Here’s the thing about Lil Dicky: It’s all a big joke, except for the parts that aren’t, but also sometimes those too.
The 33 year-old rapper born Dave Burd has been grinding away since breaking through in 2013 with his single “Ex-Boyfriend.” But after releasing just one album to date — 2015’s cheekily titled Professional Rapper — he’s now basking in the biggest success of his career. And in keeping with his odd trajectory, it’s courtesy of his semi-autobiographical FXX sitcom Dave.
The refreshingly goofy look at the rise to the middle of the bottom by an ambitious, supremely confident MC with serious sexual hangups due to his, well, Lil Dicky has been a whirlwind ride, ending with Wednesday night’s (April 29) jaw-dropping season finale. No spoilers, but the opening 10 minutes is so bonkers and profane they make Dicky’s 2019 profanity-heavy environmental charity single “Earth” sound like a Kidz Bop bop by comparison.
According to FXX, the show averaged 5 million viewers per episode, making it FX Networks’ most-watched season of a comedy series ever, with high-profile cameos from the likes of Justin Bieber, YG, Benny Blanco, Macklemore, Trippie Redd, Young Thug, Kourtney Kardashian and Gunna, among others. Along the way, it showed Dave getting taken for a feature ride by a more seasoned rapper (YG), failing miserably during his first live performance, sharing his most embarrassing sexual kinks with his girlfriend, getting adult-trolled by his childhood Jewish summer camp friends, acting like a total dork at his first Hollywood party, and evacuating his bowels violently after eating his first-ever bite of carrot.
Those, by the way, are the high points.
It’s a warts-and-all-plus-plus look at a down-deep sweet guy whose on-the-mic confidence belies his absolute terror at most social situations. It all makes for a Curb Your Enthusiasm-level of cringe mixed with sweet emotion that has drawn raves from everyone from Sia to Madonna and turned Burd into a legit sitcom star.
Billboard caught up with Dicky before the Dave finale to talk about pooping your pants, how his parents feel about his new career, and when we’re finally going to hear that second album.
The show is the opposite of what you often think about with rappers: braggadocio, flossing, supreme confidence. Your character’s struggles in the bedroom and with his confidence are super-relatable. Unlike you, Diddy and Jay-Z are always telling you how great they are and never letting on that, for instance, they have a misshapen penis due to surgery as a child. Was that the point?
I think it’s kind of like how I am as a person. I wanted to show people how I am. Maybe that was more of a goal of my music, as a rapper, to be more relatable. I talk about lesser, more mundane, slice-of-life things in the show because the context of the show I was comparing to other comedies, not other rappers. I guess it’s my approach to hip-hop to an extent. It wasn’t really done from a perspective of shaming. … I mean, Jay-Z and Diddy are the best.
Of course, but it’s so different from what you think of when you see rappers on TV and in movies…
I’m aware. That’s the reality, and I lean into that for sure.
A lot of times, artists will say, “Well, the show was inspired by my life, but it’s not really about my life.” It seems like you’re suggesting that it is very much about your life, or hews to actual stories from your life that you’ve adapted for the show. That makes it hard to know if it’s straight autobiographical, a blend, or are the writers just nuts?
It’s not autobiographical, but I’d say it’s semi-autobiographical. There are elements of things that have happened word-for-word, elements that were kind of inspired by something that kind of happened, and things that are definitely made up. It’s a hodgepodge of things. But I would say it’s inspired by the story of my life, but there’s a lot of really honest truths in it too.
Give me an example of one of those story lines that was inspired by true life that might surprise people who think, “There’s no way that really happened…”
All the stuff about my penis is real. I was born and had surgery on my penis, and it was a big thing with me when I was a kid. Going through adulthood and dealing with that sexual insecurity when you’re born and you have a different penis. [Real-life and Dave hype man] GaTa really is bipolar and deals with a lot of that stuff on a daily level and a lot of that story comes from reality.
GaTa is one of the great sitcom sidekicks of all time, and initially he’s such a fully drawn character it seemed not believable that he was actually part of your crew.
Yeah, he’s my hype man. He exists, that’s really him.
He’s so natural in the show, he doesn’t even really seem like he’s acting.
That’s kind of what I wanted to go for. I wanted to hire a cast where people are being themselves as much as possible, because that’s when the acting feels like it almost transcends acting. It’s just people being themselves.
Were there other sitcoms you watched growing up that you looked to for inspiration when you were putting this together?
A little bit. Growing up I was the biggest Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fan. Will Smith really defined what cool was to me, and his career path is a path I aspire to achieve. Curb Your Enthusiasm, obviously a huge impact. I watch a bunch of TV and I say, “I like this from this show and this from this show,” but I think it’s rare to find a show that checks all the boxes this show does, because I wanted it to be so multi-dimensional. It’s not like, “Oh, because Girls is unabashedly being truthful and honest, this show is.” It’s not an instinct to be like Girls, but I do love Girls. I just saw different things I admired as a consumer and thought about what I wanted to tell and it ended up being a combination of these things rather than me trying to make it like, “I want this to be a combination of Atlanta/Curb/Girls/Entourage.” It wasn’t like we tried to do that, but what ended up happening was you have a little bit of all this in one.
Sure, but also I can’t think of a show where the main character talks about his misshapen privates in the pilot and then ends the season with… we won’t spoil it, but the episode doesn’t start out great. There are so many premises even in shock sitcom TV that would have a hard time getting to screen. You’ve already sh– yourself on TV and shared your weirdest sexual kink. Were there any that even you were like, “Nope, too far.”
There were definitely conversations where it was like, “Well, if you’re gonna sh–… I just pissed myself in episode 7. Is it too soon to sh– myself?” Things like that. But no, I try to push the boundaries and I try not to do it just for the sake of doing it. I really believe that sh–ting scene is hilarious. I think we’ve all had to sh–. There’s no shame in making a sh– joke, if it’s coming from a place of truth.
I’m just picturing you in a writing room going, “Well, we pissed last time, is it too soon to sh–?” That in itself is a hilarious premise.
Yeah, it is funny. Those are the kinds of things we have. It needs to be the perfect mixture of not going too far just for the sake of it. I’m not too snobby to make a joke.
The finale opens with a 12-minute rap about something you would not think would be the perfect subject to land the season’s plane with, which is also the first time you actually rap on the show. I don’t even know what my question is here, but what was your intent when you were considering the final episode? How did you want to close the loop on the season’s arc?
First of all, but wasn’t it the perfect opening for the season finale?
I wanted to do something that was really groundbreaking that only I could do in terms of musical mixed with… I wanted to do something this season that was a music video/song driven-esque kind of thing. And I thought: When better to do that than in the season finale? I just wanted it to be epic. I grew up watching season finales, and they meant a lot, and I didn’t want it to be me showing up at the door of my girlfriend and being like, “Give me one more chance!” I love the fact that absolutely no one has any idea what they’re about to see. At the same time, I think they’re gonna watch it and say, “How could it have been anything other than this?”
Did you ever imagine it would end up being the highest-rated sitcom in FXX history? What was your goal?
Yeah, I did. Yes. My goal was to make the biggest show on television. The biggest FX show on television. I knew that it would be good, that to me was a foregone conclusion. The subject matter is too good, I put too much time and energy into it, the people who work on it are too smart, the actors are too funny and good for it not to be bare-minimum good. Especially in the context of television right now. But I think for me to be satisfied, it needed to be incredible. My goal was to make a show where when people talked about it they talked about it like, “Man, this might be the best show on TV right now.” And that’s what’s kind of been happening with this show. Anything short of that would have been a failure. So I’m happy I don’t feel that way.
It’s funny to hear you talk about it with such confidence, because in the show, Dave is not confident — personally, professionally, as a lover. He’s got so many hangups, but it sounds like when it came to the show, you didn’t have any of those hangups.
I think in the show, the rapper is telling everyone he’s the next Kanye West, because he does believe in himself that he’s going to be an iconic rapper.
But he’s super anxious.
But I’m anxious too! Even though I’m saying all that, it’s still like every day you wake up stressing about how you’re going to possibly execute it. Only this weekend did I hand in the season finale on Saturday. Only now am I actually done and I can revel in the actual… the logic of the fact that I actually accomplished it. Even though I believed I could do it, I knew believing it was 1/50th of the battle. Like I said, I knew it would be good. … I knew that I had the capability of making it incredible, and that was the ceiling of it and I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t reached that ceiling. But did I know that I would reach that ceiling? No, because I’d never done it. That was stressful the entire time. I was like, “What are we even doing?” I had never even acted before, I’d never written [a script], I’d never done any of this sh–, so I’m hoping to God that what we’re doing ends up aligning itself with the maximum potential. Thank goodness it did.
There are definitely some intimate moments in the series. How do your folks feel about the show and how open you are on it?
They love it. With rapping, it was hard for them to latch onto the material and connect with it because they’re not big fans of hip-hop. But they are big fans of comedy television, so this is something they can understand and happily talk about with their friends every week. It’s easier for them to wrap their heads around. I think they would love the show even it weren’t my parents, honestly.
How have other rappers responded?
People tell me all the time that they love the show. What makes me the proudest is when I hear it from the top. … Julia Louis-Dreyfus said, “I can’t stop watching this show” — and she’s like the queen of comedy. She reached out to [Dave co-creator] Jeff Schaeffer, who she’s friend with from Seinfeld, and said she can’t stop laughing, that it’s incredible. Moments like that are so satisfying because she’s the queen of comedy. All over, rappers have hit me up, comedians, athletes — it’s the kind of show that I think is very pop-culturally relevant. Madonna tweeted about it!
— Madonna (@Madonna) April 9, 2020
You could never have timed it like this, because we couldn’t have known what would happen, but with everyone locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels like the perfect escape-from-reality show because it’s so silly. Might that be part of its success? That it’s the ridiculous voice people needed right now?
Maybe. In tandem with the fact that people are sitting at home with nothing to watch and there’s only so many shows coming out once a week. I’m a big fan of television, but some of my favorite shows of all time I didn’t find out about until two years after they premiered. … It’s weird how TV works, and I think I was very lucky that no one has anything to do right now but watch TV. I’m getting a built-in audience immediately.
Anything you wanted to do in the first season that you didn’t get to and are hoping to do if it gets picked up for season 2?
There’s a lot of things. There were tons of times in the writer’s room where we’d talk about stories that happened to me in real life and we would say, “unfortunately if we do this now, [it will seem like] your character’s too famous” — stories where in season 2 or 3, we’ll be able to do. I feel like we’ll be less limited.
The girlfriend in the show is very understanding, but also goes through very weird things. Have you had any ex-girlfriends reach out about the way she’s portrayed? Have you gotten any feedback about that character?
The girlfriend on the show isn’t really a direct lift of any particular girlfriend I’ve had, but a combination of my dating experience. There’s no one girl who would be like, “That’s me!” But my ex-girlfriends watch the show and they like it!
So you’ve heard from some of them?
I’m the kind of guy who stays friends with his ex.
I get that about you. Not surprising. Do you think the show has given you more or less cred now that you obviously have no secrets left in terms of what you’re willing to do on camera?
I think the biggest thing it’s done is contextualized Lil Dicky. The comment I see so often is, “Man, I didn’t like Lil Dicky as a rapper, but I love the show.” You can see Lil Dicky as a rapper making these absurd videos and think there’s a shallow line of thinking behind it. But you see the show and see who I really am and you understand Lil Dicky the rapper more. It makes it not so potentially icky if you don’t like it initially.
Now that you’re a TV star, are you going to finally release a new album? Has the show inspired your music?
I haven’t put an album out in five years, so I feel like my fans have been waiting for an album and I feel capable of putting one out. I think I’m capable of putting a great one out. I’m about three-quarters of the way through the album, but it’s just taking forever because I need it to be great. Now that I’m done working on show as of Saturday. I can’t really multi-task like that. I can’t work on music while I’m working on the show. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Now I can just switch my brain and go back to being a rapper and focus on music. Hopefully I’ll have an album out within the next year. Ideally I’d love to have an album out before the year ends. I could finish it next week or in 10 months, but I’m not going to put it out until I feel like it’s great. But I’m almost done.
The show and “Earth” were packed with cameos. Any guests on the album? Did you get any two-fers?
I keep all that for a surprise. There’ll be people on the album for sure, but even that I’m waiting to finish it until I reach out to the features and get exactly what I want.