'I'm more than willing to step aside' - Hank Azaria addresses controversy around Simpsons character Apu

Hank Azaria has addressed the controversy surrounding his character Apu on The Simpsons for the first time, saying he's "more than willing to step aside".

The American actor has voiced the character of Indian shopkeeper Apu Nahasapeemapetilon since 1990, adopting a thick Indian accent for the role.

Indian-American comic Hari Kondabolu created documentary The Problem with Apu last year, arguing the character of the Indian shopkeeper was founded on racial stereotypes, including his arranged marriage and many children.

Now in a new interview with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show, Azaria says he's open for change called for the South Asian community to be better represented both on the show and in the wider industry.

"I've given this a lot of thought and, as I say, my eyes have been opened," he says. "I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it.

"I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the writers room - including how [Apu] is voiced or not voiced.

"I'm perfectly willing and happy to step aside, or help transition it into something new.

"It not only makes sense, it just feels like the right thing to do to me."

Azaria also distanced himself from the way in which show creators addressed the controversy in a recent episode, with animated character Lisa Simpson saying, "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" before looking at a photograph of Apu on her nightstand, which was inscribed with the message "Don't have a cow."

Azaria says he didn't know show creators were going to do that, and didn't agree with the message.

"I think that if anybody came away from that segment thinking they should 'lighten up' or 'take a joke better' - that's certainly not the way I feel about it or the message I want to send," he said.

Hari Kondabolu took to Twitter after the interview aired, thanking Azaria for his comments.

Apu is one of several voiced on The Simpsons by Azaria - he is also the voice of Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy and bartender Moe Szyslak.

Newshub.