Dan Levy is a comedian, actor, writer, and producer. His credits include The Andy Dick Show, Love You, Mean It with Whitney Cummings, The Office, Chelsea Lately, Comedy Central Presents and the albums Running out of Minutes and Congrats On Your Success. His new special Lion is available now on Seeso.
We caught up with him to discuss the differences between a Lion and a Zebra, what it’s like to write on The Goldbergs, his most embarrassing Baby Talk moment, and where his kneecaps are currently located. Without further ado, Dan Levy.
The day, the hour, and the time is almost here to let the beast out of its cage, or Lion to be exact. Congrats on the new Seeso special.
Thanks so much, I’m so excited! I can’t believe it’s finally here.
When you go to name something like this, it’s like naming a child. What’s the story behind Lion, is it your favorite all-time animal?
Well, in the special, I talk about how I met a personal trainer who I ended up working out with. He told me to divide everyone up between Zebras and Lions. And then he asked me if I was a Zebra or a Lion. Then basically, throughout the special, I keep referring back to him and by the end of the special, I hope to actually become a Lion. But I think the reality is, that I’m not. However, I have done several things in my life to become one. For instance, getting over being mugged in Beverly Hills to running a “mud run” known as a Spartan Race so that I could have a photo to show my son that I’m a true Lion. I’ve done lots of things with his advice, they just haven’t gone according to plan.
I once was tricked into doing one of those Spartan Races. 12.5 miles up the side of a mountain, it was intense!
Oh my god. Yeah, I first did the Spartan Sprint which is only 3 miles. And I was like, “I can do it!” It was honestly ok. It was exhausting but I did it. But then the trainer was like, “We gotta keep it going!” So then we signed up for the next thing which was some Spartan thing that was nine miles and I still don’t have knee caps. I left my knee caps at the starting line. I barely made it to the finish line. I talk about it in the special. I literally dragged my ass with my hands down the side of the mountain for about a mile. I remember people running by me yelling, “Are you ok?” I kept saying, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m a Lion!” And they didn’t know what I was talking about. I didn’t know what I was talking about. I was just really excited to suck down those honey packs.
You might not be a Lion in the end, but you are a prolific writer. You work on The Goldbergs which is a huge giant success for ABC. I can’t relate to this show any more than I already do. It’s perfect.
Oh that’s awesome!
How close are you to that show on a personal level?
I’m very close to that life. I share a very similar sensibility to Adam [Goldberg]. I grew up in the late 80’s early 90’s on the east coast. I loved all things “Weird Al” Yankovic, growing up on Saturday Night Live and Star Wars. All of the stuff that we write the show about. It’s actually just amazing to work on the show. Even though I didn’t grow up in that family, the family dynamic is very similar to what was in the Levy house. The Levy’s – a 90’s sitcom.
When did you get the comedy bug? Did it take a long time to figure out what a joke was? Or did you pick up quickly the formula to make people laugh?
I have basically just been into comedy since I was a kid. I started watching stand-up when I was 10. I started doing improv when I was nine. And the theme of my Bar Mitzvah was stand-up comedy. So I really had just one target my entire life and it was simply just comedy. And I’ve been lucky enough to only have to do that to survive.
Where the heck was my invite, that was the Bar Mitzvah I needed to be at!
Yeah, you could have come and sat at the “Catch a Rising Star” table.
I’m beyond impressed.
My childhood was very on the nose.
Who really drew you in to the game back then?
People who really got me going on comedy were people I still don’t even really know. I used to watch A&E Evening at the Improv. I was so young that I don’t remember the names honestly. And I’ve been trying to hunt down clips and the people who performed on it. There was this one joke in particular that I remember watching on the show where the guy told this joke I loved so much. The premise of it was about the “circus theme song was originally used for Greek warriors back in the day. Back in the days of the Coliseum. So the whole joke was imagining if today, “Ophesius will fight a Lion in the Coliseum. Ladies and Gentlemen, Ophesius!” Cue the circus theme music. I know it sounds so stupid now, but I remember hearing that joke and just thinking it was so funny. I remember seeing that at a sleep over party and seeing it, I left the party so that I could call my parents to tell them this new joke that I heard. And then called them back an hour later to have them come pick me up because I had a terrible nose bleed.
Hahaha, classic! Now, you’ve been successful at this path you have chosen. Where your parents always on board with these dreams?
Honestly, they’ve just always been supportive. It was just one of those things where I’ve always known what I wanted to do and have always been doing it. So they’ve never had a chance to doubt it because I’ve only been doing it. I think that they just never understand how people make money doing comedy or what people mean, or why we have so many meetings. But I think as far as support, they’ve never faltered because I’ve just always been doing comedy.
What’s been one of the craziest television pitches you’ve gone for? You just felt the timing was right but it just didn’t work out in the end.
Thinking about a joke that I pitched that just didn’t go well is, well, I just don’t have enough time to go over all of those, haha. I feel like comedy in every form is about rejection. So stand-up, writing, pitching, anything is just a constant reminder of rejection. That’s the one thing that I think makes me an interesting person to be in a comedy writing room because I’ve been in such bad situations doing comedy that nothing – no joke I could ever pitch could be worse than bombing on a college campus behind a hotdog eating contest. So I will say, “You guys might not think that’s funny, but I’ve been through so much worse.”
I do however remember when I was working on John Mulaney’s sitcom, Mulaney, I kept pitching an IKEA joke that I was really really behind and they kept on saying no.
Did you get banished from the room for trying to many times at any point?
They actually just tried to ban me from showbiz after repeatedly trying to pitch that same IKEA joke which was something like, “I can handle this IKEA furniture!” And then you hard cut to a couch upside-down put together wrong. I mean, it was and is really stupid and I don’t blame them. But for whatever reason I think I was in a furniture phase where I was just pitching a lot of furniture jokes.
Now, you have some really tasty credits Dan including @midnight, The Office, and everything we’ve mentioned so far. From writing to acting, etc. Are you the type of person that needs to work in all of these avenues to feel fulfilled?
No, I actually just think that everything has worked out that way organically and I’ve just gone with it. I LOVE writing and I love performing. What sort of happened was that I had a bit in my stand-up, my college act from about 10 years ago about being in a long distance relationship. And I ended up recording it as a sketch that was on my first album. And that became a webseries on Crackle. And that was the first time that I just had something from my stand-up develop into an actual series. Then, I had to write it. I had never written anything really until then. And then I found myself just writing a 10 episodes webseries. And from there I got a deal at Sony to write a pilot. And then I started working on the sitcom Whitney. So basically everything just started to evolve from this one stand-up bit. It took me down this whole path of writing. And from writing for TV, it’s lead to writing movies. And my stand-up will bring me back to on-camera appearances. I’ve sort of just kind of gone with it. I really didn’t have a plan. I’m just so into comedy, and funny people, and creating.
The cool thing about writing is that it is so much bigger than stand-up. You’re able to develop an entire show with more characters and more characters leads to more jokes. It’s not just my singular voice and my jokes. Now I get to write for a whole bunch of different people and characters and that’s really exciting and fun.
Do you think that it’s better for you that it has worked out this way?
It’s been a really fun path. And I’ve found that the best thing to do is just focus on stand-up. It’s what I did in the beginning. Especially after doing comedy for so long. I’m 35 now and I’ve been hitting the clubs every single night since I was 18. I had that one focus. I think if I had tried to do all of these different things back then in the beginning, I would have had such a hard time and probably wouldn’t be where I’m at now. It would have been very overwhelming.
Let’s unearth a moment in time from your old Baby Talk live show you used to do if we could?
I used to do that show for several years with Jensen Karp at Meltdown and then we did the JASH series as well. That show was always so much fun! I laughed so much during those shows. We always had a mission, which was for me to interview different comedians to help me become a good father. This really just lead to everyone making fun of me. It was always great. People like Julian McCullough would come on the show and kill, be so funny. And when we taped the show, we had Blake Griffin and that was great because he is just so funny. And probably the funniest moment of that was when I made a joke – here’s the thing, I love Blake Griffin. I love sneakers. I love everything that involves basketball. But I don’t know a lot about the sport of basketball itself. I’m not a huge sports fan. I don’t know much about him except that he’s funny, he’s on the Clippers, and he’s a really cool guy. So I was interviewing him and I had this joke that I said, “Is it weird being an NBA player without kids?” That was my joke. Here’s the thing. I didn’t realize that Blake Griffin had a son named Ford. And everyone knew that except for me. Especially Jensen Karp who was a die-hard Clippers fan. It was amazing. And everyone on the panel made fun of me, John Mulaney and Neal Brennen. They will now make fun of me forever.
Do think there is or should be a limit on comedy?
I don’t think there should be a limit on comedy at all. I think it should be whatever you want to say. That’s the whole point of comedy. I think we are living in a really weird society now where people can quickly take down comedians and get offended because of social media. I really think that you can do whatever you want. Me personally, I don’t have a limit on what I talk about or how I talk about it, I just mostly talk about my life now. That’s my focus. I’m not exploring topics that are so taboo. But I have no problem with anyone talking about anything. That’s the whole point. Once you start putting a limit on comedy, your then living in communist China. However, the only limit to comedy I think is comedy. Right now there could be too much comedy. I think maybe we should sort of find a way to limit the fact that everyone thinks that they can be a comedian because they have 10 views on their YouTube page.
Well, I’m very pumped for your new special on Seeso. Congrats again!
Thanks! I think you are really going to like it. I think it’s uh… good. Haha. You can quote me on that. “Dan Levy says his special is good.”
You just wrote the headline for this interview Dan.
Hahaha. Or “Dan Levy thinks his special ‘Lion’ is not embarrassing.” That’s your headline.
You can watch Dan Levy: Lion on Seeso right here starting November 17th. And if you happen to be in Los Angeles, head over to the Improv for the Dan Levy: Lion premiere party and show featuring Whitney Cummings, Natasha Leggero, Moshe Kasher, and Owen Smith. You can grab tickets here.