Lil Dicky, aka Dave Burd, as Dave
Courtesy Photo: Pamela Littky/FX
Rapper Lil Dicky Talks New TV Show 'Dave' And His Creative Ambitions On- And Off-Screen
The first thing you'll notice about Lil Dicky is his ridiculous name, which, it turns out, is more than an elementary dick joke. The next thing you'll notice about Lil Dicky are his ridiculous lyrics. On his 2015 single, "$ave Dat Money," featuring Fetty Wap and Rich Homie Quan, he raps about his frugal approach to life: "I ain't parkin' that unless the meter green, homie/Hair cut several months in-between, homie/Hit the motherf**kin' lights when I leave, homie."
It's almost easy to overlook Lil Dicky's prowess as a hilarious lyricist and technically skilled rapper. Still, underneath all the incisive punchlines about petty crimes and broken relationships, the rapper flips the script on mainstream rap culture, tackling issues like hypermasculinity ("Classic Male Pregame") and white privilege ("White Dude") in a manner offering both comical relief and sharp social commentary.
"It's hard for people to take being funny seriously, even though I don't think it's mutually exclusive," Lil Dicky tells the Recording Academy. "I think I can be funny and still very musically credible."
After breaking out in 2013 with his viral music video "Ex-Boyfriend," Lil Dicky has since become a bona fide rap star. His 2015 debut album, Professional Rapper, topped the Top Rap Albums and the Comedy Albums charts in the U.S. and featured rap royalty like Snoop Dogg and T-Pain.
Now, Lil Dicky is giving fans an inside look (kinda) into his life on his new FXX TV show, "Dave." Debuted this month, "Dave" tells a fictionalized version of Dave Burd, the man behind Lil Dicky, and his pursuit of his hip-hop dreams. On the show, Lil Dicky, in his neurotic mind, is convinced he's destined to be one of the best rappers of all time, and now he's proving it to the world—one dick joke at a time.
As the show's co-creator, executive producer and lead actor, Burd steps into new artistic roles beyond the mic for the first time ever, which present him with a different set of creative challenges.
"I guess the main challenge is one of ignorance in the sense that… there's no test in our history I can lean on," Burd says. "I'm no longer nervous about doing concerts because I can, in my head, think of all the concerts I've done and know that it's going to go well because I've done this in the past… [With the] TV show, it's my first time doing it… But I think I was able to overcome that by just going with my gut more."
Much like his sardonic songs and witty lyrics, "Dave" also deals with social issues through a sarcastic yet keen perspective some may initially miss. In one episode, Lil Dicky explains his absurd moniker to his friend's bewildered mom: "It's actually a super-intellectual commentary on hypermasculinity." It's a story he's told more than once.
"It's easy to look at a rapper named Lil Dicky—who acts the way I do, the content's the way it is, and his rap name is a small penis joke—and not inherently feel like taking him seriously as a rapper," Burd explains. "But I really think I should be taken very seriously as a rapper. I don't even feel remotely satisfied in terms of accomplishing my rap dream. I can't wait to be taken even more seriously."
The Recording Academy caught up with Lil Dicky to discuss his life as a newfound Hollywood triple threat, his creative challenges behind "Dave" and his future ambitions on- and off-screen.
"Dave" sees you taking on the role of actor, writer and producer, on top of your main gig as a rapper. Which do you consider yourself first: actor, comedian, rapper? Is there a difference?
There's definitely a difference between being a rapper and an actor. But I guess I consider myself to be Dave Burd, who is an actor and a rapper. I consider myself the person that I am first and foremost, and then I guess the other things are various occupations. But I guess I have more occupations now than I did when I was just a rapper, if that makes sense. And I don't think I can prioritize either of them right now, but I think rapper has more of a shelf life than actor.
I just think it will be hard for me to be a relevant rapper when I'm 50. But as an actor I might be like... Will Ferrell is still killing it. Larry David, look at him—he's an older guy. I just think the second half of my life I think will be primarily acting, but that almost makes me want to prioritize rap even more than I ever have, because I know that I only have so many years of being able to be relevant in that space.
"Dave" sees you wearing many hats and expanding your creative roles beyond music. What sorts of creative challenges did you face when you started this project? How did you try to overcome them?
I guess the main challenge is one of ignorance in the sense that… there's no test in our history I can lean on… I'm no longer nervous about doing concerts because I can, in my head, think of all the concerts I've done and know that it's going to go well because I've done this in the past. When I make a music video, I'm like, "Oh, I've done this. I know it's going to end up being good, because I've done it so many times." [With the] TV show, it's my first time doing it.
As much as I believe in myself, I don't have any context. Doing the whole thing with an ignorance of, "Am I even doing the right thing?", was a challenging perspective. But I think I was able to overcome that by just going with my gut more. There's a reason I haven't put out an album in five years, because I can just dwell on an issue and just nitpick and try to correct it over and over again.
And with the TV show, you got to make a decision and move on. It's like I'm almost forced to make decisions in ways that I'm not in music. And going into it, that was a fear because I'm like, "Oh, I like taking my time and being able to really think things through." And with this, sometimes you just got to make a decision, go with your gut and react. And that was daunting initially. But I think by the end, it was almost liberating, because it's like I do have good instincts and I think trusting my instincts is a good thing to do. And I think it's a relief to not be able to dwell on certain things for so long, because then a guy like me can just spin in circles.
"Dave" is a fictionalized version of your life and career. How much of the scenes and scenarios that happen in the show, if anything at all, really happened in your life?
There's lots of truth in it. I couldn't give you a percentage. But I definitely pull from a lot of real-life experiences. And a lot of things you've seen in the show actually did happen. Even some of the things that feel really ridiculous and impossible, some of those things happened in real life. So, it's just kind of a combination.
Your character in the show, Dave, has a hard time convincing people to take his music and art seriously. Did you ever face that yourself as Lil Dicky?
Yeah, for sure, I think even still now, sometimes it's like, "Oh, is he even a real rapper? Or he kind of just like a [musical comedian] 'Weird Al' [Yankovic]?" It's not a big, enormous plight that I have, but there have been times where I'm onstage waiting to do a sound check and I'm sitting there and the sound guy is like, "So when is the rapper going to get here?" And I'm just like, "I'm here. Literally, I'm waiting." I think a lot of times it surprises people. It's hard for people to take being funny seriously, even though I don't think it's mutually exclusive. I think I can be funny and still very musically credible.
It's easy to look at a rapper named Lil Dicky—who acts the way I do, the content's the way it is, and his rap name is a small penis joke—and not inherently feel like taking him seriously as a rapper. But I really think I should be taken very seriously as a rapper. I don't even feel remotely satisfied in terms of accomplishing my rap dream. I can't wait to be taken even more seriously.
Who are some of your inspirations as a rapper and as an actor?
As a rapper, the first two names that are coming to my head are Kanye [West] and Drake. And as an actor, I think about Larry David, I think about guys like Seth Rogen. I don't really think about [Leonardo DiCaprio], even though I know he's the best actor of my generation. I don't think about him as an inspiration to me. I think about comedians when I think about actors.
That being said, I want to be a great actor. I want people, when they watch my show, to be like, "Oh, he's a really good actor, too." I take pride in the acting, but I think inspirationally, I was always inspired by comedians.
Will Smith is the ultimate because I think he entered as a funny rapper and then transitioned to an iconic TV show and then became, honestly, one of the best and most revered movie stars of his time. He's a great model.
The show depicts your character Dave struggling with splitting the Lil Dicky persona and Dave, the actual person. In a previous interview, you've also mentioned that you're "sick of being called Lil Dicky" when you meet someone. That seems to be a big theme on the show and in your real life.
Yeah, I think I face it every day. Especially before the show, I put so much into my music career to the point where I can become isolated and not do X, Y, and Z. I had a girlfriend, but… Lil Dicky became more of my priority to my own relationship. I guess I'm just a hyper-ambitious person. When people meet me on the street, people say, "Man, you're really Lil Dicky? Rap for me." It's like, "Yes, I am a rapper, but I'm also a human being just going about my life." I prefer people [taking] that into account than think that I'm just the guy they see in a music video popping a bottle of champagne or whatever I'm doing.
I wouldn't say in real life it's constantly a battle of Lil Dicky versus Dave. For me, it's always a battle of being a prisoner of my own ambition, because I feel like it requires every ounce of my energy to achieve what I feel capable of achieving. But I know that there's more in life than just achieving X, Y, and Z creatively.
I feel like if life is a circle and satisfaction's a circle, half of that circle is creative endeavors, and a half probably divided for me in two halves between music and comedy. And then there's still a whole other half of life that I think is equally as important to me, which is falling in love and having a family and all your relationships and friendships. I just don't want to neglect that other half forever.
I'm sure a lot of that is going to change now with this new level of fame via "Dave."
I don't know. I've been stuck inside ever since the show's come out, so I haven't really been able to feel that. But already, for whatever reason, I get stopped and noticed more in public than I really probably should. I get stopped at such a ridiculously high rate, even before the show, that I'm kind of used to being stopped. There was like one week of traveling I did while the show was out, and I was surprised by how many people in just one week had come up to me. It wasn't like, "Hey, man. Love the music." It was like, "Hey, man. Love the show."
I think what the show does, is it contextualizes Lil Dicky, and I think people love Lil Dicky because they relate to him. I think that's why people come up to me more, because if they saw Diddy in an airport, they'd probably be scared to go talk to him because he's so larger-than-life and I'm so not. I think the show just amplifies that relatability, because instead of me rapping all those things, it's just me being myself on camera. I've always, in my head, thought that I'm creating a life that will be as impacted by fame as possible, unfortunately. But time will tell.
"Dave" is now part of a long history of cultural crossovers between the hip-hop and comedy worlds. Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA has acted and appeared in several comedies. Comedians Aziz Ansari and Dave Chappelle are both huge hip-hop fans. Why do you think there's so much crossover between hip-hop and comedy?
I don't know that answer. They're both entertaining, and I think they both give people an escape when they experience them. I think people love to laugh and be distracted from their day and be happy and laughing. I know when I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to listen to Kanye talk about himself and his life and that escape and just living through another artist vicariously. I think like all art, people can relate to it and escape their own reality and enjoy something different. I don't really have a good answer for that, but it is interesting. I think both are just very cool.
I think one of the things that seems attractive for both industries, perhaps, is the concept of storytelling within each of those individual worlds, whereas a comedian, you can build a long, detailed narrative in your standup sets in the same way you can build worlds in a hip-hop album. In the same vein, hip-hop artists and comedians share their personal lives and vulnerabilities quite openly in their individual art.
That's the answer. I'm going to use that.
You want to steal my answer?
Yeah, what you said.
Have you ever thought about making "Dave," the movie?
Very roughly, but I got to think about making "Dave" [the TV show] season two first. I don't know the future, in terms of what I'll want to do or not want to do. But knowing how all-encompassing and time-consuming and, like, every detail matters so much to me, I don't know how I can be like [FX TV show] "It's Always Sunny [In Philadelphia]," where I'm on for 13 years. I just feel like I won't have a life if I do that. I've never thought about it like, "Oh, this is going to be a 13-season show." I think about it a little differently. But I don't know the answer to that. I have thought about the movie. But it's like, why don't I see where I'm at after, like, four seasons and see what needs to be resolved?
Are you enjoying this new experience, this new creative challenge?
Oh, absolutely. I've always, first and foremost, wanted to be a comedian. I believed in myself as a comedian. That kind of is what drove me to become a rapper. And as much as I love rap, and I've always loved hip-hop, it wasn't even necessarily something I saw coming to the extent that I always saw this coming. So, it's very validating just to have a different outlet. I've been working on an album for like four-and-a-half years; you get a little burned out by it.
We finished editing [the show] last week and now it's the first week where I'm not editing. So, I can now work on my album again, and now I'm excited to get back into music. Where before the show, nine months ago, I was ready for a break from the music. I think having both of these things is a very powerful thing for me, because like anything, you do it too much, you get a little bit burned out and it's not good to feel sick of doing something when you're trying to be funny and creative.
Do you approach your music and the show in completely different creative mindsets? Or is there any artistic overlap?
I would say the common theme is, I call it "no stone unturned." I'm very much a no-stone-unturned kind of guy. Even if there's a moment in a scene where the take is perfect, I'll still look at every other take, just to make sure there's not one that's maybe slightly better. I really do exhaust every option, so that way I have the internal peace of mind that this moment in this piece of art cannot be better.
I think I do that exact same thing in music and everything. It's very nitpicky and hyper-neurotic and exhausting. But for me, it yields the ultimate peace of mind that I know that this could not have been better. Once I do that and I have that feeling, then I'm OK with the results. But it's like, just make sure that you don't leave anything on the table.
Do you foresee yourself continuing to work in film and TV as an actor as well as behind the scenes as a writer and producer?
I think I'm just getting started, but yes. Right now, I think I have so much on my plate with just my music career and my TV show. But I think when it's all said and done, yes, I'll try to get my hand as a producer or a writer, a production house—all those types of things. I think I will have a very active presence in the comedy and film space for the rest of my life.