Co­me­di­ans not laugh­ing at char­ac­ter in ‘The Simp­sons’

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS -

NEW YORK » Grow­ing up in New York in the 1980s, co­me­dian Hari Kond­abolu was like many young peo­ple. He watched “The Simp­sons” and he adored “The Simp­sons.” There was just one thing that both­ered him about it.

Amid the fic­tional Spring­field barflies, in­com­pe­tent doc­tors, clowns and crazy eggheads was a truly car­toon­ish char­ac­ter — Apu, the KwikE-Mart clerk who sold ex­pired food, ripped off cus­tomers and de­liv­ered the sing-songy slo­gan “Thank you, come again.”

To Kond­abolu and plenty of other peo­ple of South Asian her­itage, the pot-bel­lied, heav­ily ac­cented Apu led to real world bul­ly­ing, self-loathing and em­bar­rass­ment. Apu was one of the only In­dian im­mi­grants por­trayed in pop­u­lar cul­ture and yet he was a buf­foon.

“This char­ac­ter — the only rep­re­sen­ta­tion that we have — led a lot of kids who were born and raised here to feel non-Amer­i­can,” said Kond­abolu. “If you don’t nip racism in the bud from the be­gin­ning, it mu­tates and finds other ways of sur­viv­ing.”

Kond­abolu, whose stand-up and pod­casts have a so­cially con­scious fo­cus, is now fight­ing back with the doc­u­men­tary “The Prob­lem With Apu,” air­ing on truTV on Sun­day at 10 p.m. EST.

He hopes the film is as funny as it is il­lu­mi­nat­ing — an im­por­tant thing if you’re go­ing to war with one of TVs most beloved an­i­mated in­sti­tu­tions. “As a co­me­dian, if you’re go­ing to kill joy, you bet­ter kill it with joy,” he said.

The doc­u­men­tary fea­tures in­ter­views with other per­form­ers of South Asian her­itage, in­clud­ing Kal Penn, Aziz Ansari, Aasif Mandvi and Hasan Min­haj, who share their own dis­taste for Apu. Vivek Murthy, who be­came sur­geon gen­eral of the United States, re­calls be­ing bul­lied in sev­enth grade by a kid us­ing Apu’s ac­cent.

“It’s not about him be­ing funny. That’s not the is­sue. He’s a fun­da­men­tally flawed char­ac­ter, based through the lens of a stereo­type. I think some­times

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