Josh Thomas apologises after 'gross' video slammed as 'racist'

Penny Burfitt
Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer

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.

Josh Thomas has come under fire after comments made in 2016 resurfaced. Photo: Twitter/MoreblessingMa

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’.”

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.”

Josh Thomas argued casting diverse talent was difficult because of a lack of experience. Photo: Getty Images

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.

The panel consisted of Dan Harmon, Celia Pacquola, Luke McGregor and Josh and was moderated by Gretel Killeen. Photo: Twitter/MoreblessingMa

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.

Others took serious issue with the idea of only casting an Indian actor in a stereotypical role.

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.

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.

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