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Please Like Me creator talks about having a crush on his on-screen love interests

Critically acclaimed Australian comedian, Josh Thomas (Josh) in a scene from season two of Pivot’s critically acclaimed comedy drama, “Please Like Me.”
Critically acclaimed Australian comedian, Josh Thomas (Josh) in a scene from season two of Pivot’s critically acclaimed comedy drama, “Please Like Me.”
(Ben Timony)

Josh Thomas is, like his character in Please Like Me (read Vox's review here), awkward in the most charming way possible. And at just 25, he's quickly making a name for himself as one of comedy's best writers. I chatted with Thomas about the show he created, his co-star crushes, and his lack of comedy influences.

The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Brandon Ambrosino: How did you go from stand-up comedy to your own sitcom?

Josh Thomas: I didn't really do that much. I had a meeting when I was, like, 20, and my manager said, "What do you want to do?" And I said it'd be fun to write a sitcom. But I didn't think people got to do that. Do you know what I mean? I didn't think people got their own TV shows. So my manager introduced me to Todd [Abbott, the producer of PLM], and we spent five years pitching the show to ABC [the Australian broadcaster that airs the show there]. It's run by the government, so it takes a really long time. It's like the post office, it takes a while. But they mostly did it. I just sort of went with it. And then one day ... it happened? That's it.

Brandon Ambrosino: I didn't know it was that easy.

Josh Thomas: I mean, it wasn't easy. They kept saying, "You need to write this down." And I said, "Oh, OK," then I wrote it. And then that just kept happening until we had a show.

Brandon Ambrosino: How many of you are there in your writers' room?

Josh Thomas: There's three of us. But I mostly write the scripts, though. In season two, I wrote six of them, and for four of them, I had a writing partner. The other two writers are Tom Ward, who's in the show, he plays my best friend — we've actually been best friends since we were 12 — and Liz Doran, who's the script producer.

Brandon Ambrosino: Do you improv on camera ever?

Josh Thomas: No, we don't improv.

Occasionally, we will. Like, in season one, David Roberts, the guy who plays my dad, farted. We just went with it. That's gross. But that's about it.

Brandon Ambrosino: So your best friend, Tom, on the show is actually your best friend in real life, Thomas Ward? That worked out nicely!

Josh Thomas: We had this character based on Tom, right? I'm not good at making things up, so the best friend character is just based on him. He's not really an actor — he's just a guy. He does a bit of stand-up, but he's just a guy. So we auditioned all these actors to play him, but they were … just, like, rubbish because they were all actors, do you know what I mean?

We wanted someone who was a bit hopeless. We just wanted, like, a dude, just a guy. Someone who was a six out of 10. And casting kept sending in these full models to play like my lower status best friend. Everybody was so pretty! Like the guy who plays Geoffrey [Wade Briggs], he was sent in to play Tom. Like, that was a casting agent's idea of a nerdy best friend — I just don't understand. Everyone came in really fit, really confident. Bro-y, do you know what I mean? So we ended up just using Tom.

Brandon Ambrosino: Mindy Kaling, like you, writes and stars in her own show. And one time, she said that she casts hot actors as her love interest, so that she can get to make out with them. Do you cast your love interests the same way?

Josh Thomas: Well, of course I do. I need to like them, because in the show I like them. We're casting love interests, which is a bit weird. I have to think I can pretend to be in love with you. Like, I sort of have to be a bit in love with you to make it work. Otherwise — like, I'm not that good acting. If someone leaves the audition and I don't have a bit of a crush on them, then it's probably not gonna work.

They don't even have to be pretty; they can just be interesting. Like, Geoffrey's pretty for story reasons: he kind of convinced Josh to come to terms with his sexuality, and I thought the guy had to be pretty remarkable to make that happen. So there were proper intellectual reasons for Geoffrey to be pretty, I think?

Brandon Ambrosino: Your character does have major body image issues, and they're central to the story. But you sort of buffed up a little bit for season two.

Josh Thomas: Yeah, after I wrote this season, I started freaking out because I hated my body. Then I started going to the gym. So it's sort of OK in the show. Like, it's OK. It's fine. Like, I'm not embarrassed by that [season two] body. But really, it was fucked six months before we filmed it. Like a lady toddler. But then, I feel bad about other stuff when I complain about my body so much.

Brandon Ambrosino: Do you think your television writing has improved since season one?

Josh Thomas: I hope it has. When we started season one, you know, I had never been on a drama set, never even seen one. I had no idea how it worked, and no idea what I was doing. I'm really learning, even through season two. But it feels like hopefully we're getting better at it.

Brandon Ambrosino: Religion comes up a bit in PLM. Do you and your character have similar religious beliefs?

Josh Thomas: I'm an atheist in real life. I'm just an atheist, so Josh is an atheist. It's just, like, how I feel is how he feels, and what he talks about. I'm not that original. I just don't believe in God. I think it's less of a big deal in Australia. It's kind of quite standard. Is it not standard there? I don't know. I haven't lived there yet.

Brandon Ambrosino: Speaking of cultural differences, do you think American audiences will react as positively to your show? For instance, in the premiere episode of season two, there were a few rape jokes. Do you think Australia is more comfortable with that kind of content?

Josh Thomas: Everyone I've spoken with about [that scene] was fine. The network was fine with it. I don't think it's a joke. It's not a joke, it's just an interaction.

We're not making fun of rape. We're not even making fun with rape. It's as much a sort of drama as it is a joke. Ginger [Denise Drysdale], the character who says that, she's really funny about it. But I don't think anyone else at the table is. Josh is concerned. My mom is, well, not concerned, but she's in a weird place: she's manic. I just don't think it's a joke. And I don't think it's a dark joke.

Brandon Ambrosino: Who are your comedy influences?

Josh Thomas: I don't know. I really try not to have them, you know? I try not to pay that much attention to other comedians. I don't have any influence. I'm trying to have them, but I'm trying not to. I don't wanna be influenced by what they're doing.

Brandon Ambrosino: Are you all finished filming this season? What's next for you?

Josh Thomas: We are finished filming. I'm working on season three. That's it. There's no, "Whats next?" Everyone in America always wants to know, like, "What else are you doing? What's after this?" I got my own TV show. Relax, America. What's next? Look, we're doing it. Everything's going well. Everyone can chill out. I don't need another job.

Brandon Ambrosino: I guess that is a pretty American thing to ask.

Josh Thomas: Yeah, what's next? I don't know what else I've got on. A weekend, that's what else I've got on.

Season two of Please Like Me airs on Pivot at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Fridays.

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