Co-created by Dave Burd and Jeff Schaffer, and executive produced by Kevin Hart and Scooter Braun, the FXX comedy series Dave, which is also available to stream at FX on Hulu, follows Dave (Burd, aka Lil Dicky, playing a semi-fictionalized version of himself), a neurotic man in his late 20s who’s convinced that he’ll be one of the best rappers of all time. While his own confidence is strong, he still has to convince the rest of the world, along with his closest friends, that he can make it happen.
During this interview with Collider, Burd and Schaffer talked about how this TV series came to be, having an unending belief in yourself, learning along the way of the show’s first season, what makes Dave similar to Larry David, how accurate much of the series really is, an unfortunate accident he had on set, and how much further down the road they’ve talked about the storytelling.
Collider: How did this come about? Had you been thinking about trying to do something like this?
DAVE BURD: Yeah, my whole life, I wanted to be a comedian, since I was a little boy. My favorite version of comedy is on screen, TV shows or movies. So, I always knew, if that’s what you want to be, then you’re gonna have to make something like that, at some point. When it was time to figure out what that show should be about, they say, write what you know, and I happen to live a very like entertaining life. I’m actually a rapper. So, it just felt like, why wouldn’t I make the show about what my actual life is?
It’s one thing to say that you want to do this, but it’s a whole other thing to actually make it happen.
JEFF SCHAFFER: It’s a love story in three parts. First we met, and then we met FX, and we had the baby, which is the show. From my end, one of our producers, Marty Bowen, said, “Hey, you’ve gotta meet Dave Burd. You gotta meet Lil Dicky.” I was like, “All right, I’ll have the meeting.” So, I went to (executive producer) Scooter Braun’s house and I was talking to Dave, and he was so funny. He had so much of what appeals to me in comedy, which is that there’s a lot of Larry David in this guy. Forget him being a rapper, his interactions and the stories that he was telling, if he was an accountant, I would go, “This is really funny. I really like this.” At the same time, he telling me, with a straight face, that he’s gonna be this huge entertainer. Now, mind you, he already is a huge rapper, but he was like, “No, I’m gonna be one of the greatest entertainers of all time.” I said, “Okay, I love this confidence. You’ve done stuff, so you have a leg to stand on. A small leg, but it’s still a leg. He’s not falling over.” And while he was talking, I realized that he had that same confidence six years ago, before he’d ever done anything, and that’s crazy. That’s funny. He’s this rap Don Quixote. He’s just gonna do it, and nobody could possible believe it. I thought that was a really funny comedic engine for a show. So, we just started talking, and he had all of these stories. It’s the role he’s been preparing his whole life for, and he’s had such a crazy life. It became indisputable that this would be a super funny show, so we just went out and pitched it.
BURD: As much as I said, “I wanna be one of the best comedians of all time,” I also have no idea what I’m doing. I had no idea how to actually execute that. He’s the Bill Belichick to my Tom Brady. I needed someone who actually knows what to do, but it’s also hard for me to believe in people. The fact that he’s been a big part of the best comedies, ever, allowed me to trust the process.
Dave, where does your determination come from?
BURD: My gut. You definitely have to have that kind of determination. No entertainer is gonna succeed unless they actually believe it because it takes a lot of energy. And I think I’m a logical, rational person and I really understand the facts at hand, and I just knew that I was capable. I don’t mean this arrogantly, but I think it’s hilarious that I have the talent I have. I never did anything talent-driven, growing up. I was just a normal kid. Basketball was my biggest strength, growing up. It’s funny to me that I have the ability to be a multi-platinum rapper and make a really great TV show. I saw that I have the ability to do X, Y and Z, and other people don’t have that ability, so I just ran with it.
SCHAFFER: If you say it enough times, people believe it, is what’s actually at the heart of the show. He can say it. The character in the show may say it, a million times, but I don’t think anyone’s gonna believe it. That’s at the heart of the show. You’re like, “Is he right?” That’s what I thought was so interesting.
BURD: The thing is, I went back and listened to my old music. Back then, I felt the exact same way, as I do now, about being a rapper, and my old music so bad to me. So, I thought, “Am I delirious?” But back then, in my head, I think I accounted for the evolution. I was doing all of this stuff, for the first time, at age like 22/23, so I knew I was gonna get better and better at it. I think I just accounted for the fact that, the more you do something, the better you’ll get.
Are you also very open to learning what you didn’t know?
BURD: Yeah, I’m always like open to growing and getting better. As much as I love Season 1 of this show, I’m gonna look back, after I do five seasons, and be like, “Wow, look at how far this has come from Season 1,” the same way with making music. When I listen to my music now, I’m like, “Wow, this is so much better.”
SCHAFFER: As someone who’s done a lot of television, I got a front-row seat to see someone who had not done a lot of television and what he was learning. For instance, there’s an episode in the season where Dave goes back to Philly and he’s at his parents’ house, and his parents, in real life, make something called Company Chicken. Company Chicken is real-life Dave’s favorite meal. When company comes, they make Company Chicken, and Dave loves Company Chicken so much, the crew got the recipe from his mom and made the Company Chicken. So, we were doing a dinner scene, that’s supposed to be in Philly, and he’s gonna have Company Chicken. He was so excited to have Company Chicken. I was like, “Dave, this is gonna be a six-hour scene, so you’ve gotta pace yourself with the chicken.” We were in between takes and he was chowing down on the Company Chicken. We got a few hours in, and we had to do his close-up, and he was looking at this chicken like it was gonna kill him. I was like, “Dave, remember how you love the chicken? You’ve gotta eat the chicken.”
BURD: The best part of the story is that I literally shit my pants. I actually pooped myself. I had to tell wardrobe that I needed a new pair of underwear because I ate myself full, to the point where I actually pooped.
SCHAFFER: And that’s some of the learning curve that a non-TV actor learns in Season 1.
BURD: It wasn’t a lot of poop.
Dave, was it the technical stuff then, that you felt you had to pick up, on the fly?
BURD: Yeah. I had a great DP, and I showed him all of my favorite movies. I have no idea why certain things look a certain way, but I’m like, “I want this, and I want that.” The problem is that I’m so hands-on and opinionated about every single facet, that it drives everyone nuts, to a degree. I think they love me, deep down, but I’m really holding people accountable. If I don’t like the character’s shoes, I’ll say so. One thing I had to do was let go, a little bit. I can’t micro-manage every single thing and star in the show, all at once.
SCHAFFER: In the show and in real life, he’s a no stone unturned kind of guy.
BURD: I’m one of the founders of the no stone unturned method.
SCHAFFER: His headstone will literally say, “Last stone unturned.” I kept telling him, “You can’t be in charge of everything. You’re gonna have to get highly respected people and let them do their jobs.” But I will say, the nice thing is, when it comes to the tone of the show, he had a vision for what he wanted, and that’s great. Much like Larry David, his character is purely him. You’re never worried, as a showrunner, that there’s a false move. With Larry, there’s no false moves. It’s his move. It’s the same with Dave. I wasn’t worried, ever, that it doesn’t seem like him because we’re doing his life, from five years ago. Yes, we’re augmenting and changing stuff, but his character is pure him, and that makes things remarkably easy. And also, when the center of it knows what it is, everything else around it can just fall into place.
Dave, when you listen to Jeff compare you to Larry David, how does that feel?
BURD: I think to myself, “You’re on the right path. That’s awesome!” But in my heart, I’ve always felt like Larry David. I watched Curb Your Enthusiasm and was like, “I love this guy.” And then, people would say to me, “You’re kinda like him.” The only reason I went for things, in the first place, is because I believed I could be Larry David. I don’t wanna sound arrogant, but it’s what I’m striving for, so I’m like, “You’re goddamn right!” It’s awesome. There was a phase of my life where I was playing basketball with Kanye West, three times a week, and at that phase in my life, I was like, “You’re doing exactly what you should be doing in life. This is your childhood hero, and you’re playing basketball with him and hanging out with him.” I feel like I’m doing exactly what I should be doing.
What sort of fictionalizations have you done, with this show?
SCHAFFER: We can talk about what the changes are, but I think the most amazing thing about this show is the changes that weren’t made. When you watch this show, episode by episode, you’re gonna see things where you’re like, “I can’t believe he’s really sharing that.” The most amazing thing is the actual truth that you’re seeing in the show. There’s nothing braver than that vulnerability. One of the coolest things about the show is how actually accurate some of it is.
BURD: There are tons of micro-moments that didn’t happen in this exact same way, at the exact same time, that perfectly fits into a 28-minute episode. GaTa is my real friend. I didn’t invent GaTa. GaTa is not a character that I created. GaTa is GaTa, and I just let him be him and told his story through mine, the way we are together, in real life.
In this show, you have to spend a lot of time explaining who you are to people. Do you find yourself doing that a lot, in real life?
BURD: Oh, yeah. I can’t even tell you how many times, in the beginning of my career, I’d be on stage for soundcheck, holding the mic, and the sound guy would be like, “When is Lil Dicky, the rapper, gonna get here.” And I’d be like, “I’m here. I’m waiting for you.” Because a lot of my ambitions are so unbelievably lofty, they just sound crazy.
SCHAFFER: That’s true. That’s accurate. That’s the show.
BURD: It is crazy, but I don’t know.
SCHAFFER: Imagine that you’re his girlfriend, and she’s like, “I know you think you’re gonna be this huge rapper, but I’ve never heard you rap.” That’s what this season of the show is. Everyone wants to believe him, but it just doesn’t seem likely. It doesn’t seem like all of those crazy things he’s spouting are really gonna happen. That’s the interesting thing about the show.
BURD: It’s hard to be like, “Hey, I’m destined to be this great comedian,” when everything I’ve put out before this has rhymed. I’d never had to make a scene where the dialogue didn’t rhyme. It’s a totally new medium. But FX really trusted me and took a leap of faith, and I think it’s paid off.
How much further down the road have you thought about how you’d like to continue telling this story?
BURD: I still have a lot of notes and a lot of things that we didn’t get to in Season 1.
SCHAFFER: When we were talking about the show, Dave has this book of stories that I went through and said, “That’s not Season 1. That’s Season 2 or 3. Maybe that’s the end of Season 1.”
BURD: I couldn’t play basketball with Kanye in Season 1. You’ve gotta grow towards that.
SCHAFFER: His life is way ahead of the show. The show is gonna catch up to his life. So, in that sense, we did a big divvying up into different bucket. As the show catches up to Dave’s real life, there are so many stories that we wouldn’t ever have done this season because he wasn’t at the appropriate level of fame.
Dave airs on Wednesday nights on FXX, and is available to stream at FX on Hulu.