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Comedians Hank Azaria and Hari Kondabolu on the impact of race post-public callout : NPR

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What occurs after a public callout? For comedians Hari Kondabolu and Hank Azaria, the reply to that has so much to do with their race.



MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

What occurs after a public callout? For comedians Hari Kondabolu and Hank Azaria, the reply has so much to do with race. In 2012 on Comedy Central, Kondabolu blasted Azaria, who’s white, for voicing the Indian “Simpsons” character Apu.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARI KONDABOLU: If I noticed Hank Azaria try this voice at a celebration, I’d kick the [expletive] out of him.

BLOCK: Then in 2017, Kondabolu launched his documentary “The Downside With Apu,” which went deeper in its criticism of Hollywood’s portrayal of South Asians. Azaria refused to seem within the documentary. Nicely, now, six years later, NPR’s Code Swap co-host Gene Demby sat down with the comedians for his or her first public dialog collectively, and Azaria admitted a part of the rationale he refused involvement within the film was that he did not actually consider that Apu was really dangerous.

HANK AZARIA: Much more importantly than, do I maintain doing the voice or not, what that was based mostly on was, how actual is that this or not? I did not actually know.

GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: And while you say an actual factor, you imply, how a lot vitality was round what Hari was making an attempt to floor?

AZARIA: Yeah, how true it was, how the character had completed hurt, all that is in Hari’s documentary and what he – and in his routine and what he talks about and different issues he talks about, too. I used to be like, is that actual?

KONDABOLU: Yeah.

AZARIA: I wasn’t certain.

KONDABOLU: What’s humorous – even after the documentary, folks nonetheless say, as a result of one man had a problem with it, he needed to do one thing along with his profession, so he put this on the market. I am like, should you noticed the documentary, it wasn’t simply me. Like, I obtained Aziz, Hasan Minhaj…

DEMBY: Aparna.

KONDABOLU: …Aparna…

DEMBY: Kal.

KONDABOLU: …Kal Penn, the surgeon Common of the USA…

DEMBY: Yeah.

KONDABOLU: …Vivek Murthy. Like, at a sure level, it is like, I believed I made an argument. However that is the humorous factor. I really feel like lots of people nonetheless share that opinion as a result of they did not hassle watching the factor and enthusiastic about it. All of it grew to become half of a bigger dialog about political correctness. And this is one other instance of somebody who simply desires to kill one thing.

AZARIA: Sure. Yeah. And till I watched the doc after which additionally regarded into the entire thing – as a result of the character of Apu is simply – not simply – I imply, it is actual. It is an precise factor, however it’s additionally – it is type of the tip of the iceberg. It is symbolic of a a lot bigger dynamic. If nothing else, watching the doc, I used to be like, oh, I like all these performers. A personality I did – I, like, hindered them. I induced them ache. I really actively made their path tougher. That sucks. That was one of many first issues that actually got here dwelling to me and made me go, OK, that is actual. That may be actual.

DEMBY: At any time when we speak about stereotypes involving folks of shade, we at all times speak about, you already know, like, actual, materials penalties that befall the people who find themselves being stereotyped, just like the loss of life threats that you simply obtained. Proper? Like, Hank, have you ever ever thought of how voicing Apu helped create a sort of, like, conceptual and cultural house for that dehumanization? Like, Hari will get loss of life threats. That is type of downstream from, you already know, the broader dehumanization of Desi folks in the USA.

AZARIA: Yeah, I’ve thought of that. And it is necessary to level out that pre-Hari Apu, I didn’t take into consideration that stuff. I did not even understand it occurred. I needed to be informed 54 occasions earlier than it sunk in. I take into consideration that on a regular basis now, and that is sort of the primary – that may be attending to what – you would argue, it is a cartoon character. Come on. It is comedy. Get off it. However that stuff’s actual and horrible. One does not exist with out the opposite. Via my position in Apu and what I created within the Hollywood messaging – proper? – which is a giant deal on this nation and around the globe, I helped to create a fairly marginalizing, dehumanizing stereotype that makes it a lot simpler.

The truth is, some second throughout all this, I learn just a little information blurb the place a man was attacked. It was really a Center Japanese man who was attacked in his retailer and was known as Apu whereas he was being attacked. I feel if I had any doubts at that time, there was additionally – there have been sure key moments in that complete is-this-real query journey I used to be on the place I obtained the reply. You already know, Apu had turn out to be a slur, in different phrases. That – lots of occasions, I’ve conversations with my white family and friends or acquaintances or whoever, and that will get by means of.

KONDABOLU: When one thing is utilized in hate violence, it is just about the defining…

AZARIA: Fairly clear.

KONDABOLU: Fairly clear at this level. You already know, like – I imply, I keep in mind I labored on the Queens District Lawyer’s Workplace Bureau of Hate Crimes after 9/11. I used to be a school pupil. You already know, studying the accounts of hate crimes and seeing accounts that, thanks; come once more, or Apu’s being talked about typically sufficient the place it is like, you already know – like, it is heartbreaking, particularly when it is Queens, most numerous place on the earth.

AZARIA: Proper.

KONDABOLU: It is like this sort of gorgeous realization. Like, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Like, ignorance is – it is so far past. However, yeah, it is a actually weird factor as a result of it’s a cartoon character, you already know? And I get that. And, you already know, there have been some – after I was on “The Each day Present” selling the movie, speaking to Trevor Noah about it felt so weird as a result of I am speaking about this cartoon character that affected South Asians, and I am speaking to Trevor Noah. It is like, Trevor, did you take care of racism rising up in South Africa? Apartheid – that is a bizarre title of a cartoon character.

You already know, so there may be that additionally realization of, like, the factor that we’re speaking about. I get it. It is illustration. And illustration has weight, however it’s not essentially the act of violence in itself. However I do suppose, you already know, everybody – anybody who says, it is only a joke; it is only a cartoon; it is simply artwork – not for the one that was making it. They needed a really particular impact out of the photographs and phrases that they use. That is simply – that is how any sort of artwork is made. So, yeah, it is only a cartoon. Yeah, it is simply artwork. However, like, the particular person creating is making an attempt to create some influence out of it.

DEMBY: So that you two are speaking right here, and so there is a sort of decision. You respect one another. That is your first public sitdown, however you’ve got sat down a number of occasions. However there may be this discourse round Apu that exists outdoors of y’all now – proper? – like, that has been, like, loosed into the world. I am curious as to how you consider your accountability to that dialog as a result of y’all cannot rein it in. You already know what I imply? To a big extent at this level, it isn’t your discourse anymore.

KONDABOLU: You already know, I used to be prepared to do that, clearly, due to Hank and also you and what this podcast means and represents and the way you speak about what you speak about. However I am, like, completely sick of speaking about it. The story that is extra attention-grabbing is the after. Hank – like, you already know, his journey to right here – you already know, what’s the distinction between an individual of shade calling one thing out versus a white particular person calling one thing out? Like, that to me is attention-grabbing. You already know, it is this dialogue of white fragility, of the web, of communication, of dialog – that. The remainder of the stuff to me is, like, I am so completed with it. I do not know what else there may be to say concerning the factor, you already know? Yeah, however what about Groundskeeper Willie? I do not need to reply that anymore. I do not need to reply it anymore. Like, it is not – you already know? I am completed. Like…

AZARIA: You possibly can refer them to me, Hari.

KONDABOLU: I’d gladly…

AZARIA: I am not even kidding as a result of I do owe it.

KONDABOLU: Yeah.

AZARIA: It is my amends. I have to maintain having the dialog. I owe it.

KONDABOLU: Yeah.

AZARIA: A part of my amends. So depart Hari alone. Discuss to me.

KONDABOLU: I admire that very a lot.

BLOCK: These had been comedians Hari Kondabolu and Hank Azaria speaking with Code Swap’s Gene Demby. You possibly can hearken to extra of their dialog on NPR’s Code Swap podcast or at npr.org/codeswitch.

(SOUNDBITE OF ED SHEERAN SONG, “THE JOKER AND THE QUEEN (FEAT. TAYLOR SWIFT)”)

Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Go to our web site phrases of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for additional info.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This textual content is probably not in its closing type and could also be up to date or revised sooner or later. Accuracy and availability could differ. The authoritative file of NPR’s programming is the audio file.

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