Dan Levy rose to fame in the midst of the pandemic when the world couldn’t get enough of Schitt’s Creek, a sitcom he co-created with his father, comedy legend Eugene Levy. The show originally aired on CBC before Netflix
I spoke with Eugene in February, who detailed how scared and anxious he was for his son in taking on Schitt’s Creek as an actor, writer, producer, and sometimes director.
“So we started doing it together and at one point, really in the early on days of this, I kind of had a bit of a nightmare,” Eugene said earlier this year. “I’d wake up in a cold sweat, thinking, ‘What if he doesn’t have it? What if it turns out he doesn’t have the talent to do something as [demanding] as a weekly television comedy? What do I do? Do I tell him that this is not going to work because you just don’t have it? Or do we just continue working on this idea, knowing nothing will come of it? And you think Sophie had a choice…
“So, I learned … once we started getting into the work, that wow, he’s really got some great chops for writing, and that was reassuring, beyond reassuring. I thought, ‘Wow, he really is a good writer,’ as we’re going through our pilot. And as an actor, as a performer in it, he really surprised me at how good he was at developing an amazingly interesting and funny character.”
Despite Eugene not voicing the extreme nature of his angst to Dan, who had minimal experience working on a sitcom, Daniel knew there was some anxiety from his father for his son. He also knew the best way to put him at ease was with a strong work ethic.
“I don’t think there was a day that went by in the early days of Schitt’s Creek where I wasn’t aware of the generosity that he was showing me by probably having those worries but never letting me in on that and also continuing, despite those worries, to give me some space to grow, to give me freedom to tell the stories that I wanted to tell, to put his faith in me as a storyteller and as a showrunner and that’s a huge thing, that’s a huge risk,” Dan, who’s currently participating in Tostitos’ “Don’t Miss the Good Stuff” campaign told me via Zoom this week.
“And it speaks to his character so specifically because he’s someone that’s always prioritized family and integrity over this industry and I think there is nothing more apparent than making the choice to believe in your kid over the repercussions, potentially, of what an industry might think.
“And so I was aware of that and it only made me work harder because I wanted to prove, not only to myself, but to him that I had what it took and that I was going above and beyond to make sure that this opportunity I was given was being seized and not taken for granted. So it kind of went both ways, his anxiety was matched by anxiety wanting to show that his anxiety could be put at ease.
“And ultimately, at the root of that is love and kind of a mutual admiration for each other. He took a nice risk, I think it paid off for both of us and it’s been a wonderful thing ever since. That will go down as one of the great acts of generosity that he has shown me and I’d like to believe that I was able to at least lay a foundational layer for him that made him want to invest in the first place. It wasn’t a gift, it was a choice that I set up for him to make and he chose wisely, if I do say so myself.”
Outside of the innumerable laughs and high quality entertainment the series provided people at time when they needed it most, Schitt’s Creek also received accolades from the LGBTQ community for the way gay individuals and relationships were depicted in the show. According to Dan, the series also heard from a lot of people who became allies after watching.
“To be honest with you, I would say at least half of the feedback that we got was from people whose minds were changed and I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that the stories kind of revealed themselves over time, so there was a tenderness to the way that people were learning,” the Toronto native said.
“It wasn’t this kind of big lesson that they had to learn, it was just watching people live their lives and it was through the connectivity of watching people and ultimately loving these people that people who have kind of different faith-based backgrounds or political, whatever it was that was hindering them from understanding the community and loving and empathizing with the community, it was changed by the fact that they found themselves disarmed by I guess the character of David and he led them into a conversation they never really had the intimacy to be a part of.
“Even though in many cases, it was their child that they didn’t understand or their co-worker. It’s a much larger conversation in terms of the why of it all on their part, but I don’t know, I think the show was so well-intentioned and when you have a group of people just trying to do their best, I can’t see how that wouldn’t be contagious.
“I can’t see how someone watching that wouldn’t want to kind of improve their own life or to be a little bit more open-minded. And I think to tell very casual stories about a family that doesn’t ask any questions about who their children love kind of subliminally sets an example for other people because at no point is it in contrast to anyone else, it’s just saying, this is how it should be and if you watch the show and like the show then maybe it’ll force you to ask some questions in your own life.”
Eugene Levy’s longtime comedy partner Catherine O’Hara regularly stole scenes in Schitt’s Creek as “Moira”. According to Dan, her over-the-top wardrobe and hilariously uncomfortable dialect made them break while filming scenes, as one would expect.
“Not always, but often,” Dan said when asked how regularly Catherine caused them to chuckle and blow a take. “The great thing about Catherine O’Hara is that she will never do the same take twice. So usually when something’s funny and you’re shooting it in a movie or a television show, by the second take or the third take you’re like, ‘Okay, I know what they’re doing, so I’m prepared.’
“We never knew what she was going to do. So it never allowed us the safety net to say, ‘Okay, I won’t laugh this time.’ I think if you watch the show closely, there are many situations where I am either covering my mouth because it’s the only thing I can do to not laugh or I’m just openly amused by what she’s doing and I just kept it in the show.”
Dan’s next major project to hit screens after Schitt’s Creek will be the upcoming unscripted cooking competition The Big Brunch on HBO Max. After the smashing success of Schitt’s Creek, Dan is focused on not being overly concerned about following it up with a similar project as he has few on the horizon and there’s not much he can do about the their timetables.
“I think the biggest hindrance to your own career is caring about what other people are going to think about your career,” Dan said. “And I think particularly in entertainment, there is a format. The word ‘momentum’ lives in entertainment more than anywhere else it seems and this idea that if you have success in one area, it has to be followed with some kind of similar thing.
“The one thing that’s a really interesting thing in this industry is that timelines really are dependent on when someone else makes a decision to pick up what you’re making. Over the pandemic I wrote a couple movies, I wrote a couple pilots, they’re all still in various stages of development, this one just happened to be a very smooth path from pitch to pickup, to getting it made.
“So it really was for me, about letting myself feel okay to be curious about any kind of storytelling, whether it was in the scripted space or the unscripted space and over the pandemic I had a lot of friends in the food world who were really affected by what was going on. …
“I thought, there’s a conversation here in the unscripted space with telling stories about local culinary voices who are making a big difference in their community and I think that was of interest to me. That was a world I was really interested in exploring, but again, I even asked myself the question, ‘Is this the right move?’ And it wasn’t until we got on set and actually shot the show that I realized not only did I need to make this show, but this show had to happen to me.
“It was such a transformative experience, something unexpectedly beautiful— meeting these people, seeing how wonderful they were not only with each other but with the work they were doing in their communities. It was an eye-opening experience in a time when there’s so much kind of instability and skepticism and darkness.
“So beyond the question of, ‘Was this the right professional move for me?’ What I wasn’t aware of was how much of an emotional reaction that I would have to doing the show as well.”
Even though Dan didn’t miss out on The Big Brunch experience, he admittedly has recurring FOMO (fear of missing out), which coincides with Tostitos’ “Don’t Miss the Good Stuff” campaign he’s promoting.
“I was always a very awkward kid growing up and the concept of knowing their was a birthday party existing and waiting to see if you got the invitation was something I think just left a permanent scar on my concept of am I or am I not included in things?
“And sometimes I like to be included even if I don’t want to be a part of it. I just want to know that the offer or the invitation was there.
“Any time I hear friends had dinner, I’m like, ‘Interesting, where did you go? And I was available… I guess it was like a private thing?’ There’s a reason why it connects all of us. There’s a very human impulse just to want to be asked at the very least and a lot of us just aren’t and that’s fine, we make our own fun.”