Some say “humor doesn’t travel,” but you can’t say that about “failed cricketer” Adam Zwar’s work. Zwar has had a prolific career in front of and behind the camera. Two of his creations have or will be adapted for American versions. The Cairns, Australia native’s path into television, though, took a detour through journalism—both his parents were writers and he worked at various newspapers—before going after what he really wanted to do: act.
He left his full-time job at the newspaper he was working at and split his time as a freelance journalist while taking a stab at acting. He landed commercials and guest roles on TV series. One of his earliest gigs was on the long running Australian soap Neighbors—where everyone from Russell Crowe to Kylie Minogue to both Liam and Chris Hemsworth had stints. Along the way, he saved money to create short films.
There was one short in particular that he co-wrote, co-produced and co-starred (with Jason Gann) which featured a bong-smoking, talking dog. That seven-minute short film would eventually turn into the (original) TV series Wilfred. The series ran for two foul-mouthed seasons before being adapted for the American version.
The American version had Elijah Wood stepping into Zwar’s character, but Jason Gann reprised his role of Wilfred. (Zwar decided to move onto a new series, Lowdown.) Both versions share the same DNA but they each have their unique perspectives and tone.
I got the chance to ask Zwar about humor, his influences, his animal preferences and his real life encounter that inspired Wilfred. Just don’t call it a cult show.
DK: Since you do so many things, how do you reply when someone asks what do you do? Do you answer: Actor? Writer? Former journalist? Failed cricket player? All of the above?
AZ: It’s a constant dilemma for me to define who I am. I change my mind every day. If I’m doing a great role on a show—then I’m an actor. But if no one wants me to act, I’m a writer. But I’m always a failed cricketer.
DK: Is their anything that you could say is specific to Aussie humor? How would you describe your comedy? Do you think there is a universal sense of humor?
AZ: Australian humor is going through a renaissance at the moment as a more culturally and socio-economically diverse bunch of comedians enter the market. Traditionally, the template for Australian humor has been dry and laconic. Our performers sit slightly off the joke – the reason for that is if we really hit the punchline then that would look like we’re “trying too hard.” And it’s a crime in Australia to look like you’re trying. As far as sitcoms are concerned, most of them have been about a hapless white guy battling the establishment. Thankfully, this is changing.
DK: You have said that Spinal Tap, Woody Allen, and Bob Newhart are inspirations for you. How do they influence your work?
AZ: If you watched Spinal Tap and Bob Newhart with the sound down, there would be very little indication that what you’re watching is a comedy. It’s so deadpan. And I love that. Maybe it’s the Australian sensibility again. And Woody Allen? Well … he’s the greatest.
DK: Wilfred was a short first. Did you always plan for it to become a series? The concept was sparked by something that happened to you in real life, correct?
AZ: Yes, I met a girl who had a dog—half Labrador/half dingo. And when we were in her living room, the dog loved me. I’d throw him the ball etc. But when it came time to go to bed, the dog would sit at the end of the bed and growl at me. I told Jason Gann about it and we wrote and made the short film. Then we were asked to come on as writers on another show. And as we were plotting that show, it dawned on me that Wilfred could be a TV series. So we used the prize money that we made on the short film to fund a pilot. No one was interested. Then Jason and I wrote the whole series on spec and finally a network (SBS) saw the potential and came on board.
DK: Wilfred has become a cult show in many ways. Or at least it has been described as that. What does that mean for you?
AZ: Cult means nothing to me. I never set out to make cult. It almost sounds exclusive and I’d like to think that the shows I’m involved with could be watched by everyone.
DK: For those who haven’t seen the original Wilfred, what’s different from the American one? Besides you of course.
AZ: The Australian one is a metaphor of the single mother getting a new boyfriend and the child doing everything he can to undermine the relationship. So our version is a traditional domestic comedy with Adam, Sarah and her dog Wilfred all living under one roof. Also, in Australia, you don’t write something with 100 episodes in mind. So there was no attempt to delve into Adam’s mind and work out why he sees Wilfred as a man in a dog suit instead of just a dog. It was just assumed that he had an active imagination and we left at that.
DK: Koalas or Kangaroos?
AZ: Kangaroos. Such a graceful animal.
DK: Dogs or cats?
AZ: I’m a cat person. But I love dogs as well. Most cat people love dogs, but I find it doesn’t always work the other way around.
DK: What is your T-shirt slogan?
AZ: I’m not bald, I just grew too tall for my hair.
Stay tuned for part two of the interview with Adam, to be published shortly, and stalk Adam on Twitter to stay updated on his whereabouts.