Like everyone else, Jeff Schaffer was skeptical about a TV show based on the life of rapper Lil Dicky, a.k.a. Dave Burd. Schaffer has been a go-to collaborator, writer, and director for Larry David on the later years of Curb Your Enthusiasm and was busy working on the last two seasons when he reluctantly took a meeting with Burd and record executive Scooter Braun.
“Two years ago, the internet was like 50 percent porn, 30 percent clickbait, and 20 percent Lil Dicky videos,” the Dave co-creator tells Den of Geek. “I knew who he was, but I didn’t know him. And when we started to talk, he really surprised me because his stories were all the kind of stories I like to tell.”
According to Schaffer, those stories were “Curb-like.” Burd’s neurotic tendencies, his background and appearance, and willingness to open the curtain to expose his insecurities made him an obvious outlier in the rap game. But Schaffer was fixated on the “cartoon level delusion” of a guy who thought he was going to be famous before he ever rapped in front of an audience. Burd told Schaffer that he always knew his career as “Lil Dicky” was building to a TV series, but it was his life experience that could really sell the show. Together, they sketched out a plan to introduce the world to Dave Burd and FXX signed on.
Dave, which premiered in March and can be streamed through FX on Hulu, is a semi-autobiographical look at the early days of Burd’s rap career. The series is a streaming hit, quickly approaching viewership benchmarks set by Donald Glover’s Atlanta. Schaffer spoke with us about Burd’s TV aspirations, how they pulled stories from his real life for the show, and what season 2 could have in store.
How did Jeff Schaffer x Lil Dicky happen?
I wasn’t really looking to do another TV show. I was pretty busy with Curb. And my friend and the producer on the show, Marty Bowen, was actually my former agent. He’s like “Hey, will you just come with me and take a meeting with a Little Dicky and Scooter Braun.” I’m like, “Fine, I’ll take the meeting.”
He was telling all these crazy stories about his life, and they were Curb stories, the kind of ideas that really resonate with me. And I was like, “Oh this guy is really funny.” I knew his videos were funny, but this is a different kind of comedy. He was telling funny Curb stories. So that was interesting.
So I said, “Well, let’s keep talking.” So we just kept meeting and we would meet and chat, and he would talk through his life, and his issues, and his encounters with various people. And it just became undeniable that there was a really funny show here. So I was like, “All right, let’s go out and pitch it.”
Aside from the fact that there’s a lot of Larry David in Dave Burd, there’s also this other thing that really is the reason I’m doing the show. As he talks, he’s supremely confident and he’d earned it at that point because he’s had a ton of successful videos, everybody knew who he was. But he’s sitting there telling me like, “I want to be the biggest entertainer in the history of entertaining.”
And I’m just looking at this guy who, I always say he looks like a piece of broccoli you had at a bar mitzvah, and he’s saying, “I’m going to be the most famous entertainer in the history of the world.” And by the way, he thought that six years ago before he ever rapped out loud. And I was like, “This is like cartoon level delusion. This is insanity.” I thought this is a funny engine for a character.
Was part of the appeal of working with Lil Dicky that he sees the music industry and rap game in a different light?
When I talked to him, he was telling me that his entire rap career was leading to him having a TV show. He always thought he was funny, but he didn’t know what was the best vessel for his comedy, so he started with rap and then he became, frankly, a fucking great rapper. But he always wanted to be more than a rapper. He always wanted to be an entertainer. So he’s been preparing for this his entire life.
What was the writing process for these episodes like?
Part of what makes the show so great is how authentic it is. So we’re basically telling Dave’s life, to a certain extent, just six years ago. So the first thing I had to do with him was take all of his stories and go, “Okay, this could be a season one thing. This story you’re telling me here, you’re way too famous. That’s way down the line.” Because we knew we wanted the first season to be those crappy first months of his career.
So first it was dividing up stories into season one or season two, or season six, knock on wood. So the other thing was figuring out, with any pilot, how do we want to start this? And originally our first version of the pilot was different. He’d always talked about how the most important day of his life was the day that he hit “post” that first video and it became viral instantly. And he always says that’s because that’s the day he knew he was who he thought he was. And it was the day that Little Dicky was born, basically. So the original concept was to do the pilot of that day, and then we looked at it… And FX too, to their credit, as we were talking about it, just said, “I don’t know, origin stories are so done.” And you knew what the answer was, so it didn’t feel interesting, it didn’t feel unique. It felt pretty common.
So we took that to heart and shifted how this whole show started, which was a more interesting way to go in, which is, “Hey, it’s a month after he’s had that viral hit,” so now he’s just a guy who had a viral hit four Wednesdays ago. But he’s not where he wants to be, which is being known as a legitimate rapper. And that tiny, tiny sliver of notoriety he’s got is all he’s got right now. So it was just a much more interesting way to come into the show. Anyway, FX was right.
Since you already have stories earmarked for season 2 where can we expect this story to go?
The first season was all about legitimacy, right? It was all about, “Hey, I want to be known as a legitimate rapper.” How do you do that? Well, you’re going to have to perform, you’re going to get a manager and you’re going to get a record deal. But what happens when that record deal that you’ve been hoping for isn’t at all what you thought it was going to be? So I think moving forward he’s going to have to deal with that. He got what he wanted and he doesn’t like it.
Are you guys hoping to bring on more guest stars for season 2?
There’s a lot of people that we’d love to have, and luckily Dave knows so many people, not just in the rap world, but in the entertainment industry. And with Scooter, his manager, as one of our producers, there’s a lot of people that we have access to.
In the first season we had to limit ourselves with famous people, because he’s not famous. Right? Nobody knows who the hell he is in the first season, so we wanted to make sure that felt true. As he gets more famous, as he does more in the rap world, it’s easier for us to have access to more and more famous people in that world. So we’ll see. I mean we have some pretty funny stories that will require some pretty big name talent, so I’m hoping, now that everybody’s seen the show, it becomes easier to get them.
After seeing this last season of Curb, if anyone could cram as many famous people into a season and make it work, it’s probably you.
We had some great, great guest stars this year on Curb. We got really lucky. Some of them were people that we hoped would be available and would want to do it. And others were surprises. Like we didn’t know that Clive Owen even knew the show existed. And we heard that he really loved the show and wanted to be on it. And we were writing this part about this guy doing a one man show, and it was like, “Oh my God, if we could get Clive Owen to do that?”
So someone like that, we had no idea that they loved the show, that’s going to work out fantastic. Others, like in that same episode, there’s Isla Fisher or Fred Armisen, or Vince Vaughn, those people, we’re like, “Oh, we’ve got a great part for them. I hope they want to do it.”