In the first scene of Dave, the rapper known as Lil Dicky is being examined by a urologist.
“I know this is going to sound so absurd,” Dave Burd tells the doctor, “but before I can show you my penis, I do have to explain a few things about it to you. When I was born, I came out of the womb with a tangled urethra. So immediately they had to go in and do all types of surgery to it. As a result, there’s so much scarring down there.” He goes on to explain that he believes during those surgeries, doctors grafted skin from his testicles onto his penis, which means “my dick is made of balls.”
There is more. In the third episode, “Hypospadias,” Dave explains he was born with a rare birth defect in which, according to the Mayo Clinic, the urethra is “on the underside of the penis instead of at the tip.” He underwent more surgeries. One of those surgeries accidentally created a second hole. Burd says that when he urinates, he has to cover the second hole with his finger or he’ll have two streams flowing in two different directions “like a Super Soaker.”
This is not made up. “Everything that you saw in that show [about my penis], everything is totally real,” Burd told The Ringer in an interview last month. “Surgery. Right out of the womb. [They] had to go in and fix my dick.”
It is an unexpected source of adversity for someone who has faced relatively little of it. Burd grew up white, Jewish, and affluent in suburban Philadelphia. At 25, he quit a prestigious job in advertising to start rapping under the name Lil Dicky (a name that makes a lot more sense now). The videos on Lil Dicky’s YouTube channel have a combined 1.5 billion views. A sixth of those are from the 2018 single “Earth,” which featured cameos from Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Kevin Hart, Adam Levine, Shawn Mendes, Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Lil Yachty, Ed Sheeran, Joel Embiid, John Legend, and the Backstreet Boys, plus about a dozen other musicians. For one of his most famous songs, “$ave Dat Money,” Burd made a video without spending any money.
Burd has turned the story of his rap career into a TV show for FXX, which debuts on Wednesday and features him as the star in his first acting role. Burd cowrote the show with Jeff Schaffer, a Seinfeld vet who cowrites Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David and created the FX show The League. Dave chronicles Burd’s attempt to go from “the YouTube rapper with the small dick” to a professional, respected rapper. The show mocks privilege (he takes out bar mitzvah money from the bank to buy a feature verse from the rapper YG) and coded language (he calls a beat “urban,” prompting a black producer to ask why he speaks like a mayor). But Burd put his lifelong insecurities about his penis at the show’s, uh, heart.
“This is a show that’s thinking with your brain about your dick,” Schaffer said. “The fact that he did this is awe-inspiring. Throw a rock at the street and see if anybody else would put their biggest insecurity front and center for the world.”
Burd’s unexpected challenge is convincing viewers that the most absurd aspects of the show are the most real, especially his birth defects, which have led to intimacy issues.
“I like that people can watch [the show] and be like, ‘Oh, he’s probably just joking,’” Burd said. “But then at the same time, I hate it. Because then it just makes it a dick joke. When really it’s the biggest truth of my life that I’m revealing. And it should be taken seriously, because it’s the thing that’s always weighed on me my whole life. It’s the reason I am who I am, is my dick. I know that sounds crazy. It’s the reason my name’s Lil Dicky. It’s the reason I’m so neurotic. It’s my gift and my curse.”
The Ringer sat down with Burd last month to discuss those gifts and curses. Here’s a transcript of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You graduated from the University of Richmond (disclosure: Richmond is also my alma mater) and started working on NBA playoff commercials for the advertising firm Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Take me through everything there.
I started working in the account management side. Low man on the totem pole. The bitch. You take notes and email the notes of everything that went on in the day and all these tasks. Honestly, I was horrible at it. It required a different level of brain power. I worked on the Doritos account. One of the things that I had to do was give a report on chip sales and how our ads were impacting the chips. It was like this boring template that was handed down to me by the old assistant account manager. A Word document. And it went out every three months. But it was my one chance to send an email that went all the way up to the partners of the company. So the only time that I could ever interface with the most important people was sending this email. So I was like, “I’ve got to get noticed by these people.”
So I gave the report on the chips one time, just as an MP3. It was just a rap about what the Word document would say. It was over Drake’s “Best I Ever Had.” Basically their projected sales, they call it their plan. So instead of, “Best I ever had.” It was like, “You know we beat the plan.” And then the partners went crazy. Everyone loved it. And they pretty much immediately set me up with a meeting [with] the head of the creative department. And then all of a sudden, I was a copywriter. And the head guy knew how much I knew about the NBA, so he was like, “I’d like you to take the lead on it.” So then, all of a sudden, I’m the main guy writing 10 NBA commercials. I was writing the whole playoff campaign. I was 22. It was perfect.
Do you still have the Doritos rap?
I don’t have it. It’s horrible. It’s Auto-Tuned.
So they switched you over to the creative side and you’re doing these NBA commercials?
I didn’t create the format of the words. They said, “This is what we’re doing. This is the format. Make these.” So then I literally scoured through the archives. I had access to the NBA archives. I was so up to speed on what was relevant for the NBA, and what music to sync to the thing. Like, I put fucking Mobb Deep over the Spurs.
I would pick the clip, pick the music, and write the words. Everything had to end with the word “big.” I had limits, I had a structure that I had to adhere to. But I ran with it.
Why’d you leave Goodby?
As much as it was a dream normal job, it’s definitely not my dream. My dream wasn’t to be the best ad executive. My dream was to be the best comedian.
Did you leave directly to do the Lil Dicky stuff?
Oh, yeah. The first day I posted the first [“Ex-Boyfriend”] video online, I got a million views with no media or anything behind it. And I’m still working at the agency. I posted it and it just went completely viral. It was the best day of my life. And in my mind then, right then and there, I quit.
It was the best day of your life?
Of course. I’d been working for a year and a half on all this music stuff, where I’m not showing anybody, and everybody’s like, “What the hell is going on with Dave? He’s going crazy. He’s spending all of his free time trying to be a rapper.” My parents were like, “Please, don’t do this.” My girlfriend was like, “What are you doing?” Everyone was really doubting my sanity. And I didn’t even show anyone a lot of this stuff, or any of it, really. Because I didn’t want people to lower my hope. My hope was at a maximum level. So I gained nothing by sharing this with anybody. Because my hope was already maximum. They couldn’t really raise my hope; all they could do was bring it down.
Right before I posted it, I was brushing my teeth. It was like an hour before I was going to publish it. And I started crying before I even posted it. Because I knew that I had done my best in terms of putting my best foot forward, and if this didn’t work out, it wasn’t my fault. I’d given it my all. And if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. But I could live with failure. I couldn’t live with “What if?” And I felt like I had checked off the “What if?” box. It didn’t exist anymore. I was so proud of myself for doing that.
And then I posted it, and it got a million views in the first day. And I was like, “Oh, you are who you thought you were.” That’s an irreplaceable feeling. I’ve always had the exact same attitude about myself. The way I thought that day is exactly how I feel this day. In every meeting, I’d be like, “Oh, yeah. I’m really going to be one of the great entertainers of our time.”
You clearly really want to be respected. But you also have to navigate a space where you also constantly flirt with being disrespectful, and trying to walk that line. There are a few examples in the show. There’s one where you reach for the face and hair of GaTa [his hypeman on the show, played by his real-life friend of the same name]. And then there’s one where you refer to a beat as “urban.” There’s another where you hand-wave religion by saying, “I believe in sheer ignorance,” and GaTa says, “That’s privilege.” Are those real-life examples you’ve had as you’ve gotten into rap?
It depends. I think, for example, the religion thing. I’m very quick to say my philosophy on religion is, “I have no idea what’s going on.” It’s so beyond my comprehension level. So, I just believe that no one knows anything.
I’m no longer in the suburban bubble of existence. I see someone like GaTa, who comes from a totally different environment, who is a real person, a real friend of mine. And things like that where I realize, “Oh, I understand why people have to lean on religion. Because their lives are so difficult. They need to have hope.” Whereas, I’ve had everything I’ve ever wanted kind of handed to me in life. I don’t want to say it took being a rapper to necessarily fully be aware of all that, because being a rapper also coincided with becoming an adult.
I’m the kind of guy who believes in the art of the joke. I didn’t want to censor myself. Even a comment, like me saying to GaTa, “Do black people use the same shampoo as white people?,” which is kind of a ridiculous joke to make. But also, I don’t know that answer. And it’s funny. And I think people can always see the intention behind the joke isn’t coming from a place of maliciousness. I’m just not afraid to make these jokes because I feel like they’re coming from places of purity, or good nature, or something.
Off the bat, the show is basically saying, “I’m a white dude and uncomfortable in this black space.”
I’m not sure it’s “a white dude uncomfortable in this black space.” It’s more just not every day am I in a studio with guys with guns. But it’s happened. And would it have happened if I wasn’t a rapper? Probably not. But it’s more just I’m not spending every day with my suburban white friends. And it’s not like I’m uncomfortable, it’s more just like me and GaTa are so different, but so similar. It’s more just like different worlds kind of colliding and realizing that they can exist in the same world. And it’s fun.
There’s this running bit that you don’t want to be compared to another certain famous white rapper. Why is that?
I remember when I met him. And we were just joking, and I was like, “Are you competitive with white rappers?” And he’s like, “Oh, man.” Rappers in general are just hypercompetitive. Every rapper wants to be the best of all time. No one’s rapping to come in 30th that year. Rap is like the NBA—you’re playing to win. And I think for whatever reason, there’s only so many white rappers. By the way, this isn’t like a cross to bear, like a burden that I feel actually burdened with. It’s a joke that I don’t actually care about this. But when I posted a video, especially initially, I’d post it and the comments would be like, “Not as good as him.” And I’m like, “Why? I have nothing to do with the guy.” I think it was a funny slice-of-life thing. Rappers are competitive, but different rappers get grouped and compared. I’m sure female rappers are [too]. Cardi B posts something and I’m sure people are like, “Well, she’s not Nicki [Minaj].”
Do you feel certain insecurities as a white rapper?
No. I don’t feel any, no. But it’s just a thing for my character in my show to feel. I’ve always felt iconic.
But you really don’t feel any insecurity as a white rapper?
No. I think, to be quite honest, being a white artist only helps. You’re just more privileged. And you have probably more opportunities, and you can probably sell more. In no way has being white hurt me. It’s only helped me, just because I’ve inherited societal privileges. I’m just open and honest about that to an extent in everything I do to where it doesn’t feel appropriation-y. Very much being like, “Well, this is who I am.” I’m not trying to be anything I’m not.
The show at the end says, “Written by Dave Burd.” But when I pitched this interview, I said, “Lil Dicky’s got a TV show.” Do you want to be known as Dave Burd, or do you want to be known as Lil Dicky?
First and foremost, if a fan came up to me on the street, it would make me happier if they were like, “Dave.” Just because that’s who I am. I’m obviously a rapper and Lil Dicky is the most important thing I’ve ever created. And I’m going to rap as long as I can. But from age 40, probably, onward, I think my shelf life as a rapper is going to start really dwindling. And it’s going to have to transition. So the second half of my life, I’m going to need to figure out the other thing. And I think one of the other things is going to be me being an actor and a writer, and I’m obviously going to go by Dave Burd. It’s not going to say, “Lil Dicky” [on my tombstone]. It’s going to say, “David Burd.”
So is this show the coming-out party for Dave Burd?
Yeah, I’d say so. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to call it Dave. Because everybody knows me as Lil Dicky. But who is the guy behind Lil Dicky making all the decisions?
So you always wanted to be this person. Now you’re doing it. Are you happy?
It’s not even happiness. It transcends happy. And it just feels like you are living the life that you are supposed to live. It feels like destiny in a way. It’s obviously happiness, but, still, I’m the kind of guy who at all times complains about everything. I’m never satisfied.
There really hasn’t been a day in the last seven years where I haven’t woken up, and felt a really intense feeling of responsibility to maximize my time and energy or creative output. And that seven years straight is taxing. So there’s such a peace in me. I am happy. Right now, I think you’re talking to me in the happiest [period of my life]. That day [the “Ex-Boyfriend” video came out] will always be the best day of my life, but I think this period of my life, the next month of my life, I think, will be one of the happiest months of my life. Until I have to then get back in the studio and finish this album.
When is the album coming out?
Whenever it’s done. And the sooner the better, obviously. But I could be done in a month, or I could be done in 10 months. I have no idea.
Right now I have like 18 songs that are worth putting on an album. Probably all of them won’t make it. And I still feel like I’m missing the right three kinds of songs, that are like Drake songs. That sound like they could be on in a club. I want to make those very badly. Because those are my favorite kinds of songs, and I don’t feel like they’re represented enough in my body of work right now. But two years ago, I probably had like 15 of the 18 songs already done. I could have put an album out. And my fans would have liked it. But you only get so many albums, and they live forever. And I’m kind of old-school, I really value the album. I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to put out an album every year, every two years. This needs to be the album that when Jay-Z is like, “Who is Lil Dicky? OK, I’ll listen to him.” And then he’s got to play it. And then he’s got to respect it. So, until it’s of that level, I can’t put it out.
Do you rap because you just enjoy it? Because you seem like a confident guy.
I enjoy it. And rap is the only place where not only is it acceptable, but it’s encouraged to just brag about yourself. Drake is like the best ever to me at just bragging about himself. And I love it. It makes me so inspired to become the best version of myself. I love that I have that forum. I think, initially, I rapped to just have a voice in general. A comedic voice. What’s the best way for people to hear my voice? And I just fell in love with being a rapper. But, no. I feel like this show is another avenue to express myself. I don’t think I have a problem expressing myself. Even if I didn’t do any of this, I would sit down with you and you’d feel like, “Oh, this guy is very open.” I’ve been this way my whole life, the way I’m talking to you. And it’s bizarre. … I think I’m able to recognize that there’s a lot of contradictory juxtapositions in me.
I literally couldn’t believe in myself more, and feel more destined. I’m able to say, “Man, I think I’m going to be one of the greatest entertainers of all time.” And that level of self-confidence is unheard of. But at the same time, I’m so neurotic. And I’m worried about my dick at all times. And stressed. I just feel like I’m the opposite of what you’d expect a rock star to be like. But I’m also not the opposite.
Is that part real, the fears about the dick?
Are you asking me if the stuff in the show is real about my dick?
Yeah. You thought it was all a joke?
I don’t know if there are two holes.
But did you actually have an insecurity about it growing up?
Do you still?
Yeah. What are you talking about? I couldn’t even tell my life story without making a huge part of it my—yeah, I’ve had surgeries on my dick.
Oh, in real life?
Everything that you saw in that show, everything is totally real.
Yeah. Surgery. Right out of the womb. [They] had to go in and fix my dick.
My editor is going to ask whether you were messing with me.
You tell your editor no.
I’ll tell him that.
On the one hand, I’m very happy to know that people are going to watch Episode 3 and be like, “That was a funny joke.” Because, you know, as someone who’s been so self-conscious about his dick, and really controlled lighting [in the bedroom during sex]. That’s all a real thing.
I would date girls without them knowing they’ve never even seen my dick [because of the lighting in his room]. And now I’m shining the ultimate microscope. Any girl that I’m with for the rest of my life, they’re going to … I’m worried, you know what I mean?
There’s a joke in the show where your girlfriend’s roommate says, “Your rap name’s a little-dick joke.” And you respond with, “It’s actually a super-intellectual commentary on hypermasculinity.” Do you believe that?
Yeah. I think when I made the rap name, I was just like, “All right. How can I encapsulate almost the opposite of what you’d expect a rapper to be like?” Rap, as we mentioned, is full of confidence. “I’m the one. I’m the guy. I could fuck you better than anybody.” I feel that way as a rapper, but then there’s other ways where I feel the opposite. I wanted a name that could encapsulate the opposite of that. Lil Dicky.
You’ve held Leo DiCaprio’s Oscar. I just want to hear that story.
I was just in his house. I saw his Oscar, and I’m like, “Oh, shit.” And he was like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “Can I hold it?” He was like, “Sure, man.” I showed him the pilot. And he loved it. And I just remember holding it and thinking “It’s kind of an average trophy.” Just in terms of the actual look of the trophy.
You showed him the pilot, but that wasn’t when [you held the Oscar], right? It was when you pitched him for “Earth”?
It was around the same time. There was like a month where I would go there [to Leo’s house] once a week.
What?! For what?
Pitch him “Earth.” Play pickleball.
You played pickleball with Leo DiCaprio? Did you win at pickleball, or did he?
I won like one of three. He’s good. I had never played the game, he introduced me to the game.
That has to be your best L.A. story out here, right?
Probably not. I mean, it’s definitely incredible, but there weren’t any interesting turns.
What is your best L.A. story?
This is one of the best: I played basketball with Kanye for like three days a week for a year and I got close with him. He would invite me to his studio, and we’d hang out. And he’d show me things. When I was putting “Freaky Friday” out—it was coming out in two weeks—I said, “Kanye, I’ve got to show you my next video. I think you’d love it.” So I set up a time to go and play the video. And I’m in the studio. It’s just like me, Kanye, and one other person. I played it for him, and he loves it. And then we just talk, and then all of a sudden, Drake walks in. I’m totally not expecting it. Already I’m in the happiest place I could be, because I’m playing “Freaky Friday” for Kanye, and he’s loving it. And then all of a sudden, just with no warning, and nobody else is there. Drake walks in. With like one other guy. And I was just like, “Oh my god.”
I had met Drake before, but it was in passing. And my mind immediately switched to, “I’ve got to seem very cool for Drake right now.” And then Kanye was like, “Show Drake the video.” And then Drake sits and watches “Freaky Friday.” And he was like, “Man, this is one of the best videos ever.” He said that to me. He’s like, “Congratulations on all that’s coming for you.”
How is Kanye at basketball? What’s Kanye’s game like?
He has a really interesting game. He’s so weirdly good at finishing. It seems like, whenever he drives, for a second you’re like, “This is going to be a hopeless endeavor.” And then he does these layups in the weirdest—you can’t defend it because they’re so nontraditional. The layups. You know what I mean? And he’s just like really good at scoring down low. It’s hard to explain. He is so good at these weird layups. There really isn’t a good comp. I’m thinking of like Paul Millsap or something. You know what I mean? But he plays like a small forward. He’s not a guard. He’s like a small forward. He’s good. When Kanye’s on my team, I’m happy.