Schitt’s Creek‘s Daniel Levy on Sex, Money and Being Raised by Comedy Royalty: “A Blessing and a Curse”

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Schitt’s Creek‘s Daniel Levy on Sex, Money and Being Raised by Comedy Royalty: “A Blessing and a Curse”

Schitt’s Creek, the fish-out-of-water comedy created by Daniel Levy and his father, Eugene Levy, returns to Pop TV for its third season tonight. The Levys star as hipster artist David and his father, Johnny, half of the once-wealthy Rose clan, who’ve resettled in Schitt’s Creek, a podunk Canadian town that Johnny bought years earlier as a joke. Rounding out the family are the former soap opera star and wig-loving matriarch, Moira (Catherine O’Hara), and socialite Alexis (Annie Murphy).

A mash-up of Arrested Development and The Beverly Hillbillies, Schitt’s Creek teems with memorable characters, including Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott), a fourth generation Schitt and the town’s mayor, and David’s friend with benefits, Stevie (12 Monkeys’ Emily Hampshire).

Before tonight’s premiere, Paste spoke to showrunner Daniel Levy about the upcoming season, the series’ openness about sexuality and what it was like growing up with comedy royalty.

Paste: To me, this show is about a family trying to learn how to be a family. It’s also about people learning to live in the real world—as “real” as it can get in Schitt’s Creek. Is that a fair assessment?

Daniel Levy: Yes, absolutely. I think, beyond the sort of wallpaper premise of a wealthy family that moves to a small town and has to start over, the show has and will always be about family at its core and what it means to be family. And, ultimately, exploring what love means to people. Because I think for the longest time, and what we’ve been shown a lot in popular culture, often times love is shown by gifting people things. If you look at the reality television world of Real Housewives and the Kardashians, a lot of love manifests itself in money. And I think money, particularly for the Roses in our show, has fixed a lot of their problems. By removing that Band-Aid that they’ve been using to patch on things their entire lives, we are now able to really explore who these people are and what they mean to each other in a very real way. Whereas in their past lives, where they had the means to cover up any flaws in their family by throwing money at the problem, now they actually have to talk it through. I think that’s what’s fun for us to write and perform.

Paste: What’s in store for the Roses and Schitts this season?

Levy: I think Season Three really explores the characters in a slightly deeper way. Seasons One and Two, we were really focused on the circumstance: This family moved to a small town, the people they encounter and the sort of class issues that they struggle with. [This season], we were really able to focus on the character development of the family, who these people are and where they came from and delve a little deeper into their backstory to help explain and rationalize, in a way, the behavior that they’ve been displaying for the past three seasons. I think it’s our most emotional season, but I also think, because of that, it’s also our richest comedically.

Paste: You and your dad created, executive produce and star in the show, but you’re the showrunner. What’s it like working with your dad—and who gets the final say when you disagree?

Levy: I think we benefit from what each of us are able to bring to the table. And when it comes to disagreements, there’s usually a pretty good reason as to why someone wins. The only time you run into problems is when there’s ego involved, and there’s not really much of that, because for us, the goal is to tell the best story possible. If you’re usually going back and forth on an idea, it’ll usually be the better idea that wins.

Paste: But in general, isn’t it hard to work with relatives? Working with mine would drive me up a wall. [Levy’s sister, Sarah, also appears on the show, as town waitress Twyla Sands.]

Levy: [Laughs] It’s not easy all the time. Because there’s an intimacy there in terms of being family, you really have to be cognizant of those boundaries between professional life and personal life, and I think that’s what kept us sane through all this.

Paste: You grew up in a household of comedy royalty. Did you have comedians dropping by constantly?

Levy: I think what I admire most about my dad is that he chose to raise my family, my sister and I, in Canada to keep us away from the entertainment industry as long as he possibly could. So we didn’t really grow up in the industry, but yes, Catherine [O’Hara] and Marty Short are very close friends of the family. It’s funny because all of those amazing comedy groups that came out of SCTV are so grounded and normal. Growing up it was just like, ‘These are just friends of the family.’

As I got older and watched more of their work, then, of course, I began to put them in a slightly different context. It was a funny upbringing. The great thing about it was that I was able to experience a very specific kind of comedy growing up, which is a blessing and a curse, because now I have a specific tolerance for what I find funny and what I don’t.

Paste: You mentioned that you have a specific sensibility about humor. So what makes you laugh?

Levy: It’s observational comedy. I don’t really laugh at someone’s expense. I laugh at great characters, funny scenarios. I think Veep is a perfect example of a really sophisticated, smart comedy that is both funny and scarily… timely.

Paste: Schitt’s Creek is great with subtle, visual humor that appears out of nowhere. For example, a camera shot of the wall decorated with Moira’s wigs.

Levy: At the end of the day, that’s just my kind of comedy, being able to watch something two, three, four times and see something different every time you watch it. I think that’s what’s so great about the movies my dad wrote with Chris Guest [Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, Best in Show and For Your Consideration]. I’ve seen them all tens of times, but each time you watch it, you discover some little nugget that you haven’t seen before. I think that just comes down to just being thorough and really caring about the characters. A lot of those details come from character work. The wig wall in our show was an idea that Catherine had when she decided that she wanted her character to wear all these wigs. The show is ultimately a collaborative process between us and the cast, and I think if you’re receptive to the actors’ impulses as well, you get to uncover more detail, which is ultimately beneficial.

Paste: The show is very open about sex and sexuality, and it’s just there, and not necessarily used to tell a story…

Levy: It has a lot to do with the fact that we don’t get a lot of interference from our network. They really believe in the show and what we’re trying to say. And it was a very conscious effort not to turn the sexuality in the show into an after-school special. We weren’t trying to teach people anything. My goal was to essentially tell a story about a town where there was no judgment, and I think that’s why you don’t see anyone call into question any of decisions made by any of our characters when it comes to sexuality.

Paste: Did you have trouble with the name, Schitt’s Creek, when developing it or getting it through standards and practices?

Levy: There were some networks that expressed some concern. The funny thing is that they’ll express concern about a name like Schitt’s Creek, and yet they’ll throw extreme violence on at 8 p.m. That’s a whole other conversation. But I think ultimately we found two networks [Pop TV in the U.S. and CBC in Canada] that really supported the show. And there was a conversation, obviously, that was like, ‘What if we changed it to Up a Creek or Without a Paddle?’ And you smile and nod and say, ‘Yeah, ummm, not interested so much in that note.’ And ultimately, they stood by us. Whatever titillation that comes from the name quickly dissipates the more you watch the show. It really just becomes the name of this town and the last name of the mayor. And to be perfectly honest, it’s a genuine last name. Apparently, it’s of Irish descent. That’s part of why we were able to get it passed. We sent pages out of the White Pages to our network.

Paste: Of the cast, who would fare the best and worst in a Schitt’s Creek situation, stripped of all personal wealth and forced to start all over?

Levy: [Laughs] I think Annie, who plays my sister, would probably do the best. She’d claim that as well. She’s the polar opposite of what her character is, the absolute farthest from who Alexis is, and is not the fussy princess that she plays on the show. Because of that, she revels in the fact that she gets to play this very out-of-touch girl that’s so far from her everyday.

Paste: And who would do the worst?

Levy: I guess I’d say my dad. He’s a very particular person. He likes things done a very particular way. I don’t know if he’d have the patience for that kind of learning curve.

Season Three of Schitt’s Creek premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on Pop TV.

Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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