Josh Thomas on autism, his podcast and being honest to the extreme: ‘Why am I telling you this?’ | tv comedy

meIn an episode of Josh Thomas’ new podcast How To Be Gay, he performs an excerpt from a much older show, from the late 2000s, that he hosted with his best friend and collaborator Tom Ward. He was only 19 at the time and decided it was a good opportunity to come out. on the microphone

“What else is new? Not much?” murmurs young Thomas. “Yes I have boyfriend”.

You can hear the nerves in her voice even when she feigns nonchalance: “I try not to make a big deal about it.”

That was more than a decade ago. In the years since, the comedian and showrunner has moved to Los Angeles and found success, with two television shows, the critically acclaimed Please Like Me and Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, under his belt.

Despite everything that has happened since then, he still speaks the same way. his sentences spilling out in a rapid fire stream of consciousness changing subject like lanes. Frequently discards strong feelings and intimate secrets. as if they were weightless, and with the same cheerfulness that someone might use to exchange a perfunctory greeting. Nothing is too sacred to be said out loud.

“Every time I have had to talk about [coming out], it’s always been so annoying to me,” he tells Guardian Australia. “He hated going out!”

Josh Thomas in a promotional photo for his 2022 Audible podcast How To Be Gay, is smiling and wearing a pale pink shirt, holding a piece of paper in front of a microphone.
‘I was really very nervous’: Thomas’ How To Be Gay Audible podcast was three years in the making. Photography: Audible

Now 35, he celebrated his birthday earlier this week and says he still feels “pretty dusty”. Thomas has spent more than half of his life in the public eye. How To Be Gay is a survey of how he has changed homosexuality and public perception of him in that time, and is named after the words he typed into Google when he was a teenager wondering in suburban Brisbane.

“Where I live [near West Hollywood], it seems that everyone is queer… Meeting a straight person in my life is crazy, “he says. Unless they’re doing my accounts.

“Being queer to me these days is so foamy and cute and fun, it’s just dancing and kissing. And I’ve kind of forgotten what was hard when I was young. And I’ve forgotten that for other people, it’s actually still very difficult.”

How To Be Gay is made up of personal musings and extensive interviews. Everyone from his ex-boyfriend Tom Ballard to David Sedaris, whose books Thomas used to read in his childhood bathroom, they appear in short documentary-style clips, waxing lyrical about his first loves and his first brushes with sexuality. Thomas also sometimes treads new ground, straying from the familiar comedy of watching him: in one episode, he talks to a Chechen refugee named Angel who was kidnapped and tortured by his government.

“I was really very nervous,” he says. “I am not Anderson Cooper. I really don’t know how to do that. And then I showed up and Angel said ‘Josh!’ in this way quite gay. I felt so calm, I felt so comfortable… And then we talked about Lady Gaga for a while.”

Created over the course of three years, How To Be Gay takes a scattershot approach to its themes, ranging from the number of girls Thomas dated in high school (many) to homosexuality in ancient Babylon. The extensive interviews serve as glimpses into queer narratives outside of Thomas’s own, admittedly idiosyncratic, experience.

In the early 2010s, he became something of an Australian household name as millennial team captain on the wacky Shaun Micallef-hosted game show Talkin’ Bout Your Generation. But becoming the voice of his generation literally came with unique pressures. He found himself in the middle of a conversation about sexuality that he was never really interested in participating in.

“During [those years], talking about gay rights was a lot like: gay suicide, this is an emergency, being gay is very difficult. If we don’t do gay marriage, everyone will commit suicide.”

He pauses to let out a horror-movie screech. “I understand the reason: to try to wake up the rest of Australia. But I found it so exhausting. I was so sick of it.”

Things changed with Please Like Me, the 2013 Emmy Award-winning series that Thomas created and starred in. It ended both the stuffiness of Australian television and the pessimistic discourse of queer misery with its straightforward depiction of gay life: mostly mundane, punctuated by fleeting crushes and terrible threesomes, the specter of STIs and the awkwardness of sex. anal.

“All the gay stuff was light and fun and easy,” says Thomas. “And it was a reaction to the rest of the stories being told about how hard it is to be gay, right?”

Tom Ward, Josh Thomas and Keegan Joyce in Please Like Me
‘It’s just that sometimes gays bake’: Tom Ward, Josh Thomas and Keegan Joyce on Please Like Me. Photography: ABC

Please Like Me became an instant cult classic and, for many, one of the only queer touch points of its time. “It’s scary… when you have an underrepresented group and you’re doing a TV show. [it’s] going to become the only example of that group. And that is all that people can admire.

“But I don’t feel like Please Like Me was a terrible place to look. It’s just that sometimes gays bake.”

The show went global and he moved to the US to do its follow-up, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, which ended its two seasons on US network television last year. In both series, Thomas essentially plays versions of himself: a neurotic gay man burdened by family dysfunction and dating problems.

For Thomas, art had always imitated life. But in Everything’s Gonna Be Okay – a show praised for his portrayal of an autistic lead character (performed by Kayla Cromer) – The opposite was true. At the end of the show’s production, Thomas was also diagnosed with autism, confirming a nagging suspicion he had had all along. The discovery changed his understanding of himself while working on the podcast.

“I was more aware of the fact that [I’m] bad at some things… making people feel comfortable and talk about themselves; I wouldn’t say I’m the favorite for that job. Which I think got us some interesting interviews because I’m very direct, and nobody sounds like they’re joking or acting.”

That offhanded, often self-effacing honesty has long been his trademark. “On stage, or on my TV show,” she says, “I think I’m probably too much, too honest… [But] I definitely feel like after Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, I didn’t have anything more to say about myself.”

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Which is not entirely true, as it turns out. He has one more completely spontaneous confession to make. “I was kind of weird about…I’ve never…” she stops and starts. “Why am I telling you this now? Never really in an interview, or on stage, or anywhere, did I ever say I just got over it.

“And for some reason that was private to me. Just because it’s so humiliating. Like, just grow and put it on you.

“That was like my last secret.” She leans closer, smiling mischievously. “I don’t know what I’m saying now. What is the next question?

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