In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.
Born Henry Albert Azaria on April 25, 1964, in Queens, Hank Azaria is an American actor, voice actor, comedian and producer best known as the voice for a variety of characters in the long-running animated sitcom “The Simpsons.”
Over a career spanning more than 30 years, the Queens native has also appeared in nearly 40 movies and just as many television shows. The highly acclaimed talent has earned six Emmy Awards throughout his career, among other awards and nominations.
Azaria was born the youngest of three siblings into a Sephardic Jewish family in Queens. As a child, his family spoke Ladino at home, a language that the future actor described as “a strange, antiquated Spanish dialect, written in Hebrew characters.” As a child, Azaria recalls memorizing and acting scripts of films, shows and stand-up comedy that he liked.
While a student at The Kew-Forest School in Forest Hills, the future star decided to become an actor, claiming he was “obsessed with acting.” While in college at Tufts University, he befriended future actor Oliver Platt and starred in various stage productions while an undergraduate. Azaria decided that television offered more opportunity, however, so he signed with a talent agent and moved to Los Angeles.
In the late 1980s, the young man from Queens found bit parts on the TV shows “Family Ties” and “Growing Pains,” and worked as a stand-up comic and bartender between acting gigs. Azaria gained fame with his comical voice work with “The Simpsons,” starting in 1989.
From a young age, the voice actor had a unique talent for his impeccable recall and mimicking of other people’s voices. He utilized this gift creating voices for the characters on the animated sitcom, for example basing the voice of the bartender Moe on Al Pacino’s voice in the film “Dog Day Afternoon.”
In the 1990s, “Moe the bartender” landed roles in popular sitcoms “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Friends” and “Mad About You.” He also appeared in Hollywood movies including “Pretty Woman,” his first screen appearance, “Heat” and “The Birdcage.” He continued to lend his comical voices to the screen in “Along Came Polly,” “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” and “The Smurfs,” and voiced various characters on the animated sitcom “Family Guy.”
Although considered by many a comic actor, Azaria also earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in the 1999 television film “Tuesdays with Morrie.” Presently he plays alcoholic baseball play-by-play announcer Jim Brockmire in the TV series “Brockmire.”
While not acting, Hank Azaria is an avid poker player. He has appeared twice on “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” and competed in the 2010 World Series of Poker.
Reflecting on his lifelong love of entertaining people, he states, “I was a huge fan of comedy and movies and TV growing up, and I was able to memorize and mimic a lot of things. I just really, really amused myself and my friends with memorizing entire George Carlin or Steve Martin albums … not realizing that kind of obsessive ability to mimic things meant that I probably had an affinity for acting.”
Compiled by Dan McDonald for the Greater Astoria Historical Society. For further information, contact the Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.