Archives

Inside the SCTV writers' room with Eugene Levy

'You just laugh ... we have a really fine time,' said Levy, describing a typical workday with his SCTV colleagues in 1982.

Schitt's Creek actor turned out 'little sketches' during 'normal work hours' at SCTV

For Eugene Levy and his SCTV colleagues, a day at the office in 1983 was just like a normal workday — except for the laughter.

"I don't know how work is done. You go to work at 10 o'clock, 10 to six, it's like normal office hours," Levy told CBC host Bob McLean on Feb. 26, 1982. "And you just laugh ... we do, we just have a great time."

Levy, who was 36 at the time, was among the cast members of SCTV, a sketch-comedy series set at a fictional television network of the same name. Among his castmates were John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short and Dave Thomas. 

More recently, Levy won a 2020 Emmy Award for lead actor in a comedy series for his work in Schitt's Creek, a show created by his son Dan Levy.

He was also nominated for a Golden Globe award in February. 

Eugene Levy poses with his son Dan as they arrive at the Canadian Walk of Fame induction ceremonies in Toronto on June 3, 2006. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Memorable characters

Just in case no one knew Levy's work, he greeted the audience as Bobby Bittman, one of his SCTV characters. As the Globe and Mail would describe him over the years, Bittman was an "obnoxious comedian" and a "sleazy Las Vegas comic."

Eugene Levy talks SCTV in 1982

39 years ago
4:25
The comic actor busts out one of his better-known characters and describes the writing process for the SCTV team. 4:25

"How are ya?" he asked, gesturing with both hands and ending with a braying laugh.

"He's one of my nauseating characters," said Levy. "I'm sorry for doing that. I'm terribly sorry if I offended anybody."

Eugene Levy and John Candy attend Oktoberfest in 1984, dressed as The Shmenge Brothers, a fictional polka group they made famous in skits on SCTV. (K-W Oktoberfest )

Along with Candy, Levy also made up one-half of the accordion-playing polka duo the Shmenge brothers on SCTV.

McLean wondered if a writing session for the show was "wild and woolly" or "really serious."

Levy said it was neither, describing the laughter in the room and the process of working with his colleagues at the Second City, the comedy revue that had spawned the TV series. 

'Fanatic fans'

Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and Joe Flaherty attend an SCTV panel discussion in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Second City in Chicago, Ill. ((Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images))

Levy said the writing process involved everyone writing their "little scenes," followed by a table read and feedback.

"Then you go back and rework it. It's not that bad," he said.

Second City had started the television show "in 1976," said Levy.

"It started as a half-hour local show here in Toronto," he explained. "And after seven shows it got picked up for syndication.

The show had had "no promotion, no publicity," he said, but "fanatic fans" in different cities had boosted its popularity through word of mouth.

Eugene Levy, left, and Daniel Levy from Schitt's Creek accept the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series during the 72nd Emmy Awards telecast on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020 at 8:00 PM EDT/5:00 PM PDT on ABC. This is one of seven Emmy wins for Schitt's Creek tonight. (Invision/Television Academy/The Associated Press)

By 1982, SCTV's Mackenzie brothers, played by Moranis and Thomas, were the breakout stars of the show with a recurring sketch that poked fun at Canadian content regulations. It even spawned a subsequent album. 

"They have done more for Canada than Saturday night hockey," Levy said. "It's phenomenal." 

In 2018 some of the cast reunited for a taping of a forthcoming Netflix special from director Martin Scorsese.

Flaherty, Levy, Martin, O'Hara, Short and Thomas gathered at a Toronto theatre for a conversation moderated by talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

Eugene Levy is seen appearing on CBC's Canada After Dark in 1979. (Canada After Dark/CBC Archives)

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now