank Azaria
to be in the film.
He's the voice of Apu.
Tweet @HankAzaria that he
should be in my movie, right.
Sample tweet --
Dear @HankAzaria, please talk
to @HariKonadabolu about Apu
for his documentary
Now, let's get
this thing trending.
Let's see if Hank will be
in this movie.
Are you sure
you don't wanna come?
In a Civil War
we need lots of Indians
to shoot.
I don't know which part of that
sentence to correct first.
There was a guy, the year after
"Harold & Kumar" came out.
I was walking down the street.
He was kind of drunk.
He stumbled out of a bar,
Indian guy, and he goes,
"Hey, I get called Kumar
all the time because of you."
And I just looked at him
and was like,
"It's better than Apu,
isn't it?"
Yeah, right.
And he goes, "Yeah.
Can you name any other, like,
famous Indian-Americans?
There was --
But he wasn't even
East Indian.
It was the actor
from Johnny 5.
Is that a yes or the number of
your intelligence quotient, hmm?
But he wasn't even
East Indian.
No, Fisher Stevens.
I found out he wasn't Indian
three years ago.
I mean, you never had
the feeling that,
like, at least
we have something?
With Apu?
Hell, no!
No, it's the same as
"Indiana Jones
and the Temple of Doom."
How many white folks
in brownface,
eating monkey brains
are you gonna deal with?
Chilled monkey brains.
Are there any roles
you regret?
Let me think before I actually
answer that question.
I'm so used to doing
these interviews
where that's where
you're supposed to say.
If you're a Southasian-American
and you dream of being an actor,
your choices are pretty limited.
You either portray
your community
as one-dimensional
with hopes of better work,
or you let
somebody else do it.
It begs the question,
is it better to be clowned
or to clown yourself?
I had a bread-and-butter role
that I did for years,
which was the weeping
ethnic mom
of potential rapist
or murderers.
It is a mother's duty
to protect her son!
I was playing Achmed,
the foreign-exchange student.
And I was wearing a turban
and eating fried camel,
doing these kind of, like,
weird Indian dances.
From, like, 1991 till,
like, '96, '97,
is all just,
literally, cabbie,
cabbie, cabbie, deli,
deli, deli...
One of the first movies I did
was a movie called
"Van Wilder"
with Ryan Reynolds,
and I played
an Indian exchange student.
And I remember very clearly
getting a phone call
from my agent at the time,
and she said,
"Hey, I've got
this audition for you.
It's a supporting lead
in a movie."
She goes, "Okay,
the character's name...
is Taj Mahal.
I'm Taj...Mahal.
And I hung up the phone,
and she calls me back.
And she's like, "I knew
you were gonna do that."
I'm like, "Well, yeah!"
I mean, I didn't major
in Theater and Film
to play Taj Mahal.
She said, "Look, it's almost
impossible for me
to sell you
without any credits --
any legitimate credits
on your resum.
And I know that
you probably won't want
to do something like this,
but I would really
strongly urge you
to take a look at it."
Was there ever any hesitation
when you were asked to do
an Indian accent
in the casting room?
I always thought to myself,
like, "Look,
if this is
a really cool part,
if the guy happens to be
an Indian guy,
if I take the part,
I accept the responsibility
of lending the character
more dignity
than what's written there,
and to be able
to challenge the director
and the creatives
and, hopefully, not be
fired for that."
So, how easily can something
turn into a racist meme?
Well, despite only being
said eight times
over the entire course
of "The Simpsons" history,
"Thank you, come again"
has haunted Indian children
for over a quarter century.
It's funny because it's racist.
Uh...this could
take a while, folks.
Thank you, come again.
How would you
define "patanking"
if you were to explain
what that means?
Patanking is
being asked to speak
in a broad Indian accent
with broad acting.
They want the accent
to sound like this,
and they want your tongue to be
really pulled back.
So, patanking was going
into a room
and having to do that
exact thing in front of people,
like a monkey.
This voice has caused
so much trouble.
So, how did Hank
come up with it?
When I first moved to L.A.,
most of the 7-Eleven guys were
Indian and Pakistani.
Then also, Peter Sellers
in "The Party,"
one of my favorite
performances ever.
Sir, excuse me.
What is the name of a game
that has a multitude
of colored balls like that?
No, not poo. Pool.
Pool. Pool!
Pool! Now you got it.
Ah! Oh, like swimming pool.
You got it, honey.
I never heard of a game
called Poo.
You know, I've since learned
that a lot
of Southern Asian people,
found that Peter Sellers
portrayal fairly offensive.
What, did you get
Inspector Clouseau
to help you solve that mystery?
Inspector Clouseau.
That's Peter Sellers.
How different is
a Southasian actor patanking
versus, like,
Hank Azaria doing that voice?
Because as
a Southasian actor,
it is part
of my cultural heritage.
It's part of,
like, what I --
what I ow-- It's mine.
So, like, a white guy doing it
sort of feels like
usurping my culture.
An invasion.
A kind of exploitation,
but also kind of like
using it to further a narrative
within sort of
the larger culture
about me and my people.
You're never gonna see
two Indians guys in a club
standing around going,
"Hey, man. Aren't we cool?
Don't we sound really hip?"
To a lot of people, I think,
you're known for,
like, incredible accents.
And you've done them
throughout your career.
There is a criticism of, like,
"How come he uses accents?
Is it okay for him
to use accents?"
Is that something
you've had to respond to?
The most commonly
asked question is,
"Well, what if a white guy
did these jokes?"
And I go, "Don't get
caught up on my color
and don't get caught up
on the words.
Get caught up
in the intent."
Most of the 7-Eleven guys were
Indian and Pakistani.
And there was one,
in particular,
who lived near me
who was pretty crusty.
And I would often have
the same exchange with him
all the time.
I would be in line,
buying a drink,
and I'd open the Gatorade
before I'm waiting to pay,
and he would get annoyed.
"Why do you
open your unpaid product there?
Please don't open that
until you have paid."
I'm like...
"Am I running out the store?
what am I doing?"
There's nothing wrong
with doing an accent.
An accent is a crucial part
of a character.
It's when the accent
lends itself to being
part of a joke
about the person,
it's a racist dig,
that's when
the accent's problematic.
You know that a white guy
does the voice?
'Cause the voice is --
It's actually done
by a Hank Azaria,
who's a white voice actor.
How did you find out it was
a white guy that did the voice?
I don't know. I think,
like, after a long time.
I definitely assumed
he was Indian.
How do you feel
about that?
Oh, I'm making a movie
about how much I dislike it.
Finding out just now
that it was a white guy
is kind of --
that makes me a little bit
uncomfortable, for sure.
I don't know whether --
'cause people, like,
imitate him.
I don't know whether it makes
it more or less racist
to imitate a white guy
pretending to be Indian.
Does that make sense?
I will tell you it makes me
equally uncomfortable.
The bottom line was always
"what's funnier?"
Our job is
to write a comedy.
The fact is,
sober Barney, not funny.
Out Smithers, not as funny.
Humor comes out
of conflict.
And the seven deadly sins
and our less --
and our more --
the aspects of our personality
that we're maybe not
so proud of.
What was Apu's flaw?
I wouldn't say
he was flawed,
but he was
a first-generation immigrant
with all of the trappings.
But I mean, could you say that
a lot of the stuff that Apu says
wouldn't hit as hard
without the accent?
Yeah, well, there are accents
that by their nature,
to white Americans,
I can only speak
from experience,
sound funny, period.
But there were a lot of people
that did not agree with Dana.
And if Hank is anything like me,
he definitely checks Twitter
every five minutes,
especially on the toilet.
The public wants answers, Hank!
The public wants answers, Hank!
I always
loved stand-up comedy as a kid.
Like, it was, like, magic to me.
Well, I knew that
I wanted to do that,
except I was 17
and didn't have
a complicated life.
What I did have was
the fact that I was Indian.
Oh, you got that from India!
You got me!
Oh, you got me!
I-I have some chicken dinner
in my backpack.
Do you want some?
Hey, rub my belly.
I'll give you three wishes!
Yeah, come on!
So, I milked it
as much as I could.
Like, every corny joke
about race I could imagine,
like, jokes about curry
and taxi cabs,
gas stations,
convenience stores,
and it was awful.
And I probably did that
for about,
I don't know,
four or five years.
And then, 9/11 happened.
The world was falling apart,
and I felt more like a minority
than ever before.
So why was I on stage,
doing crappy impressions
of my parents?
I was minimizing them
the same way America always had.
My comedy had to shift
from the way people saw me
towards the way
I wanted to be seen.
I hate when people say
they can't see color.
Like, "I can't see race."
If you can't see race,
you can't see racism.
Then, what good are you to me?
You know what I mean?
I hate that
I hate that.
And people say
they can't see race,
and I think that leads to
more racism, like, every year.
Like, when did Halloween turn
into racist Christmas, right?
When is that the year
people think
they can get a pass
on being super racist,
wearing blackface
or a Geisha outfit or whatever?
Why do they assume that?
Every year you see people --
White people wearing blackface.
It's not just white people.
It's also people of color
that have chosen their sides.
I would go to the Comedy Zone,
and I loved the Comedy Zone.
I'd see all these comics,
and they'd put my friends
in the front row
'cause we were brown people.
At first we thought it
was great, and then we realized
they're just gonna pick on us
the whole time.
And it wasn't just one time.
It was every time.
It'd be racist ,
and I'm like,
"Okay, it's a joke.
You gotta take a joke."
But we never got to reply,
'cause there was never a comic
who was gonna go on stage
who was Indian-American...
And defend you guys.
There was no response.
And you know,
I wanted to be that response.
There's a kind of complacency
that happens in our culture,
like, around that stuff,
you know,
where even we start going like,
"Oh, it's funny!"
And this is the insidiousness
of racism.
The person who is
subjected to it or --
is buying into it
as sort of a cultural norm.
Like, "It's not a problem.
It's fine.
What's the big deal?
You're overreacting."
One thing
people don't understand
is that something can be
really funny
and still wrong
or morally questionable.
The fun part about comedy is
that you're transgressive.
When you say,
"When I see Hank Azaria
I'm gonna kick the
out of him,"
the funny part about that
for the audience is
that you're not kicking
the out of nobody.
So, that's the line
you're cr--
Like, "Oh, really?
Is that what you're gonna do?"
But we also relate
to your intense anger
or feeling about it.
But we also are not worried
about Hank Azaria.
You're right. Right.
You know, he works out.
Yeah, right.
He's got a big house.
I'm kicking upward.
Yeah, you're punching upward.
you infernal ninny!
Stick your left hoof
on that flange now!
Now, pump those
scrawny chicken legs,
you stuporous funker!
Can I bust you
on something?
Go ahead.
Do you think Mr. Burns is
I think Mr. Burns is
but he is a one-dimensional
caricature of a rich maniac,
which there are many
and who have power.
I think an Indian
convenience store owner
who's accented
doesn't have power,
in that situation.
And if I believe
that we should go after
people with more power
as much as we can,
which "The Simpsons"
certainly does brilliantly.
To the writers,
there's no difference.
Mr. Burns is funny
in these four ways,
Apu is funny
in these four ways.
That's so mechanical,
It's the nature of writing
a television show,
when you have to write 22
half-hour stories a year
for 25 years that
don't repeat themselves.
By the time you got there,
was there a sense of,
like, any kind of regret?
Like, "I wish this character
wasn't built this way"?
I think if "The Simpsons"
were being done today,
I'm not sure if you could
have Apu voiced by Hank.
I mean, do you see that as
a good thing or a bad thing?
Is there a value,
or is it just the way it is?
I see it as a "thing."
How much do you want to tear
at the fabric of the show?
Do you want to pull Apu,
a beloved character,
out of the Kwik-E-Mart,
a beloved setting,
just for the sake
of updating that character
to be less
How have we been so overlooked
by the comedy writers
I'd grown up idolizing?
It's like they didn't
even think of us.
It influenced, like,
our whole class of comedians.
And some of our favorite writers
came from there --
Dana Gould, Conan,
like, so many.
And to me,
I was like, "Oh."
Like, was that just, like,
a blind spot to these people
that are considered to be
comedic geniuses?
I feel like that still happens
in writers' rooms now.
It's like whoever sits
at the table,
informs the discussion.
So if it's, like,
all white men,
you're gonna have someone
make an off-color joke
and not realize the extent
to which it is inappropriate.
When does the actor
have culpability?
Like, does Hank Azaria
have some responsibility,
or is he just an actor
playing a role
and he was lucky enough
to have it for 26 years?
It's hard for me
to blame the actor.
It lives
in a systemic culture
of how are Southasians
If we're funny
just because of an accent
or just because --
if that's the only version of us
that is seen
and that's the only version
that's allowed
because the audience will accept
one version of Southasians,
they won't accept something
that's nuanced
or it's just not --
it's too complicated,
you know.
I don't think Hank Azaria
thought about it...
probably that much.
It was just a funny character,
one among many that he did.
I mean,
that's part of comedy, too.
I mean, I think
that the media that is created,
I mean, part of it
is to have a conversation.
And with stand up,
you're having a conversation.
You might not be having
the conversation
directly with the performer,
but the stuff I hear other
performers say I think about.
Like, that's a lot of people
who feel that way.
It's not just him.
I'm not going after him.
I'm going after all the people
that laughed...
and feel the same way.
How do I address that point?
That's why representation's
I mean, this is
a big discussion.
And I hope that Hank Azaria
understands that
and sits down and talks to you,
because I don't think
you're necessarily
going after him.
But I think he's a part
of this conversation.
I've been trying
to get Hank Azaria
to be in
this documentary,
because it's about Apu,
and he voices Apu.
How do we get him, Dana?
I don't know.
I would be astounded
if he would voluntarily
want to justify
any of his voices.
I still think he should be
in the documentary, obviously.
But, like...Yeah.
Well, yeah, sure.
But I do think
that I don't want --
It's in your self-interest
to have him in the documentary,
and it's in his self-interest
to not be in it.
It all just seemed so hopeless.
But then I got an e-mail
from Hank saying
he might be willing to talk.
So, it might be happening.
Hank Azaria might
actually talk to me.
This is almost very exciting.
But now what?
What am I gonna tell him?
Just stop doing the voice?
I need some creative solutions
for this mess.
I don't know what the solution
is to tweak it.
I don't know
if you can tweak it.
I also don't want them
to kill Apu,
although it might actually
make a good episode,
which they're in
desperate need of.
I was --
I was thinking about that.
But the idea of,
like, killing
the Indian immigrant
is also upsetting, like...
Well, he can't win with you.
What if there's an episode
where he just drops the accent?
He was, like --
No, I'm serious --
And it was, like,
all just an elaborate ruse?
Hey, brah.
Come in and chill-ax.
Now, I'm not the only one who's
tried to solve this problem.
"The Simpsons" themselves
attempted to in 2016,
during season 27,
when they introduced Apu's
Indian-American nephew
voiced by Utkarsh Ambudkar.
So, you did the voice
of Apu's nephew,
who was the first Indian-
American character on that show.
How did they approach
you about that?
I got an offer.
I got this
super-cool letter
with "The Simpsons" heading
that said,
"Dear," you know,
"Utkarsh, will you come
and be on the show?"
And at that point I'm just like,
"Sweet sweet sweet, Simpsons...
Oh, man.
I know how this goes.
Do I have to do an accent?"
"No, we don't want you
to do an accent.
We've been getting
a lot of heat," whatever it is.
"We want to present
an Indian-American."
Check it.
I just bitch-slapped your
into the 21st Century!
There's a moment
where I'm, like, bashing Apu.
And I'm like,
"You're a stereotype!
Why do you talk like that?"
And I had an "alt,"
where I was like,
"You sound like a white guy
doing a bad version
of an Indian accent."
I'll say that,
and then you cut
to the real Hank Azaria
in the booth.
That's so good!
Look, and have him look
at the camera.
That's so good!
And then, cut back
to the cartoon.
That, like,
solves the thing.
Did you do the take?
I did.
But, uh...
But they weren't having it.
Was there ever a moment
of second-guessing,
or was there ever
a moment of regret,
"Maybe I shouldn't have,
maybe I'm taking them off
the hook by doing this."
Like, was there ever that?
Oh, yeah, when I watched it.
Well, yeah.
I mean...
"The Simpsons" wins.
I wanted to win.
You're my uncle, brah,
and I love you.
But you're a stereotype, man!
"Take a penny, leave a penny.
I'm Indian. I do yoga."
Why don't you go back to
the "Temple of Doom,"
Dr. Jones?"
He leaves, and then
an Italian guy comes out
who's the full-blown
Who's a stereotype-a?
That's a spicy accusation!
You pipe down!
And it's like "The Simpsons",
the show,
being like,
"Stop complaining.
We do this to everyone."
Okay, so, "The Simpsons" gave us
a less-than-satisfying answer
to this Apu problem.
And now Hank had an opportunity
to change this.
"Hey, Hari, thanks
for sending me those clips.
The film looks
really interesting
and thought-provoking.
I'm glad you're making it.
Having said that..."
That's not good, okay.
"Having said that,
it's not something
I can participate in.
I'm not comfortable, one,
speaking on behalf
of the whole show,
two, throwing myself
upon the mercy of your edit.
It's nothing against you.
As I said, I think
what you're doing is great.
I would definitely be open
to reconnecting
after the film is finished
and finding
a mutually-acceptable forum
for us to have a conversation
about this.
If that still interests you,
let me know.
All the best to you, Hari,
and keep up the great work.
That's great that he --
He gets to choose
how he wants to be portrayed.
What a privilege.
He gets to choose how he
is viewed by other people.
So ironic.
I like to have fun
And stick out my tongue
Wow. So, this whole thing was
a giant waste of time and money!
Luckily, it was
somebody else's money,
but still, nothing was solved!
We never got to
those responsible.
It was just some film about
some cartoon character.
Or maybe it wasn't.
You're showing a kid,
a comedian, a filmmaker,
an actor, a musician,
who's Indian,
that they can do this
and it can make it
on television and film.
And you're not
a computer dude right now.
You're not an asexual being.
We wrote the "Kama Sutra."
We taught you how to
You're building,
and I think this is the way
to move forward
and create sort of a --
a blueprint for
the generations to come.
Here we go!
There has been
undeniable progress
for Southasian-American
over the last decade.
I mean, Aziz has a show.
Mindy has a show.
I certainly deserve a show.
However, we still have room
to grow,
considering I know
almost every
in the media.
And half of them are
in this film.
And now a different group
of Indians...
is taking it back.
Southasians would
come up to me all the time
and be like, "I'm so glad
that you're there, on that show,
just by virtue
of the way you look
and the stories
that you get to talk about
and your perspectives."
You know, I said to John Stewart
when I got the job,
I was like, "Do you want me
to do the accent?"
And then he was like,
"What? No!
No, I don't think
we need you to that.
Just talk like yourself."
And I was like, "Yes!"
This is progress.
Progress is you hearing me
talk to you
and not hearing a white dude
pretending to be me.
Sometimes people also ask me,
"How come when you do
impressions of your parents,
you don't use an accent?"
And the answer to that question,
of course, is you.
That's why I don't
use an accent.
There's an action figure.
He's got the convenience store.
You can press this button.
I take it from your yelling
that you like my tofu dogs.
What the is that?
Yes, this is -- yeah.
Before we wrapped it up,
I just wanted to...
Don't give me that.
I wanted to give you this.
I wanted to give you this.
Do not give me that!
I wanted to give you this,
and this is --
I mean,
I realize you probably...
For my Negrobilia.
Thank you, Whoopi.
Thank you, honey.
Look, you're still allowed
to love "The Simpsons."
All I'm saying
is that "The Simpsons"
is like your racist grandfather.
You love your grandfather.
He's been there your whole life
and has taught you
so many valuable things.
But he still does
racist stuff regularly.
So if he can't change,
maybe it's time he dies.
And you can just remember
the best things about him --
seasons 1 through 10.
Oh, and one more thing.
Yeah, I think about
what my mom's been through
in this country, right?
People saying things like,
"Take that dog off your head,"
or "Why are you wearing
bed sheets out of the house,"
or "Why don't you shut up
and make me food?"
And this is just stuff
me and my brothers
said to her, growing up.
Now, can you imagine
what she dealt with
out of the house?