Lil Dicky Balances Comedy and Vulnerability in “Dave”

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Illustration by Graeme Jackson

Graeme Jackson

Photo Editor

This article contains spoilers for season one of FX Network’s “Dave.”

Adapting an entertainer’s comedic voice into a narrative form is nothing new; comedians have been doing it for decades. “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Master of None” have all executed this concept to varying degrees of success while experimenting with different comedic and dramatic tones. 

Rapper, actor, and comedian Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky) is the latest to throw his hat in the ring with the debut of his FX television show “Dave.” Following in the footsteps of Donald Glover and his critically acclaimed show “Atlanta,” Burd shows that he is not only capable of making audiences laugh, but also of reflecting on themes like mental illness, identity, ambition, and recognition. 

Described by Burd as “loosely based on his real-life experiences,” “Dave” follows a fictionalized version of Lil Dicky and his rise to fame. At first glance, the series may seem like a one-dimensional comedic endeavor from Burd, but “Dave” utilizes each character in its ensemble cast to delve into deeper thematic messages. 

The audience is invited to explore certain personal and interpersonal struggles from Dave’s perspective throughout the season. Recurring motifs are introduced early in the first episode to illustrate significant themes of the show, like the importance of identity and recognition. 

Episode two, “Dave’s First,” follows the preparation behind Dave’s first live performance as he struggles with comparisons to other white rappers like Macklemore and The Lonely Island. The series shows that although many people celebrate Dave for his work, he isn’t recognized for his technical skill as a lyricist. 

Fans he meets in the show see him as a “parody” or “meme rapper” due to his humorous lyrical content. Illustrating this internal conflict early in the season contextualizes Dave’s headspace and establishes how high the stakes are for Dave to achieve his goals. 

A highlight of the season is “Hype Man,” an episode centered on supporting character GaTa, Burd’s real-life hype man and confidant. When GaTa begins showing erratic behavior before an upcoming performance, flashbacks reveal that he has bipolar disorder. With an incredible performance by the first-time actor of the same name, GaTa’s episode poignantly handles the topic of mental illness and leaves the audience with an uplifting message on being empathetic to people who may be dealing with internal issues.

The next episode is another heavy hitter in the season, exploring the roots of confidence and the influence of the past on how one lives in the present. In “Talent Shows,” Dave’s close friend Elz sheds light on the fact that the attention Dave garnered from his peers in his youth came from ridicule, not respect for his prowess in comedy and entertaining others. 

Struggling with this realization, Dave begins to question if anything has changed at all in how he is perceived. In a surreal scene, Dave confronts his childhood self and suffocates him, symbolically killing the part of himself that let others take advantage of him. 

The season rounds out with two episodes focused around ambition and the sacrifices one must make to achieve one’s dreams. “Ally’s Toast” centers on Dave’s girlfriend Ally, a kindergarten teacher who feels inadequate about her career as Dave pursues music. 

Through Ally’s eyes, the audience sees that the couple has begun to drift apart due to Dave’s obsession with his work, as well as his growing narcissism and neglect towards their relationship. Consequently, Ally realizes that her relationship with Dave will not work because he prioritizes his dreams over their relationship.

The season finale completes Dave’s character arc by revolving around recognition and showing that he’s learned to be considerate of those around him. In “Jail,” Dave wants to debut an offensive track as his first single but is met with opposition from his music label and close friends. Dave’s obsession with his craft leads him to lash out at those that are close to him, and Ally’s words from the previous episode begin to ring true. 

At the episode’s climax, Dave is about to play the song live on a popular radio station behind his music label’s back before realizing how his actions will directly affect the people who support him. Instead of playing the offensive track, Dave ultimately decides to freestyle rap on the air. His rapping earns him the respect of radio host and influential hip-hop figure Charlamagne tha God, providing Dave with the recognition as a hip-hop artist that he’s been craving since the first episode of the show.

Season one of “Dave” has managed to not only successfully toe the line between comedy and drama, but also juggle a number of interesting topics for audiences to contemplate. “Dave” has also become FX’s highest ranked comedy series of all time, averaging 5.32 million viewers per episode. Lil Dicky has undoubtedly shown he can be successful outside of music — fans can look forward to his next studio album and the confirmed second season of “Dave.”