Jason Gann has been in and out of a dog suit for just about 10 years now.
The Australian actor/writer/producer and a friend, Adam Zwar, came up with the idea for "Wilfred" after a late-night conversation early in the decade. By 2003, they had created a short film about a dog getting in between his mistress and her boyfriend. "Wilfred" went on to the Sundance Film Festival and, between 2007-09, became a two-season cult sitcom on Aussie TV.
Now Gann has again donned the suit (a different one) for a new version of the show premiering at 9 p.m. June 23 on FX. It’s a much deeper, intellectual comedy, he says. But it’s still just a story about a dog and his man.
One thing I learned about Gann during a recent phone conversation: He seems to be just as straightforward as his canine alter ego, Wilfred. Among other things, we chatted about brutal honesty, smart fart jokes and what inspired he and Zwar to come up with the idea for "Wilfred." (Hint, he doesn't do it anymore.)
There are a lot of subtle things in “Wilfred.” There’s out-and-out gross humor, but I think I laughed more at all the little things.
Yeah. We laugh sometimes and say, “This is a smart comedy. Sure, there’s a lot of fart jokes, but they’re smart fart jokes. [Laughs.]
What would you say to critics or viewers who might criticize the [defecation] and fart jokes?
I’d just say, take it out on the dog population of the world. It’s like, when dogs stop farting and [defecating] all the time and licking their own [bleeps], then we’ll stop making jokes about it. But until such time, shut the [bleep] up. [Laughs.]
How did you come up with the idea originally?
It was a fluke. A friend of mine told me about being on a date and going back to the girl’s place. Her dog was sitting on the couch and looked at him as if to say, “What are you planning on doing with my missus?” I just started acting out as this dog, just pretending I was the dog, and putting words in my mouth, like offering him a bong and interrogating him about the night out and what he proposed to do. That was Adam [Zwar], the guy that wrote the short with me. We just went, “Look, that’s hilarious, that’s a short film.”
So we belted it out on the computer straightaway as best we could remember. And a week later we shot it and then a month later it was in Shock Fest and then in a year it was at Sundance. In November of this year, it will have been 10 years since that night, and the character just keeps kicking along. People have always really responded to this character. But it was never one of those things that I sat down and thought, “Let’s contrive a story about a dog and this is how I’m going to play it.” It was just totally organic.
Is it true that there was a little weed involved the night you came up with the idea?
Yeaaah. [Laughs.] Yeah, back in those days there was a lot of weed involved with everything. But you have to understand, I suffered a lot from insomnia back then. As you know, in Southern California one of the legal medicines for insomnia is you can smoke marijuana. So I was ahead of my time. [Laughs.] I was self-medicating.
But you weren’t in California.
I might go back to Australia and they’ll be like, “We’ve got it written down that you said you had pot on this night. You’re going to go to jail.” So I better not go back. I’ll say, “No. I said I did not smoke weed that night.”
How’s that suit smell after a day of shooting?
[Laughs.] Not too bad. Not as bad as everyone says. Look, from where I stand, it’s fine. I don’t know what everyone’s complaining about. It smells great. No, it’s fine. There are these straps that go under my arms, little elastic straps just to hold it in place. Everyone says, “Yeesh, you stink, what is that?” And I realized it was the straps. I call them odor retainers. I think for Season 2 they’re going to go away.
Do you think that people could get away with being as honest as Wilfred is?
No. I haven’t. [Laughs.] I get the crap beaten out of me all the time. I get away with a lot in that dog suit that no one could get away with in our human society. He’s kind of a sidewalk genius. He’s really street smart and he says really wise things, but society may not be ready to embrace those things.