Josh Thomas under fire for comments about casting people of colour

Comedian Josh Thomas has been criticised for comments he made in 2016 about casting people of colour in television programs.

Back in 2016 Thomas appeared on a panel at Bingefest at the Sydney Opera House. The discussion hosted by Gretel Killeen saw him joining Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor from the ABC show Rosehaven and American TV show creator Dan Harmon, to share their experiences in pitching and writing TV shows.

In the discussion Pacquola recounted that she was aware that her program Rosehaven featured predominately white actors, and when the show, which is filmed in Tasmania, did open casting calls very few non-white actors attended.

Josh Thomas responded, prefacing his contribution with the question “Is this going to sound racist?” Before answering his own question with “Let’s find out!”.

“We’ve tried really hard for years now, but I think most of the immigrants in Australia have come pretty recently, and generally first or second generation immigrants don’t want to be actors. They have real jobs, you know.”

“I found it really hard, it was a high priority for us from the beginning.” Thomas said, adding that he found the casting process for his show Please Like Me very challenging.

“The other thing about making a television show that I didn’t know about and I found quite confronting was, because you have to pick every person in the show, so it’s like “Josh what would you like the 7-Eleven worker to look like?'”

“Do you make them Indian, or is that offensive? Or do you make them white, that’s like you’re lying really. So what do you do?”

Pacquola commented that if you don’t cast an Indian actor in the role you are taking work away from the Indian actor. Later in the clip Thomas suggests the reason there are less actors of colour on Australian TV shows is because there are not enough experienced performers.

“When none of the others shows are hiring people who aren’t white, finding an experienced actor who is not white is really hard, so then you find yourself in a situation where you’re like ‘We want to be more diverse, but this person doesn’t have as much experience as this person – then its hard to know what to do because you don’t want to be favouring people.”

On social media people have labeled Thomas comments as hypocritical. While Thomas claims you wouldn’t want to cast a person in a role on a television program unless they had significant experience, he himself had very little acting experience before he took on the lead role in his show Please Like Me.

In interviews he previously talked about casting his close friend and co-writer Thomas Ward on the show too. Ward also had limited acting experience. Speaking to Vox in 2014 Thomas said they’d decided to cast his friend and fellow writer in the role, mainly because all of the actors who auditioned for the part were too good looking.

“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?” Thomas said.

“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!”

On social media users tore into Thomas comments accusing him of having a double standard, and contributing to lack of racial diversity on Australian screens.

This morning the comedian has issued an apology describing his previous comments as dumb, illogical and insensitive.

“There’s a clip circulating on Twitter of me on a panel a few years ago talking about diversity casting, and in it I am being a really dumb, illogical, insensitive idiot and it’s gross. I’m super ashamed of the comments I made, and I would like to apologise.” Thomas posted to Twitter.

“Authentic diversity in casting (and behind the scenes) is something that is really important to me, and that has been important to me for a long time. When making Please Like Me I always went into the casting process with it as a top priority and then fall short, many times.

“The conversation about why the casting process in Australia is structured to keep out people who aren’t white and straight, with symmetrical faces and no body fat percentage – is an important one to have, but the answers I offered in this clip are no way constructive or correct. I am committed to doing better.”  Thomas said.

The comedian dived into the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this week suggesting Australian cheese brand Coon should change its name because the word is a racial slur. While some of his social media followers supported the suggestion, others argued the cheese company, which is named after its founder, should retain its name.

OIP Staff, Josh Thomas was contacted for comment.

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