Comedian Josh Thomas’ hit dramedy Please Like Me is gearing up for its latest season. Matthew Wade spoke to its stars about how the show addresses queer identity and what it means to sexual and gender diverse fans.
Josh Thomas isn’t pushing a gay agenda in his comedy series Please Like Me.
Despite the show’s focus being on a young gay man and the issues many young sexually diverse people face – coming out, navigating relationships, and mental health – Thomas said it’s not something he thinks about often.
“I get messages from people thanking me for coming out on the show because it helped them to come out – but I didn’t come out as a favour to them, I came out so people would know I was available to have sex with them,” he said.
“I have to let people know because otherwise I wouldn’t have got my dick sucked.
“The show isn’t supposed to be some grand noble thing in society.”
While Thomas might not think about the impact his show has had on sexual and gender diverse audiences, its major success is a clear indicator.
His self-titled character in the show is awkward, emotional, and often unsure of himself, an honest and frank characterisation that has been lauded by critics and fans alike.
The narrative began with Thomas coming out, and swiftly followed his character as he tentatively explored both the funny and sombre experiences many gay men do after accepting and embracing their queer sexuality.
However, Thomas reasserted that he doesn’t write the show as a means to specifically explore queer or gay identity.
“I mean, what choice did I have – I wouldn’t have made the character gay if I wasn’t gay,” he said.
“I don’t really think about it that much because it isn’t really interesting to me to be gay.
“I don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘gay’.”
Around ten years ago when Thomas first came out he thought about it a lot, but he said he’s been relentlessly gay for so long now that it’s hard for him to think about.
“You have to think very responsibly about how you tell these stories but the gayness I never think about,” he said.
“It’s just not why we make the show.”
Thomas’ on-again off-again TV love interest Arnold has taken up much of his time in the narrative since his introduction in season two, and actor Keegan Joyce believes having gay characters in popular series like this makes a huge difference.
His younger brother, who is gay, was a fan of the show from season one and was the first person to introduce Joyce to it.
“It was just after he came out to the family and he was in love with the show,” he said.
“It was a great thing to show our family members as well because it shows the truth of the LGBTI community, like it’s a really honest depiction of happy people, and who they have sex with isn’t anyone’s business.
“Some of my favourite parts of the show are when it says that it’s okay to tell people to shut up because it’s none of their business.
“The show does dismiss their thoughts and theories, and lets audiences know that they’re just idiots.”
Given the debate around the Safe Schools program has dominated much of the rhetoric around LGBTI rights this year, Joyce believes Please Like Me is especially important for them.
“Especially for schools it’s so important that we have conversations like the ones in the show, and I think we do a really good job at dismissing opposing ideas,” he said.
“More importantly I hope the show helps vulnerable people feel a little more safe and supported.
“Our show is watched by so many people from all different walks of life, that’s the best part because we don’t have a single demographic, it really hits home with the LGBTI community and everyone else.”
Alongside its entertaining and important depiction of gay identity, Please Like Me has also been praised for its depiction of mental illness.
Thomas’ mother in the show was modelled on his own mother in real life, and is admitted to hospital after a suicide attempt in the pilot episode, before being moved into a ‘mental home’.
Lesbian character Hannah – played by Hannah Gadsby – commits herself after having a breakdown in a supermarket, and Arnold is living with an anxiety disorder.
Joyce said the team try really hard to get their depiction of mental illness right, even if at times they’re slightly off the mark.
“Josh spent a lot of time doing research and speaking to psychiatrists in the field to ensure we’re depicting things in an accurate, fair, and positive way,” he said.
“We also hope it’ll benefit people’s understanding… the main aim of the show is to make people laugh but it’s important for me to get Arnold’s anxiety right.
“It was eye opening when I started, because I hadn’t had that much interaction or engagement with mental illness apart from with a few friends and I had little understanding of what panic attacks were.
“But now I feel confident in saying it’s different for everyone and we do our best to not generalise and make it accessible and understandable for audiences.”
Joyce added that it’s incredibly important to have a conversation around mental illness and to not feel scared or ashamed about putting ideas out into the world.
“LGBTI people struggle with mental illness and oppression and I think it’s important to not only have a show that wants to talk about it but also has a positive impact on it,” he said.
Thomas mirrored Joyce’s sentiment around the importance of portraying it right.
“We just try to be truthful about mental illness, my mother’s bipolar and that’s a big storyline,” he said.
“We’re just trying to reflect what it’s really like for us, we’re not trying to be really good guys, we’re just trying to be as honest about it as we can.”
For the upcoming season, Thomas said his character is far more sexually liberated.
“This season he’s pretty slutty which I’m pretty excited about,” he said.
“He caught up to me in real life, I’m not sure why he was so frigid in the beginning – him getting slutty also coincided with me getting more comfortable with having to do sex scenes.”
As a lot of Thomas’ experiences in real life are subsequently worked into the show’s narrative, he said it can become awkward for those that are included.
“My boyfriend read one of the scripts for this season and got mad because there was an argument we had in there,” he said.
“But I’d completely forgotten about it and that it was real life, I get bad at remembering some of that stuff.
“I do stand up and the show and can’t remember what’s real, and so I wrote this argument down and completely forgot.”
Thomas said he’s excited for the new season to start, as it’s been chill filming with the cast and crew this time around.
“I’m very used to being in my underwear in front of all of them now,” he said.
“All the seasons have had slightly different tones, we didn’t know what we were doing in the first two seasons and now I think we’re in more control of what happens in the show.”
Please Like Me season 4 returns on Tuesday November 9 to ABC.