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Eugene Levy on Playing the Straight Man in Schitt’s Creek

Schitt’s Creek is a family affair. The Canadian sitcom, which begins its second season Wednesday night on Pop TV, was co-created by comedian Eugene Levy and his son Daniel Levy. His daughter Sarah Levy co-stars. His brother Fred Levy produces. And though she’s not related by blood, Catherine O’Hara, who plays the senior Levy’s wife on the show, is a part of his comedy family: the two have a working relationship dating back 40 years.

The show finds its center in the Rose family, a once-wealthy crew that lost everything save for a town, Schitt’s Creek, which father once bought for a son as a joke. They are developmentally stunted, individually and as a family, by their use of money as a stop-gap for deeper issues. Levy, a Toronto Second City alum best known for his role as an out-of-touch dad in the American Pie movies and the mockumentaries he co-wrote with Christopher Guest, talked to TIME about the family business, the show’s arc over the next season and how his proximity to a warm apple pie changed his life.

TIME: How did you react when your kids told you they wanted to go into show business?

Eugene Levy: When my wife Deb got pregnant, we thought, Do we want to stay in Los Angeles and raise our kids here in the show-business environment or go back to Canada where it’s sane and civilized and every option will be open in front of them? We went back to Toronto. And the big irony: they all went into show business. The tough thing for a parent when your kids are going into the business is to look at them and say, “Do they have what it takes?” They did.

When Dan came to you with the idea for the show, were you nervous about whether he going to be able to hold his own in the big leagues?

It’s the first time he had ever come to me for anything to do with the business, because he really had been trying to make his own mark. For eight years on MTV in Canada, he made no reference to me being his father. So when he came up and [asked], I was tickled. Early into the process, it was hitting me that he’s a very good writer, much more advanced in terms of story writing than I thought. We put a pilot together and next thing you know, we’re going into our third season.

Your character is more of a straight man. Is that any less fun to play than getting to be really wacky?

No! It’s actually more fun, and that was what I set out to do. I looked at all the great shows from Seinfeld to Mary Tyler Moore, Jack Benny in the ‘50s. You surround yourself with funny people and you get to be very reactive, which is what I love doing. But my character was going to be the straight guy who just tries to keep everything going, and I looked forward to that direction for a character instead of putting on the funny glasses.

The first season set up the Rose family as selfish and materialistic, pretty much the opposite of down-to-earth. Should we expect to see personal growth in the second season?

I think there’s personal growth from everybody. The first season, we were dealing with the shock of what happened to the family. Second season, they realize they are going to be there longer than they originally thought. It’s not going to be that easy to get out, but life goes on. You can’t just stay in your motel room, you have to get up and live your life. My favorite part is how this family that really never had a life as a family when they had money is just now learning to be a family. What families normally go through in the very early stages, the Roses are experiencing now with their 30-year-old kids.

Toronto has produced many wonderful comedians. Is there something about Canadian winters that breeds a good sense of humor?

I wish I could put my finger on it. There was a comedy explosion in the early ‘70s in Toronto, a lot of really talented people came together at the same time. Marty Short, I went to school with, so we had been friends; John Candy and Dan Aykroyd; Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin and Gilda Radner. We got a big boost by the fact that Second City was opening a Toronto theater in ‘73, and that was a big stepping stone because it was the best comedy school. When you’re working in Toronto, at least back then, you feel like you’re just going to work and coming home and having dinner. Maybe there’s something in that mentality that somehow makes you focus on what you’re doing.

You did your first American Pie movie almost 30 years into your career. How significantly did it change the course of your career? And do you get tired of people asking about it 15 years later?

No, I don’t, because it was a major turning point, and it almost didn’t happen. When I read the original script, I thought it was a little raunchy. I kept saying, “I wouldn’t go to see this movie, why would I want to be in it?” Finally I went in and had a meeting with [directors] Paul and Chris Weitz and told them my problems with the character, and they said, “What do you want to change?” I said, “I don’t want the guy to be a nudge-nudge, wink-wink friend with his son. I want him to be a square dad, the kind your kids don’t want to be around because they’re too boring.” So we came in and improvised, and then everything just started opening up. It was a huge hit and definitely turned my life around—no question about that.

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Write to Eliza Berman at eliza.berman@time.com