The new comedy Dave, co-created by and starring comic rapper Dave Burd, was renewed for a second season last week — even if there really was never any doubt that it would be. Concluding its first season just a couple weeks ago, the show is FXX’s most watched comedy ever, with 5.32 million+ total viewers to date on FX and Hulu.
Notably, Dave is the first big success story for the recently launched “FX on Hulu” union. Co-created by TV vet Jeff Schaffer, it is one of the most original comedies to come to streaming TV in some time, providing just the kind of aspirational yet offbeat entertainment quarantining-at-home audiences are craving right now. There is already Emmy nomination talk, and it’s deserved.
Based on the life of Lil Dicky (Burd’s hip-hop alter ego), Dave strikes a tone that’s both endearing and funnybone tugging, even as it stays driven by neurotic satire and behind-the-scenes immersion in the music world. Schaffer, best known for his work on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, conjures the same kind of cringey mojo and layered storytelling here, and it works mostly thanks to the appeal of its star, a guy who is out to become — and actually thinks he already is — one of the best rappers of all time. And the thing is, he may not look like what you’d expect, but this white Jewish rapper has the lyrical chops and the ferocity of flow to back up the bravado. We get to see this in full effect a couple of times on the show, but Burd proved it even before he came to television, topping the charts with his first album Professional Rapper (on which he trades rhymes with the likes of Snoop Dogg and T-Pain) and via YouTube, where his two subsequent singles, “Freaky Friday” with Chris Brown and “Earth” (his all-star “We Are the World” anthem about saving the planet complete with Pixar-style animated video and guest stars including Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Halsey, Katy Perry and Kanye West, to name a few) have gone viral.
During a spirited Zoom interview last week, Burd explained how his life as a comedian and his personna as a music artist have melded into something that has the potential to be a TV phenomenon.
IRVINE WEEKLY: How much of Dave is actually true?
DAVE BURD: I can’t really quantify that. When it’s all said and done, I’d say it’s a semi-autobiographical show. Some stuff is exaggerated for the story.
What about the relationships on the show?
The girlfriend character in the show isn’t based off my ex … It’s based off a variety of people that I’ve dated or know. Taylor herself [the actress] is definitely infused into the character.
Was the narrative about your career affecting the relationship true?
I had a girlfriend when I first started rapping and there were inherent challenges because when I started dating her, I wasn’t even rapping. She didn’t sign up to date a rapper. So that was kind of difficult.
And sharing personal stuff in your rhymes could be hard, especially when it’s explicit.
In episode 3, I said what was not happening in the relationship so she was like, ‘what is that about?’ I do have one song called “Molly” that’s about my actual relationship. But I would feel like a monster if I was like, sharing something that was private or sacred to the relationship and being like, “This is what we did last night.”
How did the show come about?
I always wanted to be a comedian growing up. That was my dream. I became a rapper because I thought that was a good way for people to notice that I was funny. It wasn’t that I was like, “Oh my god, I’m such a good rapper.” It was, I can do this to an extent, and this is a really interesting way to differentiate myself in the comedy space, and help me pop a little bit more. Then the rapping just kind of caught up with it to where I became, like in my mind, I feel like I am one of the best rappers in the world. So I’ve become a legitimate rapper to the point where my comedy dreams kinda had to be put off to the side a bit… I had to go on tour and do records, but I always knew I had to come back to the original dream, and I always envisioned myself being in movies or on TV. Becoming a successful rapper was like standup for a comedian, where I was able to have the cache to get every meeting I wanted.
You went about things a little different than most.
They say focus on what you know and my real life is as entertaining as it gets. I have my real hype man Gata on the show. I had no experience making television so I surrounded myself with somebody who added credibility — Jeff Schaffer — as my partner, who is a legend in television. So then I go into meetings and it’s not just a guy saying, ‘I can do this,’ but it’s with a guy next to me, saying, ‘I’ll make sure he does it because I know what I’m doing.’ That makes a compelling package.”
What I love about the show is how it’s satiric and provocative, but it still has a lot of heart. It’s not just some pretentious excuse to shock or be ironic or even decadent in terms of the lifestyles it shows or the celebrity cameos. It’s awkward and even uncomfortable moments are really nuanced and provide insight into the story. Like the episode that focuses on Gata and his bi-polar issues. That was really unexpectedly touching. Also the episode dealing with your childhood and time at summer camp was pretty dark.
My main priority is to make a really funny show but you can only go so far with that. I want it to feel like real life. That’s my main objective: to make the show feel like real life. My favorite comedy is not over the top or forced, but fly on the wall — you’re witnessing life and this guy’s life happens to be really funny. That said, life is filled with all kinds of things that just aren’t funny. The more you can create that depth, the more you care about the characters and the stakes are higher and everything goes hand in hand and it’s a more important piece of art. Same goes for music.
On the show, Lil Dicky struggles to be taken seriously as a musician, even though his material is intentionally funny. Is this your real life struggle?
In reality my rap name is a small penis joke. Yeah a lot of my music is funny. Especially as a white rapper I’m already gonna get, “Hmm should I take this guy seriously?” And then when I’m making dick jokes all the time, it’s probably easy to discredit what I do as not real rap. But then I go on these radio shows and rappers will tell me that they see I’m a real rapper.
The season finale reflects that really well.
Google me on Sway in the Morning. It’s a hip-hop rite of passage to go on his show. I have the two of the most viewed shows on YouTube. That’s where I am at my best, being a rapper’s rapper. A lot of times especially in my career people are like, “Oh this is a joke because you’re making jokes,” but I don’t think that making jokes and being impressive musically are mutually exclusive.
I agree. I wanted to see more of you actually rapping in every episode.
On another note, I hope this isn’t inappropriate, but I gotta ask. Is the penis part of the story inspired by real life? [Dave’s rapper name references his small genitals, but the show also reveals that he was scarred by surgeries for a condition].
It’s 100 percent real! (Burd moves the computer close to his face and smiles). Every word. Everything I said about that is true. But I know it’s funny. It’s a hilarious reality. But I lived my whole life like that. I can’t tell the story of my life without getting into my deep sexual insecurity. I’m a guy who’s had several surgeries on his penis. My whole childhood I wondered would my dick even work right, would I be able to have a girlfrind or even have sex. These things made me the way I am. I felt like I needed to start the whole season with that.
The whole show feels very meta — an overused word, I know — in how it addresses your life and newfound fame, which you are living out offscreen as well. I feel like me asking you about that just now could be a scene on the show next season. You’re welcome to use it! So what about cultural appropriation? It’s such a hot topic but it’s not addressed much until the season finale. Was that intentional?
It wasn’t my master plan. But I knew ideally in season one you’re going to have to touch on that. Any white rapper is going to have those questions, especially a guy making jokes. But the way I understand it is ya know, if you’re doing your best… I feel like I am unequivocally myself at all times, and trying as hard as I can and that is the way you add value to the culture. That being said, we’re all human and I’m sure I have moments… I’m a naturally tone deaf person to an extent who loves jokes and the art of comedy. I know we live in a time right now that’s very sensitive to jokes about race and gender. I just wanted my show to be honest about it and dive into it as opposed to being scared, and I think that’s cool.