By Derek Lawrence
March 03, 2020 at 11:06 AM EST
Ray Mickshaw/FX

DAVE (TV Show)

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“Don’t bite it yet.”

Dave co-creator Jeff Schaffer’s instructions to his star and fellow co-creator are too late, as Dave Burd already has a piece of paper in his mouth. He’s actually taken so many bites that he needs some water, and a new sheet. The duo are currently filming a scene for their new FXX comedy (premiering March 4) in which aspiring rapper Dave (Burd) is so offended by a record contract offer that he literally chews it up and spits it out. On a show partly based on the life and rise of Burd, better known as Lil Dicky, it’s not far off from reality.

“I remember being in meetings five years ago and telling the heads of record labels that I really believe I’m the next Kanye,” Burd tells EW. And Schaffer recalls that same confidence being on display during their initial conversations. “As I started to talk to Dave, he’s telling me how he’s going to be the greatest entertainer of all time,” the Curb Your Enthusiasm producer says. “I’m thinking, ‘Imagine having that level of confidence.’ That’s an insane person. And that’s really the engine of the show; he’s like Don Quixote with a fro.”

Dave marks the acting debut of Burd, who burst on the scene in 2013 with the viral video for “Ex-Boyfriend,” in which he became fixated on his new girl’s ex. In the years since, he’s seen his rap career flourish with a No. 1 debut album, the hit track “Freaky Friday,” a star-studded charity song, “Earth,” and a guest verse on Justin Bieber’s new album. (Bieber is among Dave’s A-list music cameos.) But in spite of that success, Burd has always considered himself a comedian first, with his music originally serving as a vehicle to get his work noticed. “I didn’t know anybody in the industry, and I felt like I could control my own destiny this way, and the rapping just took on a life of its own,” he admits during a follow-up chat at EW’s Los Angeles office. Now it’s given him a fertile and familiar playground for a show. “My life is so much more inherently interesting because I am a rapper,” he says. “I travel the world and rap for thousands of people with my friends. Rap is like the new rock, and I think it’s really funny that I have become a rock star.”

And a rock star he is. While it would be easy to pigeonhole Burd as a “comedy rapper” given his look, persona, material, and moniker, he’s also the guy who’s amassed nearly 600 million YouTube views for “Freaky Friday” and collaborated with musicians like Ed Sheeran, T-Pain, and Snoop Dogg.

“The fact that there are jokes shouldn’t discredit the level of music that is being made,” Burd says. “I don’t like being labeled as ‘comedy rap,’ because it has a negative connotation to it. I know that I’m good because of the conversations that I’ve had with the most important people in hip-hop history. I’m a rapper’s rapper. I also think who I am as a rapper is not even reflected in the content that is out right now, because I’ve only put out one album, five years ago, and you’re talking to a guy who is so much better at rapping and has so much more music that proves that than what is out. So I think this year when I put out my album, there will be less questions of whether I’m a real rapper or not.”

Before Burd puts the finishing touches on his long-awaited sophomore album, he’s hoping to make sweet music with Dave, a project on which he’s involved in every aspect, from writing to casting to editing. “He is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” says Schaffer, who, thanks to his time on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, has experience with comedians headlining shows based on their own lives. “Working with Jerry [Seinfeld] and Larry [David] certainly gave me the confidence to know that Dave could pull off being the star of his own show. There is a lot of Larry David in Dave… You don’t have to push to get comedy because his life is so insane.”

And Burd is putting his life of full display. With that, he understands that audiences might think everything they’re seeing comes from a real place when you’re creating and starring in a show based on your own personal experiences. Burd likes the idea of people not knowing what’s true and what isn’t, which is something many viewers will be wondering after the comedy’s surprising third episode, in which Dave’s girlfriend, Ally (Taylor Misiak), tries to open him up to new sexual experiences, only to discover his deepest insecurity. It’s a daring early swerve for a freshman series, especially one about a guy in the rap game, where hyper-masculinity has often prevailed.

“If I’m telling my story and it’s called Dave and it’s all about my life, there’s simply no way to not talk about sexual insecurity,” says Burd, who doesn’t want to reveal many plot details. “Like, that’s why my rap name is Lil Dicky — it’s always something that has just been top of mind for me. And it’s also why I know it’s really funny. Like, objectively I can sit back and understand how funny it is. I don’t do things to shock people for shock value. On the one hand, you can look at episode 3 and say, ‘This is insanity and just to get a rise out of people.’ On the other hand, I hope you look at it and be like, ‘This is touchingly vulnerable,’ because that’s what I’m going. It’s not often you hear a guy admit all of his insecurities, and I think a lot of guys probably have sexual insecurities, and I want people to feel like they’re not alone, as lame as that might sound.”

Burd is far from alone on Dave. Behind the camera, he’s backed by comedy veterans including Schaffer and executive producers Saladin K. Patterson (The Big Bang Theory) and Kevin Hart. In front of the camera, Burd has a friendly face in his personal hype man, GaTa, who stars as… Dave’s personal hype man, GaTa. The duo met five years ago when Burd realized he needed someone else on stage to jump in and give him a breather, and GaTa’s been there for every show since.

“This is kind of our story, too,” Burd says of his personal champion, who has his own heartbreaking spotlight episode coming in season 1. “Obviously, he had never acted, but neither had I. And I just knew he could. Being a hype man is like being a backup singer, and I’m so excited for him to just shine and let people realize that this guy is a brilliant comedic onscreen talent. And I love that we’ve realized that together. I’ve never been more proud of anyone than I am of GaTa. Like, I’m more proud of him than I am myself. He’s not just a hype man when I’m on stage, he literally makes me feel great at all times as a person. I’m so happy that I get to pay him back and let him thrive.”

Ray Mickshaw/FX

Burd’s time at the EW office is technically up, but he’s not ready to go, even if it’s 8 p.m. and he’s been working nonstop on his album and show. He’s as relaxed as can be, wearing pajama bottoms, sitting cross-legged on the couch, and wanting to talk TV. “What are your favorite comedies from the last five years?” he asks, before bringing up series like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Silicon Valley, Girls, and High Maintenance. And with all those shows either over or nearing the end of their run, Burd sees “a big lane for the next great comedy.”

Could Dave be it? “I think it’s one of the funniest shows on TV,” he says when asked to give his sales pitch. “And yet, there are moments that could make you cry and feel something. In some ways, it’s such an unrelatable premise, but anyone who has a dream can relate to this show.”

Rap lesson No. 1: Chase your dreams. But don’t bite them yet.

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