The bespectacled former MTV star has started his second act – this time as producer, writer and star of the new CBC comedy series Schitt's Creek. Dan Levy developed the show with his comedy-legend father Eugene, and recruited dad's frequent collaborator Catherine O'Hara as a co-star. Here, he shares some of the secrets to his success, including why you should never listen when they make fun of your glasses.
The downside to compromise
It's quite common for a television show to start off as one thing and end up as something completely different. There are so many cooks in the kitchen – the network, the studio. Everyone involved in a project has their opinion and everyone wants their say. Shows can get lost in the mix, so really that was the big challenge of making Schitt's Creek: to protect the sensibility of the show, both cosmetically and from a story perspective. That means everything from the scripting to the sets to wardrobe. CBC was really great and the show that you see is exactly the show we wanted to, and intended to, create. That in itself is a huge success in this business, so I felt like everything else from here on out is icing on the cake.
Stick to your guns (and your frames)I remember before I started high school, I was really intrigued by the Buddy Holly/James Dean style of glasses. This was a long, long time before they were sold at every Urban Outfitters. I remember going to L.A. one summer and finding a pair at a vintage shop. I was so excited and I wore them to my first day of Grade 9. Let's just say the reaction was not what I had hoped. I remember the girl who was sitting beside me at the time tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I had considered contacts. But I stuck with them. I've had thick plastic frames ever since and you know, people have really come around.
A foot in the door can get slammed on
When I started [doing The After Show] at MTV, I really didn't want to involve my dad in what I was doing. I wanted to prove myself because I know how quick people are to judge. I wanted the audience I was in front of to like me for me and also I needed to discover whether I had what it takes to stand up on my own. Once things started going well for me, I was happy to involve my dad. Working with him is amazing, but I'm glad I didn't do it right away. On the topic of nepotism and kids getting jobs: Having produced a TV show, I can tell you wholeheartedly that there is way too much money at stake for some celebrity to just hire their kid. That's something a lot of people don't realize. When Girls was first on the air, Lena Dunham took a lot of criticism because her parents were these famous New York artists. HBO is not going to invest that kind of money just because her parents are successful. It's easy to make assumptions. Family might be able to help with getting a foot in the door, but after that you're on your own.
To get creative, get away
I always try, if I can, to travel before I start a writing project. For me, travelling is my education. It inspires me and it clears my mind and allows me to come back with a cleansed palate. Before I started writing the first season of Schitt's Creek I got a call from my friend Tommy Ton, who is a street-style photographer and who asked me to come to Tokyo. I wasn't in the best financial situation at the time, but I decided to go anyway and it was just the best trip. I came back completely inspired and reinvigorated to start in the writers' room.
Reality is the best gag of all
People always ask about my dad and his comedic influence. It's funny because my mom is really the comedian of our household. So much of my understanding of what's funny comes from osmosis and just being under that roof. I guess the main take-away from my dad in terms of comedy is that I like the kind of funny that focuses on reality – real situations, real people. You don't play for the laughs, you just play the situation and the laughs come. That's what they were doing on Second City and of course the Christopher Guest movies. There are a lot of different kinds of comedy, but that's what I know and love.
This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea.