Manners in check

How should celebrities behave when confronted by online anonymous criticism? Adam Zwar spills.

2014-04-01_2339Everyone is a critic. Just ask Adam Zwar.

“There are just people who hate me. They always have a fake name and a photograph of themselves wearing sunglasses, holding up a shark that they’ve just caught.

“One guy said, ‘I kind of liked you at the start of Bodyline but by the end I hated you,'” he explains.

Since the advent of the internet, performers -and especially comedians- are subjected to ongoing criticism. And that’s putting it nicely.

“There are certain websites that have had a lot to say about me over the years,” Zwar admits.

“My friend Shane Jacobson doesn’t read anything whereas I read whatever I come across, I don’t search for it, but I am slowly becoming tougher. I just don’t care anymore. It has to be pretty nasty for me to care, and that is not (me) encouraging Australians to write nasty things about me!

“It’s terrible when it comes from someone in the industry. That’s when it hurts. It doesn’t matter if it comes from a critic, that’s their job, and if it was from someone anonymous –then whatever. If they can’t be bothered putting their name to their comment then how much investment can they possibly have?

“But if it comes from a colleague then that is always seen in the industry as over-stepping the mark.

“That’s a no-no.”

For The Agony of Modern Manners, Zwar devotes an episode to ‘Online Manners.’ His parade of guests have plenty to say about the way they have been discussed on the internet, mostly from faceless, anonymous voices.

“When they got into show business, (social media) wasn’t a thing. You had to deal with critics every now and then but not abuse from anonymous people,” he explains.

“Some won’t look at the internet or they only respond positively. Occasionally Lawrence Mooney will have a crack.

“Most celebrities in Australia, even the very successful ones, are middle income earners. They’re not lying by a pool in LA. It’s not like they can comfort themselves with their millions. They’re earning as much as middle management who also get abused every now and then.”

Zwar’s Agony franchise began with Agony Uncles and Agony Aunts, but it has continued with specialist themes. For Modern Manners, Zwar quizzes his guests on manners in the workplace, home, travel, dinner, online, wakes and funerals.

“In a way it’s a little bit of a Seven Up experience,” he says.

“I just love revisiting these people every year and finding some nuance to add to the mix. I hope none of them take offence at this, but I see them age and mature as it goes on.

“Their opinions and personalities slightly modify, so I feel very privileged to be in the position as some sort of convenor.”

Zwar says that our use of manners is a volatile subject, which made this an easy show to make.

“How we view manners is entrenched in our whole make up and our up-bringing. It’s almost as volatile as religion and it’s something people take very seriously.

“I learn a lot from life by doing the show.”

New guests this season include Jess Harris, Steve Vizard, Ella Hooper, Lally Katz, Rob Carlton, Ronnie Chieng, Matt Okine, Leah Purcell, Chrissie Swan and Stella Young. Returning are Lawrence Mooney, John and Tom Elliott,  Dave O’Neil, Julia Zemiro and Tim Ross.

In addition to the Agony franchise, Zwar is co-writing an adaptation of Lowdown for the US, and developing other  projects. Wilfred is coming up to its fourth and final US season, but another version has finished filming in Russia.

“I’m there for it if it needs me. If it needs money or a place to stay, I’m there. But I’ve kind of let it be free now,” he says of the sitcom, which is now our most successful comedy adaptation in the US.

“It was very popular at the start but now it’s settled into a cult audience.

“But we’re very lucky, we’re not on Free to Air. It’s looked after by FX. If you look at Kath & Kim they’re on ‘Broadway.’ But we’re off-Broadway.”

Any talk of more Lowdown for Australia seems unlikely.

“It was on the table for a very long time. Brendan (Dahill, ABC1 channel controller) says it is his favourite comedy,” Zwar says.

“The ratings kept going up but it was at 9:30 at night. It won awards and people who saw it loved it.

“But to go to a third season as a sitcom for the ABC you need to be over 800,000 I reckon.

“I don’t have the answers. When you go into Comedy you think you have the answers. You think you know what Australia wants. But the more I am in Television the less I know what Australia wants.”

Nevertheless he is happy the Agony franchise attracts good feedback, and there is no shortage of diverse guests to weigh in on his gentle interrogations.

“I hope Agony keeps on giving. I get quite a good response to it and I’m not even on camera.

“Hopefully it has become a little bit part of the landscape and it hangs in there.”

The Agony of Modern Manners 9pm Wednesdays on ABC1.

10 Responses

  1. Quite right, TM. The cost of the ABC works out to about $1.00 per person per week. If someone can’t manage to find one dollar’s worth of value from the ABC each week then they’re not trying hard enough.

  2. I am so sick of hearing people whinge about their ‘taxpayer dollars being wasted’ on TV. For godsake get over it. As if TV is the only place where our taxes are spent and/or wasted.

  3. @JimboJones – I really liked Lowdown so Adam is welcome to his share of my 8c a day.

    The ABC can’t be everything to every taxpayer, there will always be shows that someone or other will complain about their taxes being “wasted” on.
    But really, I’m pretty sure that everyone gets value for money out of the corporation in one way or another.

  4. My apologies, first time posing.
    in numbers strategy many shows seem to be employing.
    Another analogous point may be the similarly Brit-pop-ripped off and recently rebirthed Specks and Specks/Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
    Zwar, although may not be solely known as a host, or as widely, but I fear he may soon have to engage into such parallel career evasive manoeuvres as the now entirely oversaturated former ABC darling Adam Hills.
    But Maybe that’s what Zwar wants?
    At least he’ll be sans stand-up comedy and gold logie nomination, which some may argue isn’t exactly an aid to achieving the highest critical acclaim in this country.
    So that’s a start.
    But judging solely from Zwar’s opinions here in relation criticism and being off screen, the world of producing and/or moving overseas to dodge the morass of getting shows up might unfortunately be the next agonous hunt.

  5. I’m trying really hard not to be one of those anonymous cranks. But,
    Zwar does come off sounding a tad conceited in this piece. Talking figures of 800k for a third season, favouring by an ABC Controller and as the above poster said talking of “Knowing what Australia wants”- as if he is the one to provide it.

    Albeit not one of the most original concepts on Australian Television, appropriating almost entirely from BBC’s Grumpy Old Men/Women,
    Agony Uncles/Aunts/Manners does do a reasonable job of navigating through its largely populist comedy territories. Personally I’d prefer more of a subversive element added to more of the discussion, but thankfully talent such as Anthony Morgan, Mirka Mora, Judith Lucy and surprisingly John Elliott offer such irregular interludes. And the new cast (Chieng, Vizard and potentially Cartlon excluded) unfortunately reeks of recent radio safety…

  6. Personally, I can’t stand this series at all & would prefer the ABC to spend their money elsewhere.
    However, others like it, and fortunately it’s not compulsory to watch. I can avoid it, whilst those who enjoy it can watch. I just wish that the media would stop pretending that it’s a huge hit.

  7. Well, I like Adam and enjoy anything he’s in.
    Looking forward to the new instalment of his “Agony” series tonight – always good fun.
    Looks like an interesting selection of new guests on the show – Leah Purcell and Chrissy Swan in particular should be entertaining.

  8. I certainly don’t “hate” anyone, and I’ve never written a comment that could be considered nasty (sometimes tongue-in-cheek sarcastic – I’ll cop to that!). I’m just an anonymous taxpayer who resents his taxes being spent on unfunny and/or self-indulgent comedy (that’s a spray at no-one in particular).

    Perhaps if people in the industry broke the rules and criticised each other occasionally we might avoid such monstrous embarrassments as Outland.

  9. Adam Zwar – “You think you know what Australia wants. But the more I am in Television the less I know what Australia wants.”

    Hint – try writing something funny. You know, something with actual jokes in it.

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