Manners in check
How should celebrities behave when confronted by online anonymous criticism? Adam Zwar spills.
“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.