Somebody suck me! Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan talks to Dave Burd, aka Lil Dicky, from FXX’s Dave, the network’s No. 1 comedy, about how true the show is to reality, what Dave is searching for outside of rap, and the origin of the wooden shirt.
This spring, FXX crowned a new King of Comedy, and it’s Lil Dicky.
Yes, the white, Jewish rapper took FX by storm, with the show based on his life becoming the No. 1 comedy on the network, surpassing critical darling Atlanta. While both series have similar premises, involving rappers trying to make it big, Dave is the only one to feature songs about having a small appendage and the avant-garde fashion trend of wooden shirts.
Dave surprises you, in its depth and its hilarity. One minute, Dave Burd (a version of real-life Dave Burd, also known as the rapper Lil Dicky) is having explosive diarrhea in the woods, and the next he’s experiencing the plight of romantic separation (and it doesn’t even have anything to do with the explosive diarrhea). There are layers to the FX series, making it more than a comedy about breaking into the music business. There’s a reason why this show became FX’s No. 1 comedy.
I had the opportunity to chat with Dave Burd about what it was like to surpass the Emmy-winning Donald Glover series, what kind of journey Dave is on as a person, and how “Jail” would be received if it were really a song.
Awards Daily: Have you been surprised by the reception of the show? No. 1 comedy for the network, surpassing Atlanta?
Dave Burd: Yeah, I mean, it’s what I hoped for, to be honest with you. The thing about TV, I’m a fan of television, but even my favorite shows ever, like Breaking Bad, I found out about like three years into it. Even the best shows, you might not hear about them when they come out. I knew it would get good reception eventually, but I’m very happy it happened immediately.
AD: I wonder if people being quarantined helped, too. Everyone was watching TV, and it was so funny and so bingeable.
DB: Yeah. LeBron James might not have been able to have the time to watch it if he were playing right now.
AD: (Laughs) I want to ask you about one of the most memorable scenes of the show I think, when you effectively kill the teenage version of yourself. It’s when I knew what I was watching was special. What kind of journey do you think Dave is on, unrelated to his rise as a rapper?
DB: The character or me?
AD: Oooh. I guess both?
DB: Well, I think in a nutshell, it’s kind of a cliche thing to say, but the pursuit of happiness. What makes someone happy? In my mind, in the character’s mind, it’s maximizing your talent. I always say that in reality, not in the show. Maybe in the show I will say this one day. Life is like a circle. All happiness is satisfaction within that circle. I could be totally wrong, but this is how I’m breaking down my life. Half of my happiness is me fulfilling as much as I can as a creative person, and that half of a circle is probably divided in half by movies and music and comedy. And then the other half of the circle is things like true love, having a family, and your friendships and your relationships. It’s just finding the right balance. I’m not the kind of guy who made The Wire—I feel like they knew exactly where it was going and knew the end right when they made the beginning. I don’t know the end. It’s going to write itself. But I imagine it’s going to be about me trying to be happy.
AD: Yeah. That’s interesting, because I know it’s a version of you, but you seem somewhat happy, even though there are things that happen at the end that are somewhat unhappy.
DB: I am a happy person, but there’s a restlessness in me, an unfulfilled thing. I wonder what will fill it.
AD: That really comes across, too. So I talked to GaTa, and he told me that most everything depicted between him and you is true to life. How much of your relationship with Ally (Taylor Misiak) is based on true life? Or your other relationships on the show?
DB: Ally isn’t based on one particular woman or ex-girlfriend. She’s kind of an amalgam of different experiences I’ve had. For the most part, I tried to hire people that I really liked in real life and encouraged them to infuse a lot of their personality into the role. It doesn’t apply to the Emma character [played by Christine Ko]—she’s very different from that character. I think in the case of Elz, GaTa, Ally, Mike—I try to tell each of them to infuse their own personalities, because I think they’re all very special people. There are little stories and moments from my past. I wasn’t really trying to make an actor be my ex-girlfriend.
AD: That makes perfect sense. I need to ask. Where did the idea of the wooden shirt come from? I died laughing with that.
DB: I’m trying to remember the origin. Oh! We were talking about doing something with the kid, and talking about the kid and Elz bringing the kid to a Gucci store. Somehow someone said something about, “A little Swedish boy with a wooden shirt,” and we all laughed at that. And then when we were talking about the Gucci store, and someone said, “They should sell a wooden shirt.’” And then we didn’t hear back from Gucci Legal in time to do this Gucci store that would sell a wooden shirt.
AD: That’s so great. I was talking to GaTa about how Dave’s friends fulfill his goals in some way. How Elz fulfills creativity, Mike is management, GaTa is your hype man. What does Dave fulfill for them as a friend?
DB: It depends. I think for GaTa, I don’t know if we’ve ever had friends like each other. I really inspire him to be his truest self and not put on a front for anybody and just be who he is. And him for me, he’s a really inspiring person and always makes me feel happy and good and makes me feel like I can conquer the world. And then [Andrew] Santino, I think we treat him the way two guys who are just best friends who might get in a bathtub with as best friends. It’s an unspoken friendship. It can seem like you’re not friends, because you’re making fun of each other the whole time, but you are. I think that applies to Elz, too. The Elz character, our friendship was really rooted in our childhood, people you grow up with. I have friends from Philadelphia that I don’t call or text, but I consider them my Top 10 best friends. You can’t replace the value of growing up with someone.
AD: So much of the series revolves around Dave, but then you also have other episodes that focus on GaTa or Elz. Why was it important for you to shift the focus away from Dave?
DB: I just think the show is at its best when you actually have characters that have depth. If I’m hogging all the limelight, then the other characters aren’t going to get their proper development. And then when there’s an emotional moment that needs to be hit with a guy like GaTa or a guy like Mike or a woman like Ally, then it’s hard if you don’t care about these characters, you don’t know who they are.
AD: I grew to love all of those characters. Ally has such a great moment at the end. I loved that scene. That whole episode.
DB: Yeah, me, too. It might be my favorite episode. Episode 9. Nine and 10.
AD: I wanted to ask you about Episode 10 and how it starts. I think I’m not alone in thinking that the whole episode might be a rap. Did you ever think of doing the whole last episode as a song?
DB: It’s something I thought about. Very briefly, until I realized how difficult it would be to pull off. It’s a 26- or 27-minute song. The problem is it’s not the type of thing I could get a lot of help with. The other episodes, I have writers who can help me with things; the song, I have to do on my own. It’s really hard to do when you’re doing your own thing.
AD: If “Jail” came out as a song, how do you think it would actually be received?
DB: I think some people would think it’s the funniest thing in the world, and others would think it’s very problematic. It would be very polarizing.
AD: (Laughs) Pretty much the way it goes down on the show.
DB: Yeah. I think it’s realistic. I wanted to make a realistic thing. I’m the kind of guy who believes in the art of comedy. Painting is an art. Comedy is an art. One of the principles of comedy is jokes that are about taboo things are allowed to be made. That’s just what I was raised on. Jamie Foxx on LeBron James’s The Shop (HBO show) talked about how he’ll never succumb to political correctness because that’s not what comedy is to him. I respect that and I think that’s how I honor the art form of comedy. Comedy that straddles the line and pushes boundaries.
Dave Season 1 is streaming on FX on Hulu.