No matter how “beloved” Apu may be, it’s time for him to go.
While I appreciate The Simpsons’
place as iconic in the canons of American pop culture, I have never been a fan. My long list of complaints about The Simpsons
includes its sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, extreme violence, child abuse and more. But one of my biggest reasons is and always will be Kwik-E-Mart clerk Apu.
Over the years when I mention the racist stereotyping inherent in the character, most people have dismissed my concerns, telling me I’m being overly sensitive and asking why can’t I take a joke. Yet, every so often I’d watch a person’s eyes widen with the realization that they had never stopped to think about how an actual South Asian person would perceive Apu’s doofery, which has created widespread distortion of the Desi community that transcended its screen time into real life.
Comedian Hari Kondabolu’s calling out of this racist caricature first in his stand-up routines and now in-depth in his TruTV documentary The Problem With Apu
is what made me an instant fan of Kondabolu’s work. And also vindication for what I’ve been saying for decades. It wasn’t just that I was so grateful to see a South Asian comedian representing, but it was also hearing many of my own thoughts about the damage Apu has done to the Desi community echoed through Kondabolu’s own experiences as well as his interviewees. The Problem With Apu
gives Kondabolu the opportunity to deepen his analysis as well as bring in some rather shocking back story of the character’s creation to light.
Like, did you know that the ubiquitous line “Thank you, come again” was only said 8 times in the show? And did you know that Apu was never meant to be Indian at all? He was listed in the original script as “Clerk” and it was only during the first table reading that Hank Azaria decided to cobble together one of the most offensive Indian accents to have ever graced a TV screen. Since Azaria made his joke to a room of white dudes, of course everyone laughed and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon was born from a gaggle of assholes to haunt South Asian Americans for the rest of our lives.