Pesach: talking guest lists and seders with Modern Family maker Steve Levitan!
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Pesach: talking guest lists and seders with Modern Family maker Steve Levitan!

Brigit Grant finds out that if anyone knows how to pull an ensemble together that guarantees a good time it's the creator of the hit American comedy series

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Steve and Ty Burrell (Phil) script checking for ‘The Election Day’ episode
Steve and Ty Burrell (Phil) script checking for ‘The Election Day’ episode

“Steve Jobs, physicist Richard Feynman, neuroscientist Sam Harris, Mating in Captivity author, Esther Perel, actress Hedy Lemarr – I thought she would be interesting – and for guest of honour Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

Steve Levitan, creator of the hit American comedy series Modern Family is carefully assembling his fantasy seder guest list and he has grouped the  “deep thinkers.”

“For comedy I have Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman, Mel Brooks and Seth Rogen. I had many more. In fact my first draft of the list was 20 people, but you invite different people for different reasons.”

If anyone knows how to pull an ensemble together that guarantees a good time it is Levitan. As a comedy writer, producer and director he has won multiple awards for Frasier, The Larry Sanders Show, Just Shoot Me and latterly Modern Family, the mockumentary sitcom that follows the life of closet manufacturer Jay Pritchett and his extended family. Now in its tenth season, viewers have enjoyed life to its fullest  with these joyfully dysfunctional, but relatable people that include closet manufacturer Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neil) his Columbian bombshell wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara), daughter, Clare, son-in-law Phil Dunphy, gay son Mitch(Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his husband Cam (Eric Stonestreet).

To know them is to crave their company and though there has never been a Modern Family seder, over time they have spouted Yiddish, attended bar mitzvahs and Nathan Lane appears as flamboyant Jewish gay friend, Pepper Saltzman.

Eric Stonestreet as Cam in cat costume with Steve in the ‘When a Tree Falls’ episode (Photo:Peter “Hopper” Stone / ABC)

“It’s language, behaviour and sayings that comes naturally to all of us,” says Levitan referring to the team of specially chosen diverse team of Modern Family writers (who represent the 21st century social spectrum .

The show has been good for the writers, as it has for the actors who have found a global fan base through their characters.

Estate agent Phil and his children are the group Levitan says are most loosely based on his own family and his daughters Alexandra and Hannah and son Nathaniel quickly realised that their father was hanging on every word they uttered for material.

Watching the kids in the show transform into young adults has taught valuable lessons to real parents dealing with teen dilemmas. Hence the tears when Haley went to college and called to say “I love you”to her parents while wearing the sweatshirt her dad made

A team chat with Julie Bowen (Claire)

“When Christopher Lloyd (co-founder) and I were coming up with the idea for Modern Family, we noticed that two of the biggest shows  influencing  comedy at the time were Seinfeld and 30 Rock,” says Levitan.

“Both were and still are hilarious, but they side away from going with the heart and prefer to go with the laughs. We like heart – so we start with a really good laugh – then go to something that moves you and then end it with another laugh. Then you have had a really full meal.”

This takes us  conveniently back to food, and the fantasy Seder meal to which Steve would love to have invited US actress pal Jami Gertz – “I believe her father was a cantor and she does a wonderful Friday night dinner, comedy writer Norman Lear and Dustin Hoffman.

Steve with props filming at high school prom with Sofia Vergara (Gloria) (Photo: Richard Cartwright/ ABC)

“They are all good friends and Dustin was on my list. He is a lovely guy , very funny, warm and close with his family plus he  has a million great stories about the business. Thinking about it I’d be happy to substitute him for anyone else at the table.”

Mel Brooks stays however – “There are two different kinds of comedy writers, the ones who are funny and fun to be around and those who are funny and not so much fun.”

Mel is the former and evidence suggests Steve Levitan is too. His image of the deep thinkers at the table drinking too much ahead of the manishtana certainly suggest it.

My ‘Modern Family’ with Cam, Mitch and Phil

The next season of Modern Family will be the last – and having visited the set with my own family – I can only imagine what a sad day that will be for the Pritchetts and the Dunphys.  I suggested that they say farewell like a La La Land-style musical when the time comes, but Steve is not without ideas of his own – particularly for new comedies.

“ I have five ideas for new shows that I have been sitting on for a long time,” he says. “During this hiatus (they just finished season 10) I will be getting in to them. Some of them come from little bits of my life and some I just think will be a fun show to make. I am coming at this from many different angles and also hope to encourage new comedy writers. I might start many different projects and see which one grabs me. One thing’s for sure I’ve no interest in doing any shows I’m not passionate about. It has to be something I’d watch.”

We certainly will be.

  • Modern Family is on Sky1, Friday, 8.30pm 

 

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