‘The Simpsons’ Star Harry Shearer Hears “Folk Say The Show Has Become Woke” Now That He No Longer Plays Dr. Hibbert

Dr. Hibbert (Harry Shearer) shows up suddenly in the Simpsons home in The Simpsons season 8 episode 1, "Treehouse of Horror VII" segment 1, "The Thing and I (1996), Fox Television

The Simpsons, despite being a stalwart of primetime, has been going downhill and the phenomenon is not relegated to the last few years. The show’s quality has wavered for decades and for a long time has been a far cry from its heyday, the mid-90s.

Krusty and the town aghast
Krusty the Clown (Dan Castalanetta) is spooked by the alien in The Simpsons season 8 episode 10, “The Springfield Files,” (1997) Fox Television

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Fairly recently, however, is when members of the cast started to notice through feedback from fans. For one, Harry Shearer, who’s supplied such memorable voices over the years as Mr. Burns, Smithers, and Principal Skinner, makes note of what they’ve been telling him.

The substance of their gripes and criticism shouldn’t surprise you. It’s wokeness, relative to the decision by showrunners to bar white actors like Shearer from voicing characters of color regardless of the fact they have played them since the beginning.

Harry Shearer
Harry Shearer does his hilarious Simpsons voices | The Chris Moyles Show | Radio X YouTube channel

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“Folk say the show has become woke in recent years and one of my characters has been affected,” Shearer said in an interview with The Times of London where he also explained the origin of one of his most iconic voices.

“I voiced the Black physician, Dr. Hibbert, who I based on Bill Cosby. Back then he was known as the ‘whitest Black man on television.’ Then, a couple of years ago, I received an email saying they’d employed a Black actor, who then copied my voice,” he revealed.

Love between a man and a woman
Dr. Hibbert (Harry Shearer) contemplates love in The Simpsons season 8 episode 10, “The Springfield Files,” (1997) Fox Television

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The actor that replaced Shearer was Kevin Michael Richardson who already had a prolific career behind him. Before landing the role of Dr. Hibbert, Richardson played iterations of The Shredder, Joker, and the time-traveling X-Man Bishop along with much more.

But Shearer sees the absurdity in the recasting. “The result is a Black man imitating a white man imitating the whitest Black man on TV,” he said.

Break its legs
Lenny (Harry Shearer) and Carl (Hank Azaria) want to break some legs in The Simpsons season 8 episode 10, “The Springfield Files,” (1997) Fox Television

All POC characters followed suit, including Homer’s coworker at the power plant Carl (now played by Alex Desert of Flash and Boy Meets World fame), except for one. Apu, voiced by Hank Azaria, was retired after the documentary The Problem with Apu drew unwanted criticism.

The Apu debacle was the catalyst for Shearer and Azaria losing parts on The Simpsons but they each still play a plethora of Springfielders to this day – and they have their favorites.

I bring you love
Mr. Burns (Harry Shearer) brings alien love in The Simpsons season 8 episode 10, “The Springfield Files,” (1997) Fox Television

“I play more than 20 characters but the evil nuclear power plant owner, Mr. Burns, is a favorite. I styled his voice on Ronald Reagan,” Shearer said.

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