Dan Levy on Not Fearing Sincerity
This Week on the Talk Easy Podcast with Sam Fragoso
Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.
Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso is a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists, authors, and politicians. It’s a podcast where people sound like people. New episodes air every Sunday, distributed by Pushkin Industries.
Over the past decade, writer and actor Dan Levy rose to prominence for his work on Schitt’s Creek. After co-creating the series with his father, Eugene Levy, he turned to a more personal project.
Said project is his heartfelt directorial debut, a film entitled Good Grief. At the top of our conversation, Dan shares the origin of this story and we discuss the importance of friendship, his experience working as a director, and a pivotal, full-circle moment from his time in London. Then, we discuss how he charted his course as a co-host on MTV Canada, the red carpet experience that clarified his path forward, and his ultimate arrival at making Schitt’s Creek.
On the back-half, we unpack the pure, timeless nature of the hit series, Dan’s journey to making Good Grief after the show’s momentous conclusion, a powerful scene from the film, the universality of loss, and the responses that encourage him to continue creating.
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From the episode:
Sam Fragoso: Schitt’s Creek has an evergreen, timeless quality to it. It feels very much in the spirit of The Honeymooners or The Beverly Hillbillies or Mayberry. But Hillbillies and Mayberry ended in 1971, Honeymooners ended in 1956. You are a spry, fresh-faced forty year old who was not around for those programs, but was using those shows as touch points—as reference points—was it your way of bridging the kind of generational divide between you and your father?
Dan Levy: In a way, I think. I grew up watching I Love Lucy and The Beverly Hillbillies. There are television shows that were so formative to my sense of comedy, and the joy and the deep laughs that they brought. My dad had a much clearer reference of all of those older shows.
SF: Did he like those?
DL: He did very much, and I think that’s what our show ended up being. It was nostalgia with my sort of younger, contemporary cultural references overlapped overtop— and then the clash of what that is. That’s what I think made it feel so inviting for people of all different ages.
SF: When you look back on that chapter, how do you understand the sensation it became?
DL: Making the show was so special. We were so kept out of that cultural conversation because, frankly, people didn’t start watching the show until we’d finished it. We were able to make eighty episodes of television up in Canada completely on our own, with little to no network notes. With the complete support of the CBC in Canada and Pop Network in America, which was the former TV Guide network, which meant that something like 90% of our households were still in standard definition in America. That’s how low stakes this show was. So, we had nothing but ourselves to use as an audience.
SF: Did that bother you?
DL: Not at all. We knew it was going to be a small audience because we weren’t on NBC. They passed because of the name!
SF: Oh, Schitt’s Creek.
DL: So our expectations were low, and it really came down to, “Please let us have another season to continue to tell this story.” It felt so special to be doing this away from the pressure of ratings and sweeps week and celebrity cameos and all of these things that are required by a lot of American television to keep and hold ratings. And the fact that it succeeded in the way that it did is an indication of the fact that we need to give people, creators, writers, television shows space and time to grow. Because it is the ultimate slow burn, Schitt’s Creek. It took two full seasons of the show before our family even said “I love you” to each other. And yet, all of the emotional impact and all of the emotional connection that fans find that feel for the show come from every moment of sincerity being earned. And that, I think, is where the depth of emotional connection comes from.
SF: The show ran from 2015-2020, and for so many people it was this beacon, this light, in a pretty dark era. But the other part of it was because it imagined a world that was softer, a little kinder, free of homophobia, and I think people grabbed onto it. I think they saw it as aspirational. How do you see your new film, Good Grief, in relation to Schitt’s Creek? Is it an extension of the world you were building? Is it a bookend?
DL: The one thing that we weren’t scared of when making Schitt’s Creek was sincerity. This was also coming off of an era of TV where you weren’t considered ‘edgy comedy’ unless you were making fun of someone or being incredibly vile. There was this world of edgy comedy that really came at someone’s expense. It was mean-spirited. It was hard. And it was the lack of fear around being soft that I think really contributed to this new wave of feel-good TV. You look at the success of Ted Lasso. That came off of everything that we had done that really was a great sort of next step in the storytelling of kind TV. I think this film, Good Grief, has that fearlessness when it comes to touching on sincerity and earnestness and warmth and honesty. I could have gone down a path where I wanted to make it edgier and hard, but that wasn’t my experience.
SF: So, it emboldened you to make the film?
DL: Emboldened me to tell a story that was rooted in something very sincere and not be fearful of that sincerity, even though oftentimes it’s criticized.