Harry Shearer Says That ‘The Simpsons’ Is Worse Off Now That He Can’t Play Black People

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Harry Shearer Says That ‘The Simpsons’ Is Worse Off Now That He Can’t Play Black People

In a recent interview with The TimesSimpsons star Harry Shearer went into detail about how he based the voice of Dr. Hibbert on Bill Cosby, and that’s somehow just the second most uncomfortable takeaway from the talk.

Obviously, when Matt Groening and Shearer first created the character who became Springfield’s most reliable medical expert (with Dr. Nick at a distant second), it was a very different time for comedy – back then, animated shows split all the voice roles between a small handful of professional voice actors, Bill Cosby was a beloved family man whose monstrosity was well-hidden, and no one in the mainstream media would ever think twice about a White voice actor playing a Black character. So, when Groening disseminated the many roles in The Simpsons among his all-white principal cast of just Shearer, Dan CastellanetaJulie KavnerNancy CartwrightYeardley Smith and Hank Azaria, giving the Huxtable-esque character of Dr. Hibbert to the This is Spinal Tap star made complete sense, seeing as Shearer nailed the not-quite-Cosby tone that made the character both a unique creation and a clever parody.

Today, Dr. Hibbert is played by accomplished vocal talent Kevin Michael Richardson whose immense list of credits holds up against those of his co-stars. However, Dr. Hibbert’s former voice is still upset that the role was recast in 2020, and he believes that the quality of the modern Simpsons has declined due to Richardson replacing him behind the mic. 

Yeah, for three years now, Simpsons fans have been saying that the reason the new episodes suck shit is because Dr. Hibbert sounds funny.

“I voiced the Black physician, Dr Hibbert, who I based on Bill Cosby,” Shearer said to The Times, clarifying how different Cosby’s reputation was when The Simpsons began in 1989. “Back then he was known as the ‘whitest Black man on television,’” Shearer explained, “Then, a couple of years ago, I received an email saying they’d employed a Black actor, who then copied my voice.”

Said Shearer of Richardson’s performance, “The result is a Black man imitating a white man imitating the whitest Black man on TV.” Shearer summarized, “Folks say the show has become woke in recent years and one of my characters has been affected.”

The excuse that “wokeness is killing comedy” is a common one for any series in decline, but, let’s be frank, the problems with the quality of The Simpsons precede the controversial decision made by the show’s producers to recast certain non-white roles with actors of the races represented in 2020 by about two decades. Even Azaria, who was most affected by the move to modernize the Simpsons’ voice cast when he retired from the role of Apu, has made his peace with the changing times and accepted the decision gracefully.

Shearer still voices Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, Principal Skinner, Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Rainier Wolfcastle, and Kent Brockman among other Simpsons characters, so his complaint over his bosses' decision to take away one of his dozens of roles in order to give a Black voice actor the rare opportunity to contribute to the Simpsons canon feels needlessly petty and more than a little self-centered. 

Put simply, if The Simpsons started today, it wouldn’t be some big blow to the series for Black roles to be played by Black actors. While absolutely no one is demanding that Shearer apologize for voicing a Black man for over 30 years, it shouldn’t be this hard for him to make room for an accomplished artist like Richardson on a show that, historically, has been light on Black voices. And, if Shearer hoped to insinuate that modern wokeness is killing a show that’s been over the hump since the 20th Century in 20th Century Fox, I think he should start searching for the crayon in his own brain.

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