The rapper Lil Dicky — born Dave Burd — is a product of Cheltenham High School and Camp Kweebec, and is surely the most famous rapper alive to kick his career off by dipping into his long-dormant bar mitzvah savings.
He’s performed all over the world, recorded songs with some of the biggest names in pop music, hit #1 on the rap charts with his debut album and accomplished what he first said that he’d do: establish himself as a star.
So what do you do next if you’re the rapper that has it all?
For Burd, the answer lay outside of rap: His new TV show, “Dave,” a loose, comedic retelling of his rise to fame, began airing on FXX earlier this month (this review will cover the first three episodes).
Burd, playing himself, sets out to become a world-famous rapper. To his friends, family and girlfriend (Taylor Misiak), it’s something between a lark and a career interlude, but to Burd, it’s serious business. And that’s serious in the sense of his intention, not the content of his songs.
Like the real-life Lil Dicky, Burd’s shtick is to combine technically spectacular rapping ability with self-deprecating, humorous lyrics that take aim at his Judaism, his genitals, his whiteness, his sexual and racial anxieties and a whole bunch of other stuff that isn’t typical material for a rap song.
“Dave” owes quite a bit — including its co-creator and executive producer, Jeff Schaffer — to Larry David and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Stop reading if you’ve heard this before: An anxious Jewish man, armed with a fastidious and totally unique sense of social decency, finds that his idea of how people should interact is constantly being violated, and rather than quietly keep it to himself, he is compelled to voice those concerns.
The reference is intentional. For years, Burd’s talked about his admiration for David. His song “Pillow Talking,” an 11-minute recreation of a post-coital conversation that turns into a full-blown argument about God’s will as it regards the existence of aliens, seems almost a Larry David tribute.
Sometimes, it works.
Burd is a genuinely funny actor, with a sense of what makes him ridiculous. Perhaps nothing more succinctly embodies What Makes The Existence Of Dave Burd Funny than him trying to give a handshake to rapper YG in the studio, who is extending his fist for a bump.
Burd, exaggeratedly white and Jewish, constantly runs afoul of the social cues of exaggeratedly black people. That’s it, right there, and there’s a lot to get out of it. “I’m the rapper, isn’t that funny?” he asks at one point, when his black producer (Travis Bennett) is addressed as the talent. Yeah, kinda!
One important difference between “Dave” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” however, is that on the latter, everyone on the show is a seasoned comedian. On “Dave,” this is not the case. The chemistry between Burd and his co-stars is definitely good, but it’s not necessarily … funny all the time. Series regular GaTa, a rapper in his own right, is a notable exception.
You can see the gears turning in Burd’s head as the “Curb”-type situations arise.
He gives a convenience store employee a hard time about the quality of a certain brand of shampoo; he’s cornered by grieving parents to write and perform an original song at their recently passed teenage son’s memorial. The former is just fine, and the latter is too over-the-top to give “Dave” the sense of “this could actually happen” that makes “Curb” work so well. The third episode, exploring why he can be so sexually explicit in his songs but prefers things a little tamer with his girlfriend, is the best example of this.
Burd’s dedication to making himself look absolutely ridiculous at all times is somewhat admirable. In real life, he is a genuine star (he appears on the new Justin Bieber album), and yet he is willing to let that coexist with images of him from “Dave” that you will never be able to shake.
And that gets right to the heart of what makes Lil Dicky interesting. How seriously are you supposed to take the ambitions of someone who, on one hand, tells “The New York Times” that he’s always known that he was “destined for stardom” and, on the other, has billboards of himself across the country where he emerges from his own underwear, the personification of his own penis? Perhaps you’re not even convinced those things exist in opposition to one another.
It’s a moderately funny show. He talks about Philadelphia a lot, and when his parents first appear, they roll up to the Willow Grove Mall. Whether “Dave” is anything more than that remains to be seen.
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