During a podcast appearance earlier this week, Azaria apologised for voicing the character, who has been accused of perpetuating harmful stereotypes about South Asian people. The history of racism that the character inspired was explored in a 2017 documentary titled The Problem with Apu.
“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 during Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast. “A 17-year-old ... he’s never even seen<em>The Simpsons</em> but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that this is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country. I really do apologise.”
Cleese appeared to reject the apology in a tweet, in which he sarcastically apologised for his own past work.
“Not wishing to be left behind by Hank Azaria, I would like to apologise on behalf on Monty Python for all the many sketches we did making fun of white English people,” Cleese tweeted.
The Fawlty Towers actor added: “We’re sorry for any distress we may have caused.”
In 2020, Cleese claimed that “political correctness” was stifling creativity in the comedy world.
“I would love to debate this with a ‘woke’,” Cleese said. “The first question I would say is, ‘Can you tell me a woke joke?’ I don’t know what a woke joke would be like other than very, very nice people being kind to each other. It might be heart-warming but it’s not going to be very funny.”
Azaria’s Simpsons character, the Indian shopkeeper Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, was quietly phased out of the show in 2016.
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