Dan Levy is a contemporary renaissance comedian– if there is such a thing. With the ability to seamlessly transition from stand-up stage (including his own half-hour Comedy Central special), to TV hosting duties to Web series production and acting to writing for network television, the 30-year-old has already had an enviable career. But, really, the guy who recently snagged Young Hollywood’s Comedian of the Year Award is only starting. This week, Comedy Central releases his first album, Congrats On Your Success!— a largely conversational, story-heavy joke fest. Accessible and yet with blue accents throughout, the album competently embodies Levy’s versatile humor. We recently chatted with Levy about his own Success, and a lot more. Check it out below.
I have to ask, how did you manage being a full-time student in college and performing a whole lot of stand-up at the same time? That seems like kind of an inhuman thing to do.
It was a little bit insane, but I didn’t start touring until my senior year, so most of the time I was just literally walking across the street from my dorm to the comedy club. No big deal. And then I would just perform. We would just perform right there. They had shows Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then I’d go to Cambridge, the Comedy Studio, and the smaller rooms, do those during the week. It was pretty easy. In college – I don’t know about you, but I didn’t do so much work in college – I would spend less time binge drinking, more time doing comedy. That’s probably what I would say. Comedy cut into my binge drinking time more than anything.
And then senior year I left and went to the NACA [National Association for Campus Activities] Conference and I would just have my parents come and do a lot of east coast shows. I’d drive from Boston to New Hampshire and Maine. I graduated a semester early so I actually did three NACA Conferences my senior year, so I actually ended up having a little mini-tour booked before I graduated.
Oh, that’s cool.
It worked out quite nicely. It was not planned.
The best things never are. Boston is like the perfect place to drink a lot and be young and do comedy – I went to college up there too so I’m right there with you.
Where’d you go?
Oh, nice. Heard of it!
Comedy Studio, right on Mass. Ave., definitely been by there.
Yeah, that’s a great place to start. It’s just one of those great comedy cities. Great comedians, great rooms, great audiences, real people laughing.
On the album you talk about your move to Los Angeles, but as you say, you were historically based on the East Coast. I’m curious about what drove your decision to move out to LA rather than New York, where there’s also a massive comedy scene.
I spent like a year or nine months in New York in college – I spent a semester in New York City. I lived there for a summer starting in May with roommates in this terrible NYU living room. I actually lived in New York for kind of a long period of time. And I love New York. But really, the reason I went to LA is because of all of my college friends, and honestly, all of my comedy friends in Boston all moved to LA. So that’s probably the main reason I decided to go. All of the Emerson [College] crowd, we all ended up there.
Are you enjoying the scene?
Yeah. I mean, I’ve been here now for eight years, I think. I’m a big fan of Los Angeles.
Do you miss anything about the East Coast, comedy-wise?
I guess I just miss the amount of shows you can do per night. LA is not really a city where you’re setting up four shows a night. It’s like two or three if you’re lucky, and then you have to drive a lot. But I like LA, I like the weather, the people, all the liars.
|Dan Levy – Justin Timberlake|
So I listened to your album yesterday and today, and really dug it, and the tracks that really stick out as being particularly memorable to me are the opening about how much your phone sucks, and then the closing is more of a long-form story, where you get into this discussion of your Canadian doppelganger who rags on Kristen Stewart [Bella, from Twilight]. I’m just sort of curious, did he ever reach out to you after you sent him a message?
No! And I’ve reached out to him a few times! I thought that Kristen Stewart thing was the funniest thing that’s ever happened to me. So I kept on triggering him and he did not respond. I don’t know what he’s got against Levy. I don’t know what this Levy beef is. We’re gonna have to squash it.
I hope he gets the hint at some point.
I know! Like, come on, dude! And even someone the other day – the reason I’m really excited about this album coming out is because probably at least twice a month I get a tweet that’s like, “Whoa, I just found out who your dad is, that’s so awesome!” And I’m like “Oh God.” His dad is Eugene Levy.
I was just going to ask if you still got hate mail about Twilight, but I guess that answers that.
No, that kind of died. Basically what ended up happening was that it was in the Canadian news, and it got picked up by Perez Hilton, and that’s when it really blew up. But that was only for like two days.
Well, it’s quite a thing to have happen. And it’s perfect in that respect, it’s a perfect way to end a show and the album. Like I said, I enjoyed the album, it was really well-paced and controlled. And one thing I really liked about it was how much it was driven by personal stories. That seems harder to do for a lot of people than critiquing aspects of society. Do you ever feel the urge to move beyond the personally-driven comedy and do more observational work?
I think that would be like the Radio Shack bit I do. [listen below] Any sort of observational comedy comes out like a personal story. I do love it. I just find I connect the most when it relates to me. The funniest thing to me about the phone was that it was really was changing to “hoops.” [Levy’s bit centers around his cell’s T9 texting function, which would force the word “hoops?” any time he pressed “h.”] Everything I say is true. It was just so ridiculous for me, so it was easier to make fun of the stuff coming out of my life. I definitely could see myself kind of going in that direction. But now my personal life is more exciting. I got married, so I can see myself doing more with that than just “What’s wrong with the DV-R?!”
To switch gears a little bit, you worked on a show with Chelsea Handler about the cutthroat Hollywood scene this past spring. Did any of those stories resonate with personal experience?
That was just straight, crazy reality. Stand-up’s always been my engine, and then I began writing and producing. So those are three different things that I’m always doing. This year I’m writing on Whitney Cummings’ show, on NBC, and I’m also executive producing a show for VH1. While also doing stand-up.
Yeah, so that’s kind of – of course, writing for Whitney, it’s kind of like personal stories going in. But the reality show is just exactly what’s going on.
Having worked in a variety of forms from making web series to writing for TV shows to producing to doing stand-up, is there any form of comedy that you find most personally fulfilling?
I would say most personally fulfilling is stand-up because there’s no notes to process, there’s no one who has to say anything. Stand-up’s immediate and there’s no one to talk to about it – where writing TV shows is really collaborative and also great. It’s kind of more freeing to be able to go onstage and just say whatever I want, and not have to worry about anything else. And, also, getting up and being able to do it whenever is also awesome too.
It seems like there’s definitely more freedom in that.
It’s freedom and knowing that, “Hey, I can just go to Cincinnati and perform at Go Bananas” or something. You can go and have a good weekend and not have to worry about rewriting drafts and emailing and PDFs and all that crazy shit. Stand-up it’s like, I’m gonna go work that out onstage. That’s really fun.
Given that you’ve done all of this and you still have a strong foothold in stand-up, are there other forms of comedy or performance that you’d like to try but haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?
I like everything I’m doing. I plan on doing an hour special in the next year, that’s something I want to do. As far as a different platform, I guess a funny movie. I haven’t really worked in the movie industry at all, the comedy movie industry. I think that would be something that I could see myself doing. Although I do love television. The thing about TV, especially working with Whitney right now, is it’s so immediate. It’s a multi-cam sitcom, so it’s kind of like the stand-up of show business. You basically get there, you write it, there’s a table reading, you change the jokes, and then on tape night, you change the jokes – it’s all based on the audience reaction, which is awesome. I really like that. It’s a very easy transition from stand-up, which is why TV can be so good.
Another project of yours that I really enjoy, as a child of the 90s, is the Laugh Track Mash Ups. (video below)
Thank you so much! I read a bunch of reviews that were like, “The acting in this is kinda bad.” It was like, “Yeah, that was the point.” On top of me being a bad actor, that was actually the point of those things. That was actually one of my favorite projects, but it kind of got – I don’t know, their place on the Comedy Central website is, like, all over the place, really hard to find, so no one ever really saw it. But one of the things we did was we hired the guy from Dinosaurs to make those puppets. But the best thing in the world is that on the Whitney show, there is a writer who actually wrote “Not the mama!”, Rob Ulin – huge, big time writer who worked on Roseanne, and is an amazing guy. And one day he was just like, “Oh yeah, I pitched ‘Not the mama!’” And everyone who was like 30 and under basically lost their fucking minds.
How do you not retire, after you come up with “Not the mama!”?
You can’t top that. Ever.
You can’t top that. And that’s all I’m trying to do, Carrie, I’m just trying to think of my “Not the mama!”
That’s a great metaphor for a life goal.
It really is. I don’t think “Whateva, whateva,” is it, so I gotta keep pressing on.
That project emerged at a time when there was such a huge 90s nostalgia moment happening with Nickelodeon rebroadcasting all those old shows and twentysomethings throwing 90s-themed parties. How did this series idea come about for you?
I think it was just kind of – we were just thinking it would be super funny because everyone in the web series world was doing something like the single camera stuff, so we thought it would be funny if we did a multi-cam web series. It made no sense to do that. And it would be funnier if it was really bad sitcoms from the nineties. Like me as the butler, me with Dinosaurs, all those stupid things. We just decided to do it because it was so ridiculous, and it just coincided with a time where everything was so nineties. So we thought, “Okay, this is basically going to be an Internet sensation.” And then no one saw it. But it’s all on the DVD, so that’s gonna be fun.
And that comes with the CD, yeah?
Awesome. So, I have one final question for you. Three years ago, Punchline Magazine, which is what Laughspin was first, interviewed you, and you said that in one year, so in 2009, you would be a multi-multi-millionaire due to the success of your two-minute talk show. So were you right about that?
Actually, it was pretty crazy. I was wrong, because I’m actually a billionaire due to the talk show.
That’s wonderful. So, where will you be in 2012, then?
In 2012 I’ll probably be sitting on a trillion.
Can you bail out the economy?
Yeah, everyone will be homeless, and the world will be on fire, but I will be fucking chilling.
Awesome, you’re going to be the most popular person on the planet.
Yes, I’ll be the Scrooge McDuck of 2012.
Swimming in gold coins?
For more info on Dan Levy, check out danlevyshow.com. And be sure to snag his new album, Congrats On Your Successs!.