September 15th 2014
Guest: Josh Thomas
TERRY GROSS, HOST: The character Josh is straight - at least, he thinks he is - when the first episode of "Please Like Me" begins. But before that episode concludes, he's kissed a boy and realized he's gay. "Please Like Me" is a semi-autobiographical sitcom created by and starring my guest, Josh Thomas, a 27-year-old Australian comic and popular TV personality.
"Please Like Me" was created for Australian TV, but was picked up here last year by the new cable channel Pivot, which is geared to millennials. Pivot is currently showing season two. Reviewing the show in Entertainment Weekly, Melissa Maerz wrote, too few shows are able to capture the real voice of twenty-somethings, so "Please Like Me"'s take on post-collegiate life feels particularly spot on. In time magazine James Potter was a concluded it on his 201310 best list. In Time magazine, James Poniewozik included it on his 2013 ten best list.
The two Joshes - Josh Thomas and the character he plays - have several things in common besides their sexual orientation. Their parents are divorced. They're close with their mothers, and their mothers have attempted suicide. Let's start with the opening of the first episode. Josh is with his girlfriend in a restaurant where they've just been served an enormous, colorful ice cream sundae.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PLEASE LIKE ME")
JOSH THOMAS: (As Josh) Isn't this mind-blowing to think we actually get to eat this?
CAITLIN STASEY: (As Claire) Josh, I want to talk to you about something.
THOMAS: (As Josh) Oh, no. No. No, you don't.
STASEY: (As Claire) I think we should break up.
THOMAS: (As Josh) Oh. Oh, that's bad.
STASEY: (As Claire) I just - I kind of feel like we've drifted, you know.
THOMAS: (As Josh) This isn't good at all.
STASEY: (As Claire) Also, you're gay.
THOMAS: (As Josh) What? No, I'm not.
STASEY: (As Claire) Josh, you're probably gay.
THOMAS: (As Josh) I'm not.
STASEY: (As Claire) I mean, we could still be friends if you like. Wouldn't be really that different, would it?
THOMAS: (As Josh) This $19 sundae's pretty [bleep] humiliating.
GROSS: That's a scene from "Please Like Me," written and starring my guest, Josh Thomas. Josh Thomas, welcome to FRESH AIR. So do you think one of your girlfriends figured out before you did that you were gay?
THOMAS: No, they didn't. That's not autobiographical. I mean, the poor girls - I don't know what they're thinking now 'cause I haven't spoken to any of them - the girlfriends that I had when I was a teenager. I was never confronted like that by a girl.
GROSS: So why did you want to start with the series with that scene?
THOMAS: I just thought it was a funny idea. (Laughter) I thought it was a funny idea - a girl telling me that I was gay over a sundae - just a delicious sundae. Just me thinking I'm going to have the best day ever, and her just confronting me with this news. I think maybe it happened to a friend or something. Someone told me a story that had happened to them.
GROSS: So I read that when you pitched "Please Like Me" - when you pitched the series, that you still were working under the assumption that you were straight. So...
THOMAS: (Laughter) I was working under the assumption, yeah. For a lot of my life, I was working under the assumption I was straight.
THOMAS: And then (laughter) - and then I met a boy, and I fell in love with him. And then we had to change the pitch during development 'cause we were in development in Australia since I was 20 - for, like, four or five years - 'cause it's a government TV station, so things are really slow. It's like making a TV show with a post office, you know. So it took a long time. And I was straight, and the show was about Josh, like, having trouble dating girls. And then one day had to, like, sit the producer of the network down and tell them there were some script changes.
GROSS: Give me a sense of what that conversation was like. Well, from now on, the character Josh, you know, is going to be gay.
THOMAS: Well, I didn't - and actually - look, it was pretty bad. I didn't tell a lot of people 'cause I just didn't - like the character on the show, I just didn't want to make a big deal out of it. And I just didn't think was the thing I had to do, right? So I just said - I was, like, text messaging my dad, OK? My mom called me, and she said, Josh, what's this I hear about you having a boyfriend? I said, I can't chat. I'm on the train. And she said, OK. And that was the end of, like, the conversations I had about it. Like, I sort of told my friends, and they didn't care.
And then my manager was doing all, like, the professional calls, like calling the TV show I worked for and the development and the producer of "Please Like Me." But he forgot to call the producer, (laughter) so no one told him. And then everyone had been telling him I was gay. And he's like, it's just rumors. You guys - you've got to stop making this up, right? Like, this is, like, you know - I know him. He's not - he's not gay. And then it turns out that just no one told him. (Laughter).
GROSS: Well, that's hysterical.
GROSS: The producer didn't know. But you had to change the whole premise 'cause...
THOMAS: Yeah. So we're like sitting down with him, and he was like, what is this I hear about you being gay? And I was like, what? No one told you? And then I was, like, being all blase about it. And he was like, no, this is, like, a big deal. Like, we've got like development money to make this show, and we have to, like, change the script, so we have to, like, talk to them. It's, like, a big deal. And I just sort of laughed it off.
GROSS: But you were able to make the changes?
THOMAS: We made the changes. Yeah. We weren't sure, as well, like, how people - 'cause we're like, does the character need to be gay? It's not me. You know, these are the scripts I've got. Why does it need to change? But I think now it obviously...
GROSS: That's a good question. Why did it need to change?
THOMAS: I just think people would feel awkward watching me pretend to like girls. Plus, why not make him gay? I mean, it just would've - it just would've been offensive to have this show that's autobiographical and for me to be straight.
THOMAS: So it's just a weird choice to make.
GROSS: So what was it like to not only make this big change in your life, but have it immediately be represented on-screen in your portrayal of a semi-autobiographical character?
THOMAS: Well, you know, at the time, we were just in development, so, like, for "Please Like Me," it wasn't a big deal. But I was doing stand-up, you know. And I had, like, built all this material, which was all true stories about bad dates I had with girls and, like, terrible things that happened while I was trying to have sex with girls. And...
THOMAS: I had to lose all my stand up, which, for a stand-up, is just heart-breaking - to lose all of your jokes.
GROSS: Well, you could still have talked about terrible things that happened to you when you had sex with girls. (Laughter).
THOMAS: Yeah, but it was such, like, an awkward end. It was, like, yeah, I'm gay now, and then trying to segue back to when I wasn't gay to do this old material. Like, it was so awkward, I just had to, like, - had to bin it and start again. Which is, like - that was the most traumatic part for me.
GROSS: But it's kind of a gold mine, in a way. Like, it opens the door to all this new material.
THOMAS: There's all this new stuff I could talk about. But then 'cause I, like, came out publicly and privately at the same time, so it was something that I never really had a conversation about. Like, I told my friends and my parents, and we didn't really care that much.
But then suddenly, I was doing interviews, and people were like asking me questions. And it was, like, oh, I've never actually spoken about this. So the first time I was doing it was, like, (laughter) in a radio interview like this and then onstage. It was a pretty weird situation.
GROSS: So it sounds like there was no conversation with your parents. You slipped in there that you texted your father (laughter) that you're gay.
THOMAS: I texted father, and then...
GROSS: Was that a clever way of avoiding any eye contact or the chance of any follow up question or the possibility of a meaningful conversation?
THOMAS: (Laughter) Oh, it's so grim. So he was coming to, like, visit me - right? - where I lived in Melvin. And I was living with my boyfriend. I had been dating him for, like, six months, and he moved in way too quick. And I had to tell my dad 'cause, like, my boyfriend lived at my house, you know. There's only one bedroom.
So I texted him. I said, hey, what time does your flight get in tomorrow? Also, I have a boyfriend. See you. And then he got, like, quite upset (laughter) about texting him 'cause he thought it was, like, news that shouldn't be texted. And I was sort of like, I just don't think this is something I need to be obliged to talk about, to be honest. And then he just spoke to me about AIDS for, like, a really long time. And it's sort of in the show, where he, like, says, like, homosexuals are 30 times more likely to get - he said AIDS, but he meant HIV, but that's fine.
And I was just, like, I just don't think this is, like, a true fact. And also I'm across it. Like, I'm across condoms. Like, it's not, like - it's actually not much different, you know, now that I'm gay. Still got to wear a condom. I mean, babies are terrifying. You know, like, I know about this. That's all he wanted to talk about - was HIV.
And then my mum - my brother's gay, as well, right? And he's older than me, and he's already come out. So that's why think, for them, it was a bit boring. Like, they're a bit like, you've got to step it up. Like, come back with bigger news when you're a meth addict or something. And my mum - my brother told her, and she started crying, but she cries a lot. And then she called me, and we just had that conversation, and then we never spoke about it again.
GROSS: In the series, like, you're playing somebody named Josh who's slightly based on your life. And he really avoids emotional, meaningful conversations, like you apparently do, too. But you're very perceptive as a writer about the subtext of people's conversations, about what's driving people emotionally. So it's not like you're not noticing emotions or incapable of either experiencing or reading them. But you just don't want to participate in discussion of them. (Laughter)
THOMAS: But we - I talk about my feelings all the time. It's just never in, like, a sad way. Do you know what I mean? We just don't, like - me and my friends just don't get together and indulge and, like, you know, panic about what we're doing with our lives or sadness.
But I mean, nothing has happened in the last - like, my best friend in the show, Tom - I've known him since I was 12. And I mean I've never had a feeling or a moment in my life happen since we were 12 that he doesn't know about. Like, we talk about everything, but just not in, like, a really dramatic way.
I don't know. I just think people are so keen to be sad these days. They really love it, you know? A lot of people just want to tell everyone how hard everything is, and they're probably fine.
GROSS: So let's hear a scene from "Please Like Me" with your best friend in real life who plays your best friend in the series. And this is a scene - you've just gotten - you've just had your first kiss with a boy. And so this is the morning after. And you're going - you're going to the hospital because you just got a voicemail from your father saying that your mother, who's bipolar, just tried to kill herself with a lot of pills and with a lot of Bailey's, which is a kind of whiskey cream liquor. So...
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah, it is - big day. It's a big day. That's a big day for anybody.
GROSS: (Laughter) So you're on your way to the hospital with your friend Tom, and here's the conversation.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PLEASE LIKE ME")
TOM WARD: (As Tom) You've never left this much time between something happening and you telling me.
THOMAS: (As Josh) My mom took quite a bit of Panadol and drunk half a bottle of Bailey's.
WARD: (As Tom) Bailey's?
THOMAS: (As Josh) Yeah.
WARD: (As Tom) How do you even drink half a bottle Bailey?
THOMAS: (As Josh) I just don't know. Guess what else?
WARD: (As Tom) You made out with Geoffrey.
THOMAS: (As Josh) I can never really it trust when someone that good-looking is into me. Do you know what I mean? I just don't get it. Like, if they're mediocre-looking, I can sort of appreciate why their standards are so low. When they're that pretty, I'm just like, what are you hiding? You know?
WARD: (As Tom) Claire is quite good-looking.
THOMAS: (As Josh) I really don't think she was that good-looking when we got together. Puberty did well with her.
WARD: (As Tom) Just so I know - we're not talking about your mom because you're all, like, emotionally stunted, yeah?
THOMAS: (As Josh) Yeah.
WARD: (As Tom) And we're just ignoring the fact that Geoffrey's a man.
THOMAS: (As Josh) Yes.
WARD: (As Tom) Are you sure you don't have feelings you want to share with me in some kind of talk?
THOMAS: (As Josh) Yeah.
WARD: (As Tom) It can be good to share your feelings.
THOMAS: (As Josh) No. No. No.
GROSS: OK. That's a scene from the opening episode of "Please Like Me," which stars my guest, Josh Thomas, who also writes the series. So the line is really funny when you say, you never trust it when somebody really good-looking is into you. (Laughter) Do you feel that way in real life?
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah, of course.
GROSS: Why - of course?
THOMAS: Well, 'cause, like - if someone's mediocre-looking, it's just what I explained. I know why they're, like, trying to kiss me. I know where their flaws are. But if they're really pretty, then I know their flaws must be, like, personality-based, and you haven't discovered them yet.
THOMAS: You know?
GROSS: Do you think you are any more or less attractive as a straight man or a gay man? Do you know what I mean? Like, let me put it this way. The way you look - do you think you're physically more of a catch (laughter) for girls or boys?
THOMAS: I mean, I'm not physically a catch. No. But in, like - in Australia, I'm, like, properly on television all the time, so, like, I get to kiss people that are out of my league. Do you know what I mean?
THOMAS: On TV, you get to date out of your league.
GROSS: But that gives you a pass in real life, too. That kind of gives you an upgrade in real life.
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But then - yeah. I mean, the only time with someone who's like really pretty and was into me - this is kind of what, like, that Geoffrey character's based on - I've always really wanted to like make it work 'cause like that's a good thing. Like, you - like, I want, like, a super-hot boyfriend, but the conversation's always been just so grim. It's always been quite tense for me 'cause I'm desperate for them to be interesting. I try really hard to make it work, and then it never does.
GROSS: So really the headline of the clip that we just played is that your mother in the series tries to take her life. And, you know, she's bipolar, and she tried to kill herself with pills and liquor. And fortunately, you know she gets the hospital on time and is saved. And I think that this is based, in part, on your own mother?
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah, that's like one of the truest storylines in the - in the season is that kind of day. That voicemail I got - I woke up and then, like, slept in until like one p.m. And then I turned my phone on, and, like, it went backwards through the day, starting at one p.m. where they told me she was fine. And it went backwards to nine a.m. and ended with her calling me just after she had, like, taken the pills. It was pretty intense voicemail. And then I went to the hospital. And there's a scene in the show - I'm, like, visiting her in hospital - that I think is pretty much verbatim. That's about as honest as we get - those two scenes.
GROSS: My guest is Josh Thomas, the creator and star of the Australian sit-com "Please Like Me," which is shown in the U.S. on the new cable channel Pivot TV. It's now showing season two. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Let's get back to my interview with Australian comic Josh Thomas. His semi-autobiographical sitcom "Please Like Me" is shown in the U.S. on the new cable channel Pivot TV. Here's a pretty autobiographical scene from the first episode. Josh's parents are divorced. His mother is in the hospital after attempting suicide. Josh is at the hospital, where he's spoken with one of the doctors who's explained Josh's mother can't be left alone in her condition. [Loss of Audio] ...Or she can return home, but she can't live alone. Someone has to be with her. In this scene, Josh breaks the news to his mother, who's played by Debra Lawrance.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PLEASE LIKE ME")
DEBRA LAWRANCE: (As Rose) So - what did you guys decide to do with me?
THOMAS: (As Thomas) We haven't decided, but the doctor thinks we should put you in a mental home.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) What, you think - am I mental?
THOMAS: (As Josh) I don't know.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) So what are the other options?
THOMAS: (As Josh) Well, someone needs to live with you. So that could be me, I guess, or Aunty Peg.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) Oh no, no. Don't make me move back in with her. I couldn't bear it.
THOMAS: (As Josh) OK.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) And you shouldn't have to live with me either, Joshua. I shouldn't be your problem.
THOMAS: (As Josh) Well, I mean, I haven't decided. I'm not sure I could move out on Tom.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) No, but you see, you could do all the same sorts of things at my place as you do at Tom's. It's OK, I'm cool with it.
THOMAS: (As Josh) Mom, you don't have to - I haven't decided. I'll think about it.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) But, you see, you could bring Claire home to sleep over if you want. I'm cool, OK? Like, you can have sex in the house if you want to.
THOMAS: (As Josh) Oh, (bleep), mum.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) Please don't swear, Josh.
THOMAS: (As Josh) Also, Claire and I broke up.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) What? Who broke up with who?
THOMAS: (As Josh) She broke up with me.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) Oh. Well, look, even if you want casual girls...
THOMAS: (As Josh) Mum, I'm not having sex in the house.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) I'm just saying you can if you want.
THOMAS: (As Josh) Well, I don't want to. I especially don't want to with your permission.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) I am just saying, OK?
THOMAS: (As Josh) Well, don't.
LAWRANCE: (As Rose) OK, I won't.
GROSS: How does your mother feel about being depicted in what's basically a comedy series?
THOMAS: Yeah, she was really - I mean, she loves it now, like, she has ebbs and flows. I mean, at first because I was like - obviously she has permission, right? So she has to give permission. She gets script approval, OK, because you can't - because I've got characters based on her, we can't defame her. So she has to like - she gets higher script approval than the networks do - her and my dad. And when I first, like, pitched it to her, like, seven years ago, I was like you know, I want to do this show. And I want the Mum to attempt suicide because it's something that I know about, that I feel I can write about and it's something that I haven't seen depicted on television, like, very honestly. And I knew that, like, when it happened to her and there was a lot of - she, like, felt, like, a lot of shame. And I was like I don't think, like, that's what we need. I don't think it needs to be like that. And I think I could write a TV show where, like, I completely understand the situation. It's something I've lived through, like, I'm sort of - I'm almost an expert on it and I think it would be good. And she was like - she liked that, but she never understood how it could be a comedy, which, I mean, nobody did. I mean, it was the first question of every pitch meeting or with everybody - it was like why do you think this can be funny? And then when she first watched it, I think she was still a bit confused. I think that's probably quite an intense experience for her to watch the show for the first time, especially because the show is just not like - it's not the type of television that she watches. And then she kind of, like, spoke to friends about it. And her friends saw it and her friends all thought it was, like, really lovely about her and a really nice - she had, like, a few psychiatrists tell her that she thought - they thought it was a really good depiction of mental health. That, like, we had done what I told her I wanted to do. So now she, like, just thinks it's really lovely. She thinks it's just really a nice show about her - because it is, like, the show is really lovely to her. I don't think anybody would watch it and get to the end and think the mum is like a bad person or anything like that.
GROSS: No and your character so clearly loves his mother - and vice versa.
THOMAS: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think it's really nice to her. I just - I think when you're watching a show that nobody else has seen - because she's seeing it before anyone else - and you've got no idea what people are going to think about it and, like, as well as, like, thinking about how she's depicted, she's thinking, like, is my son going to be employed next year...
THOMAS: ...After making this TV - like, is this any good? Do you know what I mean? And I think that was probably, like, pretty intense, but she's, like, came out the other side once it went there and she really thinks it's lovely now.
GROSS: Why did you think you could make it funny that your mother had tried to commit suicide and has to deal with bipolar?
THOMAS: Honestly, I didn't think it was funny. I was like it's not necessarily a comedy, like, there's going to be scenes that are going to be sad. Like, I wanted to make a show that was sort of depicting life. And I've never understood this, like, comedy-drama segregation. I've never, like, had a day or an experience that wasn't either completely hilarious or completely funny. I've had lots of, like, funny things happen that were humiliating, but were still very funny. And I've had a lot of sad things happen that had, like, moments of, like, joy and comedy in them. So I just wanted to, like, make sure we were doing that with every storyline. So the sad storylines have these sort of moments of joy and the, you know, vice versa.
GROSS: Josh Thomas will be back in the second half of the show. He's the creator and star of the Australian sitcom "Please Like Me," which is shown in the U.S. on the new cable channel Pivot TV. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with comic Josh Thomas, the creator and star of the semiautobiographical sitcom "Please Like Me." It was created for Australian TV, but it's shown in the U.S. on the new cable channel Pivot TV. The series is about Josh realizing he's gay and is about his relationship with his divorced parents. In the first episode his mother attempt suicide, like Thomas's own mother did.
Did your mother try to kill yourself more than once?
THOMAS: Oh, yeah. She did a few times and we talk about it in series two. We don't ever show it again because we've done it, you know.
GROSS: So how old were you the first time when your mother tried to take her life?
THOMAS: Oh, Gosh, I don't even know. I think I would've been, like, 18?
GROSS: Did you take it personally that, you know, that she wouldn't go on living for your sake? Let me rephrase that...
THOMAS: That's such an interesting question. No, no, I understand - you don't need to rephrase it. I completely understand it and it's, like, such an important question. It's kind of interesting doing this show because this season two, we've got a lot of other characters with mental illness and we're really exploring suicide much more in depth and I never felt like it was about me. There's a scene in season two where, like, I say that, like, I just didn't think it was about me - where I always viewed it as, like, an illness and she wasn't in, like, you know, I was, like, she's crazy. Like, she's making a crazy decision because she's got a mental disorder. That something that, like, I always thought was pretty clear that other people involved didn't feel that way. Like, a lot of our family members were really angry at her for, like, they were like, why would you do this to me? And I had this interesting interview with this lady who was bipolar and she was talking about when she was depressed and committing suicide and I mentioned people getting angry about and she was, like, well, for her when she was in, like, such a dark place, like, in such a low place in that depression - she, like, hated herself so much that she actually thought she was doing everyone a favor, like, she didn't think she was doing it to everybody. Like, from our point of view we think, like, why are you putting, you know, taking a risk that means that I'm going to lose you? But they're thinking, like, I'm going to do this as a favor so you don't have to deal with the burden of me. Which I thought was, like, a interesting thing. I don't know if that's what happened with my mom - do you know what I mean? But that's what, you know, we put that in the show because I thought that was really an interesting angle and you don't really know, like, why people are attempting suicide. I think taking it personally is, like, it's, like, a weird choice to make. It's easy enough to take it personally. So I just don't.
GROSS: You started your standup comedy career when you were 17, which is pretty young to be performing. How did you get your start that early?
THOMAS: I did, like, a stand-up comedy, amateur comedy competition and I won it because I just wasn't, like, thinking things through - do you know what I mean? Because I was 17 - like, lots of people make stupid choices when they're 17. Sometimes it involves, like, unprotected sex, but for me I just, like, started doing stand-up because I didn't think it through and it worked out fine for me.
GROSS: What was your comedy like when you were 17?
THOMAS: Lots of jokes about how everyone thinks I'm gay, but I'm not gay.
GROSS: Oh, seriously?
GROSS: Yeah, that was my first stand-up routine.
THOMAS: God, I can't remember them and I don't want to remember them, to be honest. Well, this is also interesting - I had this stand-up routine about my mom taking me to the shops and, like, losing her mind and buying me condoms and being really loud and, like, laughing and just being absurd and at the time she wasn't diagnosed as bipolar. I just had the story about my mom being embarrassing and then it turns out she was bipolar and then the rest of the story was about me not being gay. So pretty interesting standup routine looking back.
GROSS: Makes you sound so clueless.
THOMAS: So clueless. I am pretty clueless. Plus I was 17, I mean, of course, I had no idea.
GROSS: So looking back on your life - why do you think people assumed that you were gay and you assumed that you weren't?
THOMAS: I don't know. Plus one of my jokes when I came out was how I didn't understand how I didn't know and everyone who ever drove past me in a pick-up truck did. I just wasn't paying that much attention. Plus, like, I was having sex with girls when I was a teenager and it was fun because, like, it's fun when you're a teenager to just put it anywhere, like, that's a fun time, that's a fun afternoon, you know, but then, like, I grew up and then I came to terms with the fact that maybe it wasn't for me. Also one of the big driving factors of me sort of coming to terms with it and coming out was I, like, fell in love with a boy because, like, everyone always talks about, like, sex when they're talking about homosexuality, but the thing is if you can't be sexually attracted to someone you're not going to fall in love with them - do you know what I mean? Like, if you're straight you're not going to be able to feel romantic feelings for your best friend of the same gender, even though they're possibly very attractive and incredible to hang out with, like, it's just not going to happen. So when I, like, fell in love with a boy I was, like, oh, all these are the relationships I had that was just me having sex with a friend, but this is, like, different and that forced me to, like, come to terms with it.
GROSS: So your standup comedy led to opportunities on television. Including a show called "Talking About Your Generation" and Americans don't know the show, so I'm going to ask you to explain it.
THOMAS: It's like a game show. It's I guess - you guys have what's called "Hollywood Tonight" or...
GROSS: "Hollywood Game Night." I've seen ads for it.
THOMAS: "Hollywood Game Night"?
GROSS: I haven't seen the show. Yeah.
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. That's, like, I think the closest thing you have where they play, like, parlor games and it's, like, kind of some of the same people every week. We do a lot of that television in Australia. So it's, like, this game show where generation Y, which you call millennials, generation X and baby boomers, like, battled it out and I was on there every week and we played, like, wacky games - it was very wacky. It was the number one rating show in Australia for a while, which doesn't say a lot about our country.
GROSS: So there's an episode where you're on a team with your grandmother and one of you has to answer the trivia question - the pop-culture trivia questions - and the other one is going to get strapped into a chair with their arms in restraints and three buckets over their heads and for every wrong answer a bucket is going to get dumped on the head. There's a bucket of sour cream, guacamole and hot sauce and so you end up - at your grandmother suggestion - she gets into the chair. You end up answering the questions and you get I think just one of them wrong and she gets the sour cream dumped on her head.
GROSS: And you look kind of upset, but not so upset that you seriously say this must stop. I can't in good conscience I cannot allow this to happen. Did you know that she was going to volunteer to do this? Was this worked out in advance?
THOMAS: We have had producers walk onto that set twice. We made that show for 4 years and stopped the show mid-recording and that was one where she was, like, I'll get in because, like, she's not meant to get in. Like, they didn't want her to get in; they wanted me to get in; nobody wanted her to get in; I didn't want her to get in, but she really wanted to go in the big torture device - and she's 82, right? And the host of the show, Shaun, he's, like, a really decent guy, and he was, like, we're not going to tell her she's not allowed to do it, like, she's an adult, you know what I mean, you can't not let her make choices. You can't say, like, oh, what if she was 75 would we let her? Like, if she wants to go in the machine we have to let her do it. I mean, nobody wanted to, like, I would've much preferred to have sour cream poured on my head than be on television watching my grandma have sour cream poured on her head. You know what, she just had the time of her life; she just loved it. The sour cream gets poured on her head and she has nachos and she, like, start eating the sour cream off her dress, I mean, that's funny. She killed it.
GROSS: Well, does your grandmother have any kind of background in show business?
THOMAS: No, no, no. She's just, I mean, I've never seen her have that much fun. She was, like, oh, no one's ever done my makeup and they, like, flew her down business-class and, like, the audience just loved her and she just had, like, the funnest day. And I think you can tell when you watch the show, but I had a few people get, like, angry at me in supermarkets for doing it - not that I did it; I just stood by.
GROSS: And what was the conversation like afterwards? She was happy about it?
THOMAS: Oh, she was so happy. Like, I just think it's one of the best days she's had in the last couple of years. Really went on like an adventure, you know, I mean, sometimes I talk to her and I say, like, how's it going grandma? And she goes, oh, just waiting to die. Like, it's grim, do you know what I mean?
GROSS: Does she mean to be funny when she says that?
GROSS: I'm sorry I laughed then, OK.
THOMAS: No, its fine. She's really religious so she's, like, she's actually excited about it. She's really looking forward to seeing my granddad again.
GROSS: Is she sorry that you're not religious?
THOMAS: No. No, I mean, she completely understands and she, you know, in season one there's that scene when Aunt Peg - which is kind of pseudo-grandma, called Aunt Peg and not grandma because I didn't want to make my grandmother sign a release form - but she stands up in church and does that, like, rant at the priest at him for being homophobic. There's, like, a scene where she does that and that was, like, my grandma did that. That's, like, almost verbatim what my grandma did.
GROSS: What did your grandmother say to the priest?
THOMAS: She told me - she said I was sitting in church the other day and he was telling everyone that gay people are going to go to hell and that gay people are bad and I stood up and I said, I have three gay grandsons. And then she said actually, Josh, at the time you hadn't come out; I had two, but I've changed it. I have three gay grandsons and they're good people and they don't have a choice and, you know. They don't get to pick the color of their eyes and they don't get to pick their sexuality and we should love them all the same. Jesus said something and we should love them all the same and then she, like, sat back down, just this tiny 80-something-year-old woman standing up against the church. It sounds pretty incredible to me. I wasn't there; I didn't get to see it.
GROSS: So what's next for you? You have a second season that's on now.
THOMAS: And then we're doing season three. American's always asking me what's next, they always want to know what's next. I have a job, OK. I'm doing it.
GROSS: But who knows for how long?
THOMAS: I have my own TV show. Everyone can just relax I'm doing another - they want to know, like, what else I'm doing. Calm down America. I have my own TV show. I'm 27 I have my own TV show. I'm doing all right. I've been doing season three. Season three's been commissioned, so we're doing that. I'm writing season three at the moment and that's everything that's all my time.
GROSS: What a relief. I was so worried about you. OK.
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm employed for at least another year and then I'll worry about what's next.
GROSS: Well, all right.
THOMAS: So ambitious. This country's so ambitious.
GROSS: Well, Josh Thomas it's really been great talking with you. Thank you so much. Good luck with the series.
THOMAS: Thanks so much.
GROSS: Josh Thomas is the creator and star of the Australian sitcom "Please Like Me," which is shown in the U.S. on the new cable channel Pivot TV. Coming up Milo Miles reviews a new album by the indie band Tennis. This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Can you reinvent lively pop from the distant past? Music critic Milo Miles says the songwriting team Tennis does just that with their new third album, called "Ritual In Repeat." Tennis is singer Alaina Moore and guitarist Patrick Riley.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M CALLIN')
TENNIS: (Singing) Tonight they trace a fragile curve. The dim horizon that you serve. Holy movement, holy sound. A whisper rising from the ground. It's saying let me in, I'm callin'. Come on and let me in, I'm callin'. Can you feel it? Night is falling. I'm callin', I'm callin'. And now I...
MILO MILES, BYLINE: Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley are clearly passionate fans of the rock and soul sounds of the early '60s girl groups and Brill Building songwriters and producers. However, their new album "Ritual In Repeat" is a triumph, not because it conveys their fandom, but because it makes a sparkly pop style from 50 years ago fresh - ready for new fans now. This is a much trickier task than it might seem. Right through the '70s and into the '80s, reviving earlier modern rock and pop could rely on nostalgia and expert recreation. Elton John celebrated an oldie he made up in "Crocodile Rock" and the ska revival in Britain grafted current political protest onto a vintage Jamaican sound.
Eventually, the process broke down if you wanted to attract a younger audience with no living memory of the original style. By the 1990s, the so-called swing revival was able to reduce jump blues to a mere dress-up party. Since then, reviving vintage pop modes has only become riskier. Country bumps along of its days plainspoken and storytelling. But no question styles imply a sensibility. Heavy-metal doo-wop is always going to be a goof. So how to renovate the Brill Building? Tennis knows you start with songs that are quirky, pretty and saucy with just the right tone.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER WORK FOR FREE")
TENNIS: (Singing) I never work for free. No, I can't give up. It never belonged to me. I never work for free. Like an incantation I've been repeated. Looking back from the outer edge, I'm still the same. Looking back from the outer edge, I've changed my name just to stay the same. Just to stay the same. Fell in love with a traveling man. I'll make him mine, do whatever I can. Fell in love with a traveling man. I'll make him mine, do whatever I can. Got me looking for love.
MILES: I doubt any vocalist other than Alaina Moore could nail the trills carefully carefree repetitions and nonverbal interjections that rise like bubbles through Tennis tunes. This is key because Tennis is more sounds, or at least moods, than stories or characters. Sure, you can hear there are boys and girls in love tangles, and Tennis is rather more pastoral than its city bound roots. And I think the song "Bad Girls," for example, is about why the singer got married. But I was infatuated with the tune long before I cared about what it was about.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD GIRLS")
TENNIS: (Singing) Even bad girls can do good things. Even bad girls have holy dreams. Oh, I, I'm not so transparent. My intentions, they ain't so apparent.
MILES: "Ritual In Repeat" loses momentum in the second half and the couple tracks that are mere comely baubles are stuck there. But it still knocks the old out of oldies better than any album in years. Tennis does not do simple revival or re-creation, or even just repeat the rituals. So I pondered for quite a while what Moore and Riley's singular abilities suggested. Was it a marvelous actor interpretation, bringing back the feel of girl groups the way Chadwick Boseman reignites the spirit of James Brown? That still seem too tied to the sources. On "Ritual In Repeat," it's like Moore and Riley discover just how much ancient Latin - or in this case, extinct pop styles - is their natural language. They are fluent in Brill Building.
GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed "Ritual In Repeat," the new album from the band Tennis. Coming up, we remember Tony Auth, a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist, who was also our colleague here at WHYY. This is FRESH AIR.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.