Comedian Josh Thomas has issued an apology after comments he made in a panel discussion of writing rooms in 2016 were slammed as ‘racist’.
The comedian sparked a serious debate about racist terminology when he tweeted an image of ‘Coon cheese’, claiming the popular Aussie dairy brand as using ‘hate speech’ amid the Black Lives Matter protests.
In the ensuing online discussion, a clip was shared of Josh participating in the Sydney Opera House Talks & Ideas series.
In the video Josh appears on a panel of white writers including Dan Harmon, Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor, to discuss diversity in casting and the arts.
The video was shared by Zimbabwean Australian actor and activist Moreblessing Maturure who, in response to the bizarre cheese post wondered if Josh was aware that the clip has become infamous among writers for it’s contentious commentary.
“Has anyone told [Josh Thomas] that 44:00 onwards of this SOH ‘The Writer’s Room’ is infamous in many-a rooms/masterclasses?” she wrote alongside the clip. “The short hand is ‘Don’t be The Josh of the room’.”
4 the fans, this is my favourite snippet mainly because of Dan Harmon’s facial reaction to “Its easier in the States” pic.twitter.com/zNDczm645B— Moreblessing Maturure (@MoreblessingMa) June 14, 2020
In the clip, Josh argues that diverse cultural representation is difficult because there are not enough experience non-white actors and artists.
Josh prefaced his now-infamous speech by warning the crowd, ‘this is going to sound racist’, but continued on to make the comments anyway.
“Most of the immigrants in Australia have come pretty recently, and generally, first or second-generation immigrants don't want to be actors,” he said. “They have real jobs.”
He went on to illustrate his conundrum as the creator of Please Like Me, with the example of casting an Indian Australian as a convenience store worker, and the complicated racial stereotypes associated with the decision.
"The other thing I didn't know about making a TV show that I found quite confronting is you have to pick every person. 'Josh, what do you want the 7-11 worker to look like?' Do you make them Indian, or is that offensive? Or if you make them white, is it a bit like you're lying, really? What do you do?" he said.
Celia Pacquola then chimed in by pointing out it could be considered unfair to deny the role to an Indian actor.
"But also, it's taking a job away from an Indian actor if you don't," she said.
"What answer is not offensive?" Josh posited to the audience, though Luke McGregor took the opportunity to interrupt and point out the panel of white Australian and American writers was perhaps not the best qualified to unpack racism and racial bias in the arts.
When Dan Harmon spoke about his own experience of trying to diversify the writing taff on his hit shows Ricky and Morty and Community, Josh jumped in with a comment that truly had 2020 commentators seeing red.
"I feel like I just tried to say this and they thought it was racist, so I love that you're doubling down on it,” he joked to Harmon.
“Finding people who have been given the same opportunities to be great at acting is really hard. None of the other shows are hiring people that aren't white.”
“Finding an experienced actor that's not white is really hard. You find yourself in a situation where you want to be more diverse, but this person doesn't have as much experience as this person, and then it's hard to know what to do, because you don't want to be favouring people when they're not going to do a good job.”
Major backlash to Josh Thomas’ ‘racist’ comments
The comments sparked a serious backlash on Twitter after the clip resurfaced this week, with many saying Josh’s argument that a lack of experience was reason to exclude non-white talent was an inherently racist, or at the very least ignorant one.
Some pointed out Josh himself fit the unexperienced category himself when he started out.
Josh Thomas, with no acting experience, wrote himself the lead role in his show and cast his white friends (also not actors) in the same show. But ok sure people (of colour) should only be hired if they come with extensive experience!!!!— Brodie Lancaster (@brodielancaster) June 15, 2020
Josh Thomas: how can I, an inexperienced white actor who got to make my own show and who cast another inexperienced white actor in said show, possibly cast an inexperienced black/brown/Asian actor ¯\_(ツ)_/¯— Imperator ACAB 💜🤍🖤 (@imperatorelan) June 15, 2020
Others took serious issue with the idea of only casting an Indian actor in a stereotypical role.
josh thomas really out here saying that its racist to NOT cast POC based on stereotypes, as if an indian actor couldnt play, idk, any other role https://t.co/cYG77pKxQq— ruby innes! (@rubyinnes) June 15, 2020
Disappointed Josh Thomas used the old “can’t find people with experience, so we have to use whites” line.— Miz Demeanor 🌈 💦 🐨 🔥🦠🛳 🖤BlackLivesMatter (@diannaarten) June 15, 2020
Not in 21st C, no more excuses!
The reason that Josh Thomas video is so disturbing is that people we think are on our side are not. White moderates are more dangerous than outright racists.— Michelle Law (@ms_michellelaw) June 15, 2020
People who were present at the 2016 event also weighed in, sharing that this wasn’t a case of comments ageing badly, rather that it had felt inappropriate at the time as well.
Aussie actor Johnny Lahoud revealed he had been furious and left the event, even sharing a Facebook status he wrote at the time.
I posted this to my Facebook back in 2016, walking out of the opera house after listening to Josh Thomas disrespect me and every other POC actor in Australia #joshthomas @thearkadas pic.twitter.com/Dxk1yGFSlW— JLahoud (@JLahoud1) June 15, 2020
Josh issues apology for ‘dumb, illogical, insensitive’ comments
In response to the clip, which was widely picking up traction after it was posted on Sunday Josh today shared a screenshot of an apology he had written, captioned simply ‘apology:’
“There is a clip circulating on Twitter of me in 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,” he wrote.
“I'm super ashamed of the comments I made and would like to apologise.”
He went on to explain diversity in casting is ‘really important’ to him but admitted to falling short ‘many times’.
"The answers I offered in this clip are in no way constructive or correct. I am committed to doing better," he concluded.