The success of Dave only proved what Dave Burd always knew about himself

·14 min read

Quarantine was good to rapper-turned-actor Dave Burd, a.k.a Lil Dicky.

His show Dave, on which he stars as a fictionalized version of himself, became FX's most watched comedy of all-time and earned him an Instagram follow from LeBron James and a call from Chris Rock. "It shouldn't make me as satisfied as it does," he admits, before sharing the most important feedback. "My parents have an awareness of the music, but only through the show have I earned their respect as a creative."

The ever-confident Burd, who told EW ahead of season 1 that he had "one of the funniest shows on TV," isn't resting on his laurels, viewing season 2 as a "massive step forward in every sense." While Dave struggles with making his new album (something that is all too real for Burd), he'll encounter guest stars such as Lil Nas X and Kevin Hart playing themselves.

Always the dreamer, Burd knows who he wants next. "Taking it somewhere extreme with Obama would be spectacular," he says of the former president. "I wonder how far he'd go."

Matthias Clamer/FX Dave Burd on 'Dave.'

Ahead of Dave's season 2 premiere (Wednesday on FXX), Burd went really far with EW, talking everything from having a chip on his shoulder as a rapper to feeling like the pressure is off as a TV comedy star.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Have you finished shooting season 2 yet?

DAVE BURD: Yeah, we're finished. I'm editing seven days a week right now, and it's killing my body because I'm sitting everyday. I've never been more physically hurt, but I also haven't done anything physical, so it's weird.

What was filming like this season compared to last? Not just in relation to the safety precautions, but now having experience that you didn't have going into season 1.

The issue when you're asking me to compare, it's not like I've done 10 seasons of television. So, for me, obviously it was so different because of COVID and masks, and it's like a higher serious situation. But in a way it felt like a higher serious situation the first season because I was way more on edge, like, "Am I even doing this the right way?" There was a sense of unawareness the first season - are my dreams going to be everything, or am I not who I thought I was? I feel like to not have that be in my mind was just liberating, so I actually probably had way more fun this season shooting the show, even though it was so not fun in theory because there was no time for funny business on-set; no one is shooting the s---, everyone is just trying to get in and get out and survive.

Considering the show premiered last March right before the world closed down, did you still get to feel how big the show got? I'm sure a lot of it was social media.

I felt it. Still to this day I have no concept of how it impacted my overall fame level, though. I have no idea about that. But like LeBron James followed me on Instagram; I've never felt anything more in my life than a moment like that.

Was it a constant flood of famous people reaching out? At the end of season 1, you said Julia Louis-Dreyfus told [Dave co-creator and former Seinfeld writer] Jeff Schaffer that she was a big fan of the show.

There was a lot of that, and it shouldn't make me as satisfied as it does. But I just idolize these people and nothing feels better than to hear from your idols that they love the thing you're pouring your heart and soul into.

Yeah, the queen of TV comedy complimenting your TV comedy is like LeBron saying you've got a good jump shot.

Chris Rock called me. He reached out just to praise me and tell me that he really loved the show. He didn't ask me for anything, all he wanted to do was to go out of his way and express his appreciation. One of the most legendary comedians of all-time! Honestly, it was things like that that made quarantine for me, being lucky to just be receiving praise throughout the duration of the period. And also, my parents and friends loved it. My parents have an awareness of the music, but they appreciate comedy television, and only through the show have I earned their respect as a creative. That meant a lot. And I have friends who aren't necessarily the biggest Lil Dicky fans but they love the show. So it's not just about famous people hitting me up. Everything I've been doing since I kind of went for it has been building towards this moment.

While season 1 featured cameos by people like YG and Justin Bieber, season 2 is loaded in that regard, whether it's Lil Nas X, Kendall Jenner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Kevin Hart. How much easier was it get to people this year? Like were they the ones begging you to come on this time around?

I think there would have been more of that if it had been like open season and I was out at a party or something, but I didn't have that. I think the difference is last season it was like, "Hey, let me send you guys a few links of my music videos." People took a leap of faith on me season 1. This season, I didn't ever worry about someone being a diva or not coming to set; I always knew that everybody was going to welcome the opportunity.

Byron Cohen/FX Hailey Bieber as herself, Benny Blanco as Benny, Kendall Jenner as herself, Elsie Hewitt as herself, and Dave Burd as Dave.

You've been known as Lil Dicky and that persona for almost a decade, but do you think people can now see that past that and know Dave instead? Or at least a version of you as Dave.

There's no world where someone could not feel like they know more about me when they're seeing 300 minutes of footage of me speaking like this as opposed to rapping. It's just different, even if the character is a more hyperbolized version of me. Simply hearing me talk and my reasoning behind things. I feel like it will even be helpful to my rap career, because I feel like Lil Dicky as a rapper can be abrasive without proper context.

When we talked ahead of season 1, you said you saw a lane for the next great comedy, and you thought you had it. The first season was so well-received critically and by audiences, so do you feel like you're there or are you still working towards it?

Am I there? No, but I feel like pop culture-wise I'm pretty sure I will be after this season. But I couldn't be less satisfied; just my priorities changed. Now I'm so focused on like cinematography - it's like all I care about. If a scene doesn't look good, I'm like, oh my god, what are we going to do? Whereas last year, I cared about it more than maybe a standard comedian would, but it didn't drive the ship like it did this year. So I look at last year and I'm like, "Why do these scenes look like a comedy right now?" Now, I'm like, if this looks like a comedy, we're failing. This should look like a really great naturalistic foreign movie. [Laughs]

You're definitely a student of comedy television, so I feel like you know that second seasons are often the best season...

...I don't know that. Is that true?

That is what it seems like. All of the great ones make a jump in season 2, even if they were already really good. Now knowing that trend and having lived through the experience of making a sophomore season, do you see why that might be the case?

Yeah, you're going to take a leap because all you have is data and footage and past experience and examples to draw from. So there's no world where you can get worse in my opinion. So all you're gonna do is get better, and you're also at the phase where you're not even close to being out of material, and you haven't overstayed your welcome, so I can understand why that is. I hope we don't peak season 2, but I definitely think season 2 is going to be a massive step forward in every sense of the phrase.

For musicians there's always the talk about how you waited your whole life to release the first album and then suddenly you have to make a second one. I'm sure you've felt that second album syndrome as you've spent the last six years working towards your next release. So having dealt with that in music, did you also feel any of that with Dave? Like you spent all this time building to this first season and then it's like, well, now we need 10 more within the next year.

Almost the opposite. Season 1, I've gotta be honest, I would not categorize my experience filming the show as a fun experience. It was high stress and it wasn't something where I woke up whistling, you know what I mean? But this year I kind of was. I felt less like the pressure's on and more like the pressure's off and I can just have fun.

We chatted a lot last year, and each time I would ask you what you learned during the first season? You kept saying it was still too early to know because you weren't done, but by the end you realized that your big lesson was that "my instincts are worth trusting." Is there something in season 2 that maybe you wouldn't have felt the confidence to do in season 1?

Yes, and I would say just being a showrunner. Season 1, Jeff Schaffer was on-set everyday, and then this season the schedules overlapped to the point where he was doing Curb Your Enthusiasm and on-set way less. And I remember when I knew that was in my future, I had the thought of fear. I was like, "Are we going to be f----ed?" Because he's such a quarterback out there. But I learned that I can play quarterback. I got a lot of confidence in that I know I've got all these people that are doing their job, but I know how to manage the situation and get the best out of people.

With Dave's big goal of getting a record deal achieved, what did you want to now explore in season 2?

This season actually has a lot of the artistic journey of my past 5 years, trying to make this album that I'm making in reality. I put my first album out in 2015 and it's 2021, and we're not even talking release dates yet, because it's not done. On the one hand, I'm totally ashamed of that, I don't understand how it's possible. I also think it's more possible when you're spending two years focusing on a television show, but even without a television show it still would have taken me four solid years. And I wanted to show what that's like for my character this season, like there is a lot of pressure. My next album, I do feel a ton of pressure, way more pressure than my next season of TV. And maybe I shouldn't; I just have more of a chip on my shoulder as a rapper at this point. I feel like people see me the way I want to be seen as a comedian, but, as a rapper, I don't think I've proven much of anything yet. I know I'm capable, and I know that because of me focusing on television people might think that I'll never be interested in proving that. So I'm hungry as a rapper.

Byron Cohen/FX Dave Burd on 'Dave.'

How would you describe season 2?

It's more psychological and more emotional - but still totally a comedy. There might be a little more darkness to season 2 than season 1.

You mentioned release dates, and there's a joke related to that in the second episode involving Sept. 11 and I laughed probably harder than I should have. Do you like testing how far you guys can go at times?

I wouldn't say I like testing the boundaries, because if you're really testing them it could be relatively stressful. But I do believe that comedy almost knows no bounds, to an extent. I feel like there's an art of comedy that matters to me, but I would never say or do anything on the show that is not at all in-line with my moral compass in reality. But I believe in the art of the joke. My whole life I've been saying that; that's an art-form in itself and I believe it should be able to happen, and if you start to make comedy really account for sensitivity, you won't make the right kind of comedy.

It feels like the respect for the show really started with the GaTa episode in season 1, so did you take note of how well-received those supporting character spotlights were and make the conscious decision to do more of those?

Definitely. We're focused on the whole cast. I said it last year that the more they're fully-developed characters, the more you'll actually care when anything happens with them. And if you care about what happens with them, usually what happens with them overlaps with what happens with me. You can't have an emotional show when you only have emotions about one character.

We've talked a lot about your progression behind the camera, but as an actor do you feel more comfortable and that you're constantly improving? Obviously the more you do something the better you're going to be at it.

Yeah, I feel like I have improved. Jeff told me that I took a step forward. I'm not acting anything too dramatically different from myself - that's a totally different thing. Having to act like myself on the show is something that comes very naturally to me. I'm sitting there and eating popcorn and thinking about the Sixers and they're like, "We're ready for you," and I go, "Okay!" I never like practice my lines, it's never even a thing. Because I write them, and I think the acting becomes better when you're living in the actual scene, and, luckily, we're able to do a lot of improv on the show.

Since we talked earlier about all the big names showing up this season, who is your dream guest-star?

Taking it somewhere extreme with Obama would be spectacular. [Laughs] I wonder how far he'd go.

You mentioned Jeff being off doing Curb at the same time Dave was shooting, so has the Larry David nugget been dropped by you?

I feel like I said it one time totally as a joke: "And then, like, you know, we just get Larry." And I think [Schaffer] just laughed and I didn't follow-up. Definitely a dream, for sure.

We've got to match up the LDs.

Either get me on Curb or get him on here. One of the two has to happen.

I now can't get the idea of Dave and Leon (J.B. Smoove) together out of my head.

What about me and GaTa with Larry and Leon? That would be fireworks.

Byron Cohen/FX GaTa and Dave Burd.

Dave returns Wednesday with back-to-back episodes on FXX.

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