Lil Dicky (government name: Dave Burd) is a 32-year-old white rapper from the suburbs of Philadelphia. His music, starting with his first viral hit, “Ex-Boyfriend,” in 2013, has hinged on his ability to relate to awkward white middle-class hip-hop fans everywhere. Lil Dicky’s persona, evident by his self-deprecating rap moniker, is that of the nerdy white guy, determinedly out of his element among more credible black MCs. My personal introduction to Lil Dicky’s oeuvre came courtesy of his appearance in this questionable 2016 music video for the Trinidad James single “Just a Lil’ Thick (She Juicy).” In the video, which is supposed to be a lighthearted paean to women in the “175 and up club” — though, like most endeavors of this ilk, it’s mostly just condescending and objectifying — Lil Dicky is the white guy awkwardly bopping around in the background as James and Mystikal rap about the virtues of a full-figured woman. At one point, Lil Dicky sits in a hot tub as two black women feed him chicken; in another scene, he raps between two black women’s ample butt cheeks.
So, given all that history, I doubted Dave, the new FXX comedy show streaming on Hulu and starring Lil Dicky as a semiautobiographical version of himself, would be any good. But I was wrong.
Yes, the show traffics in many dick jokes — in the opening minutes of the first episode, we’re treated to a highly graphic (but quite hilarious) description of Dave’s penis — but it turns out Dave is actually a thoughtful depiction of a vividly rendered group of friends who are all just trying to make their career aspirations come true.
Dave is a “technically unemployed” rapper with recent semiviral fame who lives in LA with his day trader best friend, Mike (Andrew Santino). His childhood buddy, sound engineer Elz (Travis Bennett), gives him beats and offers him studio time, but it’s only when Dave meets an excitable fellow rising rapper named GaTa (played by real-life emerging rapper GaTa), that his career begins to take off.
A show about a white rapper trying to make it big could easily devolve into flat stereotyping, but the writers of Dave have gone out of their way to create something more nuanced and sharp. Each of the main characters moves well beyond their initial archetype. And there’s a core sweetness and unexpected vulnerability in the series — especially among the men — which is rare to see onscreen. It’s also just really fucking funny.
The first and most immediately noticeable thing about Dave is Dave’s speaking voice. Without his rapper bombast — or, to be less generous, his blaccent — his voice is unremarkable, even a little nebbishy with a slight lisp. I mention it because Dave is a talker, a gregarious guy with the kind of neurotic running commentary that’s reminiscent of the work of one Larry David. (That Jeff Schaffer, an executive producer of Curb Your Enthusiasm, co-created Dave with Burd makes a lot of sense.) But though Dave uses phrases like “holy moly” unironically, refers to guns as “weaponry,” and frets about his penis size and back acne, he ultimately longs to be taken seriously as a great rapper.
“I should be categorized with Young Thug and Kanye,” he tells his acerbic graphic designer friend Emma (Christine Ko) in one episode.
“Your rap name is literally a small penis joke,” she claps back.
There’s a core sweetness and unexpected vulnerability in the series — especially among the men — which is rare to see onscreen.
The tension between how Lil Dicky is perceived (just another satirical white boy rapper) and how he wants to be treated is something his kindergarten teacher girlfriend Ally (Taylor Misiak) grapples with as well. When he tweets about getting head or raps about eating ass, she struggles to square that over-the-top persona with the dweeby guy she fell in love with. Their attempts to bridge this gap in the bedroom in the third episode, “Hypospadias,” is hilarious. It’s also worth mentioning how thoughtfully rendered Ally is as a character. She knows nothing about rap — “I’ve heard of them!” she says excitedly when Dave tells her he may have gotten rapper YG to do a verse on his song — but is nonetheless enthusiastic and supportive of his career while never veering into being an utterly unrealistic Cool Girl. In fact, their relationship appears to be shockingly healthy and stable without being predictable or boring. When was the last time a healthy romantic relationship turned out to be the stuff of comedy gold?
It’s the little moments like that — attention to character development and genuine chemistry between the actors — that make the show so instantly compelling. Take the friendship between Elz and Dave: While they clown each other all the time (with quips like “I love you like a sister,”and “I didn’t know you made music for insect, man.”), their friendship feels totally believable as they both try to make their respective career dreams happen. They can challenge each other — “Too urban? What are you, a politician describing black people?” says Elz — while also still supporting one another. When Dave needs a hard beat to perform at a dead fan’s funeral, for example, Elz delivers.
The series is full of rap cameos that don’t feel gimmicky either. YG, Young Thug, Macklemore (in a perfect twist), and Tierra Whack are just a few of the rappers who make appearances, lending believability to the premise of the show. Even if Dave is supposed to be a satirical rapper, it’s clear he respects the art form.
But the most interesting character on Dave is GaTa, an excitable hype man who’s also trying to finesse his way to greater career heights. Tall, lanky, and tattooed with a lip ring, he’s a sweet oddball with his own distinctive vocabulary (“I’m a positive opportunist, bruh”), the kind of guy who doesn’t back down from a potential fight but also does his mother’s box braids. He is also bipolar, a plot point revealed in the standout fifth episode, “Hype Man.” “Sometimes I feel crazy, sometimes I feel lazy,” he explains through tears to Dave, Mike, and Elz in the studio. The moment when GaTa reveals his diagnosis to his friends is beautiful, not just in the way it’s acted but by the way they all react. “I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re in this thing together, man,” says Dave. “I love you, bro.” (Best believe I did cry!)
The show’s perfect mix of unexpected tenderness and absurd laugh-out-loud moments is exactly what makes Dave such a delight to watch right now. Everybody on the show is just trying their best — and, really, that’s all we can hope for. ●