And Then I Got High

We don’t often link to profile stories but we think you’ll agree this one is something special:

No-one cared who Jason Gann was until he put on the mangy dog suit.

For 10 years, Jason played the misanthropic, bong-smoking dog, Wilfred, first in a hit comedy series in Australia on SBS, and then in a US version starring opposite Lord of the Rings actor Elijah Wood, with guest appearances by Jason’s comedy hero, Robin Williams.

The US series premiere became the highest-ranking debut sitcom ever for FX Networks. It was praised by the Chicago Tribune as “the strangest new show on TV. And the funniest.”

In the show, the rest of the world sees Wilfred as a dog, while his owner sees him as a man dressed in a dog suit – described as part Australian Shepherd, part Russell Crowe on a bender.

The gig required Jason to put on a grey, fluffy dog suit that would define his adult life. By the time filming started for the first US season, he’d been wearing the suit for a decade, and it had become like a kind of psychic prison.

There’s definitely a lot to unpack there (“like a kind of psychic prison”?). Obviously the main takeaway if you read through to the end is that Wilfred, the rough-as-guts bong-smoking dog, was so popular as a concept that the context around him doesn’t matter. His fans don’t give a shit if he’s in a relationship sitcom or a commercial selling dope – they just can’t get enough of him. And dope!

For everyone else who watched Wilfred, the idea that a bong-smoking dog is 99% of the joke is pretty much just confirming some long held suspicions. The US version was fine in that “we’re not quite sure what people want to watch on these new prestige TV services so let’s just throw everything at the wall and hope people still like Elijah Wood” way of fifteen years ago. Ride that gravy train Gann!

The Australian version, which was the one we largely focused on here, was kind of… well, not creepy exactly, but definitely had some offbeat ideas about comedy relationships. Which co-writer Adam Zwar explored in his later local sitcoms up to and including Mr Black.

(looking back at the careers of Wilfred’s creators, it seems there’s a fairly clear divide between the guy in the dog suit – the kind of “one good idea” that careers are made on – and the guy who actually turned that idea into a show that was more than just a commercial for dope)

It’s a little odd that this story completely ignores the fact that Gann (together with Zwar) was pretty much an established figure on the comedy scene before Wilfred – more than established really, after two seasons of The Wedge and his own spin-off Mark Loves Sharon. But presumably the idea that it was the dog costume that made his career, and not years of hard work, is an easier sell. Especially now that it’s clear he’ll basically be buried in that dog suit.

It’s also surprising how Zwar – co-creator and co-star of Wilfred – just vanishes from this version of events. You’d think when the “offers rolled in from the US”, Gann’s co-writer and co-star would be just as entitled to put his hand out. Instead, he just… didn’t bother?

Still, even if there was backroom strife back then, it’s over now. Zwar and Gann are friendly enough for Gann to recently appear on Zwar’s podcast, and Zwar himself made it to Hollywood a few years later:

Thanks to their impressive body of work, Zwar and Brotchie were lured to Los Angeles about four years ago. Although his career has seemed like a smooth transition from local to national and international success, Zwar said he had suffered his share of rejections and setbacks.

“There’s so much heartache along the way,” he said. “You can spend months and years on a project – unpaid – and then it doesn’t get made. You can even have all the finance locked in and the show cast and then a network might have a change of heart.”

Turns out the moral of this story can be summed up in one line: “Drugs: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems”. After all, a court case over a brutal drunken assault on a bus driver that dragged on for over a decade is now summed up with “But the story of the incident and trial followed him for years to come”.

Possibly that’s because “Gann, however, refused to pay the damages or Mr Hosny’s legal fees after relocating to America to film a US version of Wilfred for cable television.” It wasn’t until 2018 that a US court ordered him to pay up, which presumably he’s since done.

But hey, at least he’ll always have the glory days of Wilfred to look back on:

One review said the show was the rare sitcom to achieve “two series of perfection”, and that Wilfred was comparable to UK comedies Fawlty Towers and The Office.

Yeah, that wasn’t us.

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