Azaria found himself at the heart of controversy in 2017 when a documentary sparked a conversation about him, a White person, voicing the Indian-American character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on the show since 1989. The actor appeared on the “Armchair Expert” podcast recently where he apologized and expressed how much guilt he feels to have negatively impacted so many Indian-Americans with his performance.
On Tuesday, Cleese took to Twitter to take a lighthearted jab at Azaria for feeling like he should apologize.
“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 joked. “We’re sorry for any distress we may have caused.”
The 81-year-old comedian often uses his Twitter to speak out against “cancel culture” and most recently derided “wokeism” as “idiocy” in response to a fan.
“Started out as a good idea – Let’s be nice to people’ – and finished up as a humorless, censorious, literal-minded, posturing idiocy,” he wrote.
Azaria, who has since said he’ll no longer voice Apu as the show in general takes a stand against White actors voicing non-White characters, recently spoke with podcast hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman about the journey he’s been on to educate himself about the harm Apu has done to the Indian community.
In addition to taking the message behind Hari Kondabolu’s documentary, “The Problem With Apu,” to heart, Azaria said he tried to talk to Indian people to gain a little bit of perspective. He told the podcast hosts a story about a recent encounter with a young Indian boy that left him reeling.
“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 (via The Hollywood Reporter). “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.”
According to Vulture, the voice actor spoke directly to Padman, who is herself an Indian-American, at one point during the lengthy interview to explain that he feels he hurt her and everyone like her with his portrayal.
“I really do apologize. I know you weren’t asking for that, but it’s important. I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that,” he said. “Part of me feels like I need to go around to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize, and sometimes I do when it comes up.”
The actor is now an advocate of ensuring diverse casting and writers rooms.