Talking Schitt

“Seek joy at every opportunity.” Dan Levy on his career, legacy and surviving life as a sex symbol

Dan Levy doesn’t stop.

The queer writer/actor just wrapped press for the final season of his groundbreaking comedy Schitt’s Creek, created with his dad, actor Eugene Levy. The popularity of the show took the world by surprise. Schitt’s Creek became the first-ever series from the network PopTV to score Emmy nominations. Levy also won the inaugural Queerty award for Best Television Performance in 2020.

In addition to the collection of awards trophies, Schitt’s Creek won wide acclaim for its depiction of queer relationships. Levy’s character, David, dated both men and women, and much of the show focused on his romance with his business partner, Patrick (Noah Reid). The praise from the LGBTQ community and their families often moved Levy to tears.

The popularity of Schitt’s Creek nabbed Levy a new development deal for series at ABC; a major feat for any television writer. We caught up with Levy in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown to chat about his life, the legacy of Schitt’s Creek, and his latest creative endeavors.

What’s the state of your life at the moment?

I’m spending a lot of time with my dog, which is great. When I was shooting my show, he went to live with my parents for a while. So there were big chunks out of the year where I didn’t get to see him. That’s a blessing: just getting to have him close by. Then I’m trying to just work, to get something written so when this is all done we can make some films and television shows, keep people employed and keep our industry going.

That’s a great attitude.

So it’s about keeping the brain moving as much as possible.

Well, tell me about that. What do you do to get inspired? What kind of environment do you like to be in?

I don’t know. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it is really hard in these times. I think when there’s something impactful and tragic in the world, it’s hard to find the kind of clarity and headspace to write comedy. I find I’ve taken for granted just the clear skies, if you will. Having this dark cloud over us has really affected, not just myself, but a lot of my friends who are writers and creators. You have to overcome the news headlines and compartmentalize your thoughts so you don’t bring the day-to-day baggage into what you’re writing.

Levy with his dog, Redmond. Via YouTube

Sure.

For me, I’ve never considered myself a comic. So some of the projects I’m developing right now are not funny. They’re dramas. So it’s been nice to sort of pivot and write things that are on my mind. There’s a handful of things I’m working on, but to be able to sit down with the more dramatic ideas I’ve been fleshing out an focus on those when I’m not feeling the best, then turn to comedy when I need a little bit more humor in my life, it’s been a nice source of therapy.

Now, am I allowed to ask about your new projects?

You can, but I can’t say anything yet.

Damn. I’m intrigued by the idea of you doing a drama.

Yeah? I feel like I always tend to lean towards drama. I think that’s why the show has had some nice dramatic moments scattered through it. Even in comedy, at the funniest times of our lives, we’re often met with dark times soon thereafter.

Absolutely.

So that was really important for me to lay into Schitt’s Creek. That’s just life, and it makes the humor so much more enjoyable when you can show depth of character and more poignant moments. For me, I love writing drama, and I had really been compiling a list of ideas, things that inspired me, that I wanted to tackle. Now that I have the time I keep going back to that list and looking at these ideas and weighing which are worth exploring. I’ve selected a handful at the moment, and they’ve been moving around really well.

That’s great.

Hopefully sometime soon we can have another chat and I can be a little less cryptic about them.

I’d love that.

But the comedy silo is not something I’ve ever wanted to be kept inside. My ideas run the gamut from drama to thrillers to comedy and everything in between. So it’s been fun to explore different genres. I’ll be taking everything I’ve learned from Schitt’s and obviously instilling it in whatever I do next.

That’s wonderful. I think you’re right on when you talk about the characters in Schitt’s Creek. Initially they seemed like the most selfish, cynical, self-involved characters ever. But you do give them flashes of drama and it humanizes them in such a way that they become more real.

Well, all my favorite TV shows, be they comedies or dramas, are character-driven shows where the characters and the exploration of those characters are at the forefront. Whatever the genre is comes second. You’re really building a connection between the viewer and what you’re doing. If you live in a surface enthronement where you never get to the root of a problem or explore what makes people tick, the audience can only invest so much. The more you show the audience character growth, the more they can get involved in a more emotional way.

Levy with Noah Reid in ‘Schitt’s Creek’

Absolutely. You know, one thing that impresses me about Schitt’s Creek is that you work with your family. I was loath to think of another show where an actor and both his kids appear in regular roles. And his kid created the show. Is it hard growing up with a famous dad? When you work together, do you feel competitive somehow?

No. I don’t think so. I think, for my dad and I, any kind of disagreement was really rooted in an idea that both of us thought would benefit the show. So at the end of the day, whatever idea won was an idea we both decided would be the best idea for the show. When you know that you’ve made the best idea for the show, it’s not personal. There was never a lot of time exploring personal issues at work. Obviously, we come from different backgrounds. We’re different ages. We have different ideas of how things should be. The humor, in the first season of the show, it took a little bit for us to find that balance between what he wanted to say and what I wanted to say.

Sure.

They are two different sensibilities, but I think that’s what made the show so special. It’s become this kind of amalgamation of young and old—not that my dad is old per se—but two different philosophies and sensibilities and two different senses of humor rooted in the same idea. I think that’s what makes the show so accessible to so many different age groups. It’s been amazing to see how wide that age gap is. We struck a chord in the family department, that’s for sure.

Related: Dan Levy’s mom posts heartwarming tweet about her son

Well, I know my parents are hooked. Now, you’ve become a major celebrity out of this. This speaks to the family dynamic also. I’ve heard people like Carrie Fisher or Liza Minnelli talk about growing up with a famous parent, how hard it is to have your own career and exist outside of that realm. You, on the other hand, have become a sex symbol and international celebrity in a way that I’m not sure your dad ever was. As someone naturally introverted, how do you cope with that pressure?

I think there’s only pressure if you care. I really only feel like there’s pressure if you care about the fame side of the business, and I really try my best not to care about it.

[Laughter]

At the end of the day, I got into this because I loved acting and writing. I think the minute you get distracted by notoriety and what that brings and what it does to your ego, your priorities get eschewed. The quality of your work gets affected. So even as we were making the show and started to hear people were actually watching it, it was really important to me not to read too much or indulge too much in what was written. I knew what we were making was really special and I didn’t want the pressure of expectation.

That’s sensible.

I didn’t want to adjust the writing of the show to accommodate a certain level of awareness we were getting. So I don’t know: I don’t really pay a lot of attention to what’s going on outside of work. I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t kind of flattering to have all these wonderful things written about you.

Sure.

It’s nice to put on nice clothes and go out with your friends and family. It’s been such an incredible experience that we all got to live through. To think that our cast was on the red carpet at the Emmys this year was so surreal, and nothing that we ever thought would happen. The show is so small. So to be there with everybody, that was the joy. It was the joy of seeing my cast members being interviewed. It was nuts. But when you go home at night, you can’t let that seep into your pores. You have to just leave it outside. If you don’t, you start to become defined by other people’s expectations.

Via YouTube

On the subject of expectations, you’re now one of the highest-profile queer celebrities in the world. How do you cope with that? Is it an unfair expectation to have to share aspects of your life on social media?

I really don’t care what other people think, particularly when it’s negative. You can’t win them all. Obviously, it’s always the one person that says something bad that’s going to be the one thing you remember for your entire day. But statistically speaking, even if you just canvas your own friends saying “What’s your favorite show?” they’re all going to have a different answer. That’s the beauty of the human brain.

Right.

So I try not to take it personally—not that we’ve gotten a ton of negative feedback. I think it’s remarkable how loving and supportive the fanbase has been. But it’s personal taste. When it comes to a social media presence, I feel like having been a talk show host up in Canada, I had a very small social media following. But of everyone involved with Schitt’s Creek, it was the biggest.

Interesting.

So it was used to promote the show because there was some reach involved in that. Ever since then, it’s become a way to communicate with our fans. Over the years, I’ve received such incredibly moving notes, letters, tweets and DM’s that have really experienced a shift in their lives for the better because of watching the show. Be it that their family has come to accept them, or that they’ve been able to come out to their parents or their friends—there’s been this love shared over social media when it comes to the show. We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and done so much good for people while supporting one another. The Schitt’s Creek fanbase is so unique in its quest to do good. I try to block out the bad when I go online, but there’s so much good coming from our fans that I’ve really enjoyed my experience on social media. I’ve enjoyed building a social media presence because for me, the more I can build, the more money I can raise. The more people we can gather to fundraise. There’s a lovely opportunity there.

Totally.

So I’ve enjoyed it a lot. And anyone that I feel is problematic I tend to block or delete.

That’s wise.

It’s a choose your own adventure. Even five years ago, I would find myself getting so annoyed by the way certain people are, or this culture where everyone has an opinion punctuated by an exclamation mark, not a period. Everyone needs to have their voice heard, and I get it. But it can be a lot to take in. So I just realized, you choose your own adventure, know what I mean?

I think so.

If there’s a person that bothers you just block them. Fill your feed with things that make you feel good. If you don’t protect yourself on social media with what you expose yourself to, it can be really damaging. It’s amazing. Seek joy at every opportunity.