Aussie comedian Josh Thomas isn’t just launching his show in the U.S., he’s helping launch a whole network with it. “Please Like Me,” a six-episode comedy-drama created, written by and starring Thomas, is airing in its entirety tonight on Pivot, the new cable channel from Participant Media that went live today — you can watch the full first season starting at 8pm, or stream it via DirecTV’s app. The series, which premiered in Australia earlier this year, was just renewed for a longer second season to be co-produced by Pivot and ABC2.
Winsome and funny, “Please Like Me” is about Josh (played by Thomas), a 20-year-old whose pleasantly aimless life living with his bestie Tom (Thomas Ward) and dating Claire (Caitlin Stasey) is interrupted when Claire, with all kindness, tells him they should just be friends, because he’s gay. Just as he’s starting to think she might be right — thanks to an encounter with the handsome, bewildering Geoffrey (Wade Briggs) — he learns that his depressive, divorced mother has attempted suicide and that he needs to move back in with her. The nature of its characters is likely to earn the series comparisons to “Girls,” but its earnestness is far less aggressively acid-etched and more welcomingly oddball, especially in chronicling Josh’s potential romance with Geoffrey. Indiewire caught up with Thomas in Los Angeles, shortly before he had to head up to Montreal for the Just For Laughs Festival to talk about the series, cooking and the right metaphor for his face.
So, how much this is based on your life? How much is the character you?
I don’t actually know. Sometimes I’ll be thinking “Did that actually happen, or did I make that up?” My memory’s all splattered. There are some scenes that are actually word for word my life. The dog is my dog. The best friend is my real best friend. I’m gay and I had a similar kind of coming out to on the show. And my mom attempted suicide. That’s a big storyline that really happened. And how I felt about those things is how we deal with it, but the actual events are fiction — the characters are a bit different, and my life just isn’t that dramatically interesting, you know what I mean?
I enjoyed the romance that Josh falls into very quickly. As much as it is about your character coming out, all that was submerged under a greater sense of being a twentysomething and not knowing how to talk about your feelings.
My coming out was just so boring. I didn’t think about how that played out as a political statement. I’m getting asked “What do you think this is going to do for gay people?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, I’m just saying what happened to me.” And I guess that’s good for some gay people. They can see that this is how it might go. You get a practice run at it.
But I’m just honest about what happened. My biggest feeling when I came out was… doing sex, which is what episode two is about. We had this script meeting, and they were talking about “How did you feel when you came out? What are your feelings?” And I was like, “I wasn’t really that bothered.” And everyone’s like “That’s not good.” But the thing that bothered me the most was I was just terrified of anal sex. “Can I put that in?” And they were like “Yeah,” and then we did.
Your character ends up dating someone who just uncomplicatedly likes him — and that’s almost a terrifying thing.
I feel like he needed to be really pretty and forward to force Josh to deal with his sexuality. [Geoffrey] comes in and he’s crying and his dad’s in prison and he’s really pretty but just a really alone, awkward person. And he gets dumped on Josh and Josh can’t decide whether that’s an incredible offer, because he’s a bit rubbish, right? He’s not really likable, he’s not that fun. So I thought that was fun romantic storyline. Coming up with romantic story lines is difficult because they’ve all been done.
Tell me about starting all the episodes with a dance kitchen number and naming all the episodes after foods.
The dancing is fun. I like to cook. And I just wanted to put things on the show that I like — it’s my big chance! That’s why there’s always cooking and dancing. The opening title sequence is always different because, especially now [Pivot is] playing it as a “binge-watch,” where you watch shows in a row, it really drains on you, so I wanted it to be new and interesting each time. And then with the food, I just thought it would be fun.
Have you ever actually made Portuguese Custard Tarts [episode three]? That seems very ambitious.
No, I’ve never made them. And people keep tweeting me and asking for my recipe and I’m like “Oh, no, that was a lie. That was a television lie.” I don’t like baking. I like meat. Like cooking meat really slowly.
You’ve had an established career as a comedian before this, but the show is not your traditional sitcom by any means.
I just wanted it to be honest. And if you make it a straight out comedy show, you’ve just set the rule that every sentence has to be funny, and every scene needs to be funny, and that’s actually dramatically dull.
That’s why those shows, their plots are so thin, because they’re just about creating awkward situations. And the idea of something being just drama or just comedy is absurd, right? Because if you’re trying to tell stories from life there’s just not a world where everybody is just serious about what’s going on. There’s not a world where it’s all funny. It’s shit to watch, I don’t like it. So I just tried to create a balance that was true to life.
Were there series you looked at as guides or see as similar?
There’s not a clear thing that people compare it to, which I’m happy with. “Girls” comes up sometimes, but I’ve been avoiding watching that. I think we’re both one of the first people of our generation to make a show that’s distinctly our generation’s voice in an honest way, not like, everyone’s on skateboards at the beach, do you know what I mean? It’s like “This is what we actually like doing.”
The network is positioning itself as being the voice of the Millennial generation, how do you feel about having your show be a representative of that?
The one thing that I get sick of is that everyone always talks about us like we’re some kind of diseased group. It’s pretty odd. It’s fine to have an age demographic, but I do cringe when everyone’s like, “This is what Millennials want” and I’m like, “That’s not what I want. That might be what he wants, but that’s not what I want.” But I think this network’s more about doing new things. That’s what young people want. Young people have grown up watching so much content, and just to find something that they haven’t seen before: that’s the dream. When you stumble across a show and you say “I haven’t seen this,” that’s what we want. That and cake-based reality shows, which Pivot doesn’t have any of yet.
You were also on a quiz show [“Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation”] where you were the representative of Gen Y?
So I did that when I was 20, and there’s been about six years of interviews just about how old I am — it’s very weird because it’s just not a part of my identity. Also people ask “What’s the difference? What do Gen Y people like?” and I don’t know because I grew up this age. Everyone who is around me who is also this age is of course going to have similarities and differences from old people, but I’ve always assumed that’s just because old people are old and they don’t want to be out in nightclubs. I don’t know what they were like when they were our age, so… I don’t really understand it.
These shows, they’re all about something, and they’re not patronizing — the only thing that’s patronizing is that they talk about Millennials. And the network’s really committed to doing things differently, not getting boxed in. With [“Please Like Me,”] it’s interesting that they’re playing the original version. Originally they wanted to do a remake, and then they thought about it and said “No, we don’t want to do that thing that Americans networks do where they take a show they like and then ruin it with pretty American people.” So instead they’ve put it on double decker buses, which is a pretty cool thing and a big investment in the season, and they’ve commissioned series two, which is actually what people that I know want. I imagine most Americans would so much prefer to watch the UK version of “The Inbetweeners” and probably did, not the American version.
Do you know what you’re going to do for the second season yet?
No — it just got announced today, so let’s not put too much pressure on me! We have some ideas. I think it’s going to be fun. We need to finish off the old series, and then we’ll start something new… That’s the most generic pitch for a season two anyone’s ever said. “We’ll continue some of the storyline and start some new storylines to continue the drama and the plot. There will be some plot involved, maybe some dialogue, props…”
Do you think your character will be closer to getting his life anywhere near together?
He is getting older, and I do want to make sure he gets older as he gets older. I was very different when I was 20. But I don’t think he’ll get his shit together because that does sound like very boring television. Josh getting nice suits and going to work and making heaps of money and then coming home and kissing his very kind, very stable boyfriend — that doesn’t sound like a TV show. I’m sure he’ll go on making some horrible choices.
Where did your character’s description of himself as looking like a “50-year-old baby” come from? Did someone ever say that to you?
I look like a child, but then it’s all kind of wrinkly, you know what I mean? I’m very peculiar looking. I can touch my eyebrows with my nose. [pulls his eyebrow until it touches his nose] Look at that! That’s not normal. I shouldn’t be able to do that.