It’s hard not to laugh at anything Josh Thomas says. The 32-year-old Australian stand-up comedian, writer, and showrunner of Freeform’s Everything’s Gonna Be Okay is honest, unpretentious, and a breath of fresh air compared with the Hollywood elitism consuming social media.
In 2007, Thomas wowed international audiences with his first solo show, Please Like Me, which ultimately became a series for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The semi-autobiographical show was nominated for an International Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series, and was praised by critics for its humorous and realistic portrayal of dark themes like depression.
Now Thomas is making a highly anticipated return to television with Freeform’s Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, which follows a trio of siblings (Thomas, Maeve Press, and Kayla Cromer) who are forced to care for each other after their father (Christopher May) unexpectedly dies and leaves Thomas’s character, Nicholas (who like Thomas is gay), to care for his younger half-sisters—one of whom is on the autism spectrum.
The funnyman sat down with The Advocate not long after he had a routine STI test at Planned Parenthood (“because that’s important”) to chat about his writing process and why he felt it was important to center a comedy on death, autism, family, and teenage girls.
“For me, I feel like a good TV show is when it completely finishes and you miss the characters,” he explains. “I like weirdos. I like introducing the audience to people that they maybe wouldn’t usually hang out with that much. I kind of like that this show was [pitched] for adults, but it’s got teenagers you get a chance to hang out with.”
That’s intentional, of course. Thomas explains that when receiving pitches, network executives often think viewers want to see their same age demographic reflected on-screen. While that’s true in some cases, the young writer has found success taking a different approach.
“I like putting shows in front of people that introduce them to people they wouldn’t necessarily get to know,” he says. “I don’t think many people would get to know someone with autism in this way, and…I don’t think you need to necessarily be a teenager to want to hang out with a teenager [on TV].”
Creating a show with a character’s autism at the forefront was a major focus in Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.
The character of Matilda, who, like Cromer herself, is on the autism spectrum, has several meaningful moments about how she processes reality after the death of her father—which is obviously very different from how her non-spectrum siblings process their own realities.
Capturing the autism experience was especially important to Thomas, who hopes that viewers living on the spectrum will be able to appreciate the care that went into creating Matilda.
“I think I’m nervous about that more than anything,” he confesses. “Communities that have underserved representation—when they have so many limited shows to choose from—if they don’t like the show, they can get really mad at you.”
As Thomas puts it, while many fair-weather friends in Los Angeles will “lie to your face” and “tell you they like your outfit if they don’t like your outfit,” people who are on the autism spectrum will “tell you if they didn’t love it.”
While writing comedy can be difficult for comedians in today’s cancel culture, for Thomas, it all comes down to one basic principle: Don’t be an asshole.
“Just don’t be mean,” Thomas retorts. “Audiences don’t want to watch a show [or] watch some guy be really mean. I don’t think they ever really wanted to.... To me, if I saw a middle-aged L.A. dude comedian talking about how much he loves his kids, I’d be like, ‘Wow, that was really boundary-pushing stand-up.’ I would say that my stand-up and my shows are boundary pushing, but they’re just not mean. I don’t know why other stand-ups think [being mean] is so attractive.”
One thing is for sure, though. In Thomas’s 15-year career, he’s learned to never “make shows for the people that hate it. You make shows for the people that like it.”
The comedian is hitting the road for the entire month of February with his new stand-up tour, Whoopsie Daisy, which will be traveling through Seattle, Oakland, and Vancouver, Canada. (JoshThomas.com.au).
As far as coming up with concepts for a second season, let’s just say it’s on his to-do list.
“Don’t tell [Freeform] I told you this,” he quips. “But actually I haven’t worked it out yet.”