NEW YORK “I float around,” says Josh Thomas, “and I’ve just been very lucky.”
The 27-year-old Australian comedian is trying to account for his success in what he’d argue is the absence of ambition or strategy.
Still, look at him: a star Down Under and the leading man, writer and executive producer of his own half-hour comedy-drama, Please Like Me, which just launched a 10-episode sophomore season on the Pivot network 9:30 p.m. Fridays.
A study in budding adulthood and its pitfalls, the series might be described as Seinfeld blended with a guy-centric Girls.
Last season it followed Josh, a young Melbournite, as he loved and lost a girlfriend, then, acknowledging he’s gay, loved and lost a boyfriend. He came out to his divorced parents while coping with his father’s overbearing new wife and with his bipolar mother’s wild mood swings.
But through it all, Josh kept his head above water. He’s a bloke who floats around.
Thomas has ample material from his own life to fuel his series, just as, a decade ago, it powered his entry into stand-up when he began showing up at Melbourne clubs for open-mike sessions.
“My first routine was about my mum deciding to buy me condoms: She asked me what size I wanted.” A chuckle. “ Now I realize she’s bipolar.
“I was 17!” he responds to the suggestion he was brave to give stand-up a try. “I wasn’t making a lot of great choices. You should have seen what I was wearing then. And I had a girl-friend! I didn’t have a lot of stuff sorted out.”
Interviewed recently on a visit to New York, Thomas is clad in a sweater featuring a large ladybug. He’s gangly and fidgety, yet charming and armed with an infectious cackly laugh.
He says his stand-up dates and TV appearances in Australia won him a surprisingly varied audience: “60-year-olds, young couples, gays, a few lesbians. And a lot of teenage-girl fans who didn’t have enough self-esteem to have a crush on Justin Bieber — they wanted someone more accessible.
“I really loved stand-up,” he says. “But I thought I’d be OK at writing a sitcom, ’cause narrative is what my stand-up was anyway.”
Thomas says he’s not so different from the character he crafted for the show: “It’s just me saying what I would say if the stuff I write was really happening. And I try to say it the way I would say it in real life.”
It’s all a work in progress. Like him.
“When we were pitching the show,” he recalls, “Josh was straight. I came out after that. So I had a meeting with the network and said, ‘There’s been some script changes.’ ”
Keeping it Australian
Originally aired on Australian television, Please Like Me was acquired by Pivot, which initially considered refilming it with Thomas as an Aussie living in the U.S. “But then they decided to keep it the way it is.”
As production began on Season 2, “I tried to keep it truthful, honest-seeming,” says Thomas. “But it’s not a life guide.”
Indeed, a viewer would be hard-pressed to find any obvious guidelines. At one moment, TV-Josh is self-centered and lackadaisical. The next, compassionate and responsible. Then, in the blink of an eye, he’s back in slacker mode.
“Josh is inconsistent,” Thomas agrees, “but it annoys me when a TV character always acts the same way. You don’t know if Josh is going to walk away from a problem or sit down and solve it. But he’s just me, and on any given day, I don’t know what I’d do either.”
Nor does he know what he might like to do next, he says as he speaks of Hollywood agents advising him on how to take his career to the next level. What would really make him happy? A third Please Like Me season (which was recently ordered), he replies, and a fourth after that.
“I don’t know why I need the next thing,” says Thomas, who seems consistent in his mission to dodge any master plan. “I seem to have enough things: I have a dog, a very demanding boyfriend and my own TV show. Plus, I’m just 27. I’m meant to be out at the clubs!”