Entering the family business can be a tricky proposition. There are egos to manage, long-held feelings to navigate, innate power dynamics that need to be reevaluated and shifted and usurped.
But for Dan Levy — son of Canadian comedy legend Eugene Levy, he of the bushy eyebrows from SCTV and American Pie — it’s been a relatively painless process. After carving his own pop cultural path as a long-time host on MTV Canada, the younger Levy teamed up with his pops to create Schitt’s Creek, the CBC sitcom they now star in together.
With the show’s second season premiering tonight, we caught up with the hilarious duo to get some insight into balancing work and family life, when each realized the other was funny, and what they’ve learned from one another.
What’s your working relationship like? Has it changed from the first season to the second?
Eugene: It’s the same. It’s a good working relationship. It’s a partnership.
Dan: The key is separating the personal from the professional. If you can do that, and I think we’ve managed it, then you’re good to go. As long as your goal is the same — and ours is to make sure that the show is as good as it can be — then you’re gold.
Dan, do you find yourself ever giving your dad pointers on how you want a scene to go?
Dan: No. I think it’s become more of a discussion about why it needs to be the way it is. Which is why it’s important to separate the personal from the professional. We’re still here, so that’s saying something!
Eugene: It is important to treat it more like a partnership and a business or else it won’t be healthy.
Do you have a ‘No Shop Talk’ rule at home?
Dan: This is a year-round job and it creeps into every conversation. Which is good because if you can’t stop talking about it that means you care.
Growing up, is this where you saw yourself?
Dan: I didn’t know what I was going to do, to be honest. When I got the opportunity at MTV, I thought ‘sure, why not?’ I wanted to pursue an acting career, but the show on MTV found success and all of a sudden it was seven years later. What I learned was that when you write your own stuff and create your own content, you will have a stronger grasp on your own skills. So, instead of auditioning for things after having missed out on seven years of auditioning experience, I wrote something to showcase my talent.
Eugene: Wish that I had thought of that at your age!
Dan: [Laughs.] But you were auditioning and getting jobs!
Eugene: Not every job. A lot of auditions made me feel like I should find another line of work.
Was acting always the thing for you, then, Eugene?
Eugene: No, it wasn’t. I remember liking to do it in high school. I loved rehearsing and being in plays. I never once thought that you could do it for a living. After I graduated, luckily, a friend got me a job working behind the scenes on a film shooting in the city. I eventually started getting jobs in front of the camera.
Once you were in the thick of it, was it ever something you wanted for your children?
Eugene: I never thought about show business for my kids. It was one of the reasons why we came back to Toronto after living in LA to raise them. Toronto is a saner town to grow up in. I never saw it for them. It wasn’t until Daniel was in his early teens and started showing a keen sense of humour that I thought, ‘Oh, he’s funny.’ The first time I saw him on MTV [snaps] I realized he was a natural.
Dan, when did you first realize your dad was funny?
Eugene: There’s a good question!
Dan: It usually came up when we were young and mad at our parents. When you’re mad at a parent and they respond in some kind of character and don’t allow you to stay angry, that’s when you realize there’s something different with your family. It was early. We always paid attention to what he was doing and it was always funny. When this show was being put together, I thought he would be the perfect final touch to it.
What’s your favourite film or show of his?
Dan: Probably Waiting for Guffman. A Mighty Wind is a close second.
Eugene: Good choices.
Schitt’s Creek walks a thin line between funny and dark. How do you stay in that sweet spot?
Dan: I think we’ve always treated the show like a drama that happened to be funny. We have the freedom to delve into emotional scenarios and not be scared that they won’t be funny. That people need to expect laugh after laugh after laugh. That opened us up to telling stories from more poignant real life moments.
Eugene: It’s the most interesting way to do comedy. To not be afraid to get into areas that touch on the heartstrings. You need characters that the audience care about.
In Schitt’s Creek, your family loses everything and they’re miserable. What’s one possession that you would take from each other that you know would drive the guy crazy?
Eugene: His phone.
Dan: I knew that would be the answer. For him though?
Eugene: Yeah, what are you going to say? A plate of French toast? I don’t care about things.
Dan: I would say some kind of technology, but he doesn’t use them! Can I force something on him to make him miserable? Cell phone proficiency classes.
Eugene: I use phones to call people and that’s that.
Eugene, do you ever catch yourself picturing Dan as a small child while he’s tending to showrunner duties?
Eugene: Well, that’s why we have to be professionals. The thing that makes it surreal to me is that every now and then I stop and realize that I’m working with my son. When I think about that, I think of him as a kid. I don’t picture him in his twenties, I think of him when he was six or seven. That’s what makes it a little weird. We’re partners in this show and it’s this little kid! But he’s only that to me. I won’t go on about how proud I am, but I relish those moments as a dad.
What is your favourite piece of fatherly advice to give Dan?
Eugene: Fatherly advice?
Dan: I think what works best is that we’re at a place where there is no more advice. We both do what we know is right and if it’s not, we talk about it. If I gave him advice it would be to pair a cool sneaker with a suit every once in a while.
Eugene: That’s not comfortable! The advice I would give Daniel for this business is to treat people the way you want to be treated. But he already does that. So the job is done!