The Art of The Joke: A Conversation With Lil Dicky

Like most visitors in town for the night, David Burd has a pretty typical New York City agenda.

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Like most visitors in town for the night, David Burd has a pretty typical New York City agenda. There are sights to see, cuisine to sample, old friends with whom to reminisce and a pre-arranged rendezvous with his parents. The difference between David Burd and a typical tourist is that he arrives at 9:15pm. At which point David Burd downs a shot of Fireball cinnamon whiskey, dons an Allan Houston jersey and reincarnates as Lil Dicky.

The same Lil Dicky who has amassed tens of millions of YouTube views, $113,000+ Kickstarter dollars and who is seemingly on the cusp of hip-hop stardom.

There are elements of David Burd that exist in the ensuing 1 hour and 25 minute performance. There is a professional yet succinct Power Point presentation. There is a freestyle battle with a dubious outcome and there is of course, a Bill Nye The Science Guy interlude.

Where does David Burd leave off and Lil Dicky pick up? We sat down with the young man to find out.

Can you introduce yourself, who are you and where are you from?

My name is Dave. I’m from Charlton Head, Pennsylvania. I went to college at the University of Richmond, graduated, moved to San Francisco, got a job at an ad agency, started rapping on the side, put the rap stuff online, blew up…is this too much information?

When did you decide on the name Lil Dicky?

The day I conceived it isn’t the day I decided on it. The first day I got my laptop and saw what Garage Band was capable of, I started fucking around and made this dumb song and on the spot I called myself Lil Dicky.

I don’t really know why…I was really into Lil Wayne back then and I knew I’d be Lil Something and it sounded funny.

When I decided to become a rapper, I made a whole list of names, but none of them really felt as good.

What were you doing before rap?

I had two jobs at an ad agency.

First I was an account manager. Every three months I had to do a report on chip sales for Doritos and it was a boring word document and one time I just recorded it and delivered it as a rap song. It blew up at the agency and they were like “you should work in the creative department.”

So then I switched to copywriter and I was writing commercials the second year I was there. It was an amazing job, places like the NBA and Comcast came through to L.A. and would shoot commercials that I wrote.

But you still hated it?

No I loved it. I loved it as much as one can love something that’s not their immediate passion.

How long have you been a professional rapper?

Since I quit, when was that? November 2013.

Do you consider yourself a comedian/rapper or a rapper who happens to be funny?

Man, it’s tough because I’ve never…a lot of comedians are super precious about the label, comic. I’ve never done standup.

It’s tough man, what do you think Jonah Hill and Seth Rogan are?

It’s tough to classify.

Right, I see myself as that kind of thing and hopefully, plus rapper.

Talk about the Kickstarter; was it the plan from day one?

Kind of. I always knew Kickstarter existed as a thing and I was thinking, like everybody should do a Kickstarter at some point in their lives, because why not?

I knew that I was going to put everything out for free at first, because a no name can’t charge. I knew that if I ever needed money I could try Kickstarter to see if it worked.

What was the plan for the money?

It was really just to keep doing what I’m doing now. To keep recording and to keep making music videos and eventually tour.

Was there a distinct moment at the agency that you knew you were going to quit and do music full time?

Yeah, there was a couple month overlap where I knew I was going to quit but they didn’t necessarily know yet.

Doritos wasn’t getting heat at that point?

Nah, I checked out. They were getting the second-rate stuff.

Are you making enough off touring and running YouTube ads to continue your professional rap career for the foreseeable future?

Yeah, I mean I don’t make any profits. Well I guess I just choose to spend everything.

I mean like, I invest it back into what I’m doing. I don’t buy anything. I definitely make enough money where I can continue to make music videos and record. I definitely don’t make enough where I can make music videos, record and buy myself a nice car.

Not even a lease?

I drive a 2002 Toyota Avalon that my Grandfather willed to me, because he died. That’s where I’m at.

Would you make a distinction between yourself and say, Lonely Island?

I would, and I do. I would say I’m a far more legitimate rapper.

And what’s your goal with rap?

I think it’s hard to say. I mean I just want to be as respected as I possibly can for rap. I just want people to say ‘Lil Dicky is dope.’

I’m such a competitive guy, I’m always going to want to be the best at what I do, but it doesn’t need be a moment where everyone in unison is like ‘oh Lil Dicky is the undisputed king of hip-hop.’ It’s not that.

In terms of the videos, do you have them in your head as you write?

My idea was to start rapping simply to be noticed as a comedic presence. I always knew videos were going to be a part of it. I was like, ‘how can I write funny stories via rap that can then translate visually?’

When did everything start to blow up on YouTube?

I worked on it for 18 months before I put anything out.

Would Lil Dicky exist without YouTube?

No.

100%?

I don’t think so…I don’t know. Sometimes I like to ask people what era they would have thrived in. Like would you have been best in the ‘70s? Better in the ‘80s? This is without question the era in which I would thrive. This is my time; I’m a digital era guy.

If there’s nothing like YouTube, then there’s no way. If I had to rely on someone discovering me as a local rap emcee, no chance.

What’s the difference between being YouTube famous and being famous, famous?

The amount of people that recognize you. It’s the difference between walking into a bar and three people recognizing you versus the whole bar recognizing you.

On Rosenberg’s show, you said you’re juggling two simultaneous careers. One as a professional rapper and one as an aspiring writer of television and film…are you currently writing?

As soon as my album comes out, yeah, but I’ve been head-down on music. Once the album comes out I’ll be able to flip the switch.

Is it a movie? A TV show?

It’s a TV show. It’s this. I mean…it’s my life.

It’s you and me?

It’s you and me, it’s our relationship. No, I mean the best way for me to describe it is to use other TV shows as a way, you know it’s like a 26-year-old’s Curb. A Girls for guys with like an Entourage vibe because I’m becoming a famous rapper, I would call it Rap. The working title is Rap.

No matter what, I would have tried to create a TV show. No matter what my job was, it would just be me trying to get my point of view across comically. Now I’ve just got a ridiculously entertaining backdrop for it.

Has Donald Glover struck a balance between comedy, rap and writing along the lines of what you’re after?

Here’s the thing, I have no idea how much I’ll enjoy the TV process. I could be like ‘wow this is my everything.’ I could be like ‘this is what I was born to do.’

It could be the best thing ever, it could be terrible. Honestly, I want to like it as much as I like rap and to do both at the same time. I never want to be tempted to drop one.

Do you think it’s fundamentally more difficult to break out, debuting as a comedy rapper?

I think it was the opposite. I think I came in and it was something refreshing and it caught people by surprise. I think it helped me stand out.

The real question is ‘will it hinder my ability to be taken seriously as a legitimate rapper?’

We’re about to find all that out.

In terms of subject matter, how much of it is derived from your day-to-day life?

A lot. It’s all inspired by it. But like “Ex-Boyfriend” for example, I’ve never had that situation where I’m in a stall looking over at a guy’s dick.

But like if I met a girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend that looked like that dude I would feel all those same things and I probably would look over at his dick.

Do you think it’s unfair that some people take “White Dude” at face value? Do you care?

I care. I care about all criticism.

I need to not care as much. It’s tough, my mindset is like, I believe in the joke. Just like as a philosophy. I believe in the art of the joke. The same way South Park believes in it, the same way Louis C.K. believes in it.

Hip-hop is a very weird context for someone to have that mindset, that’s why I think it can catch people off guard.

But I want to be held accountable the same way a South Park writer is. I really just believe in the joke, and if it makes someone laugh, I believe that it’s an art no matter who it offends along the way.

That being said, I do take criticism to heart and I hope no one would take it at face value.

How much David Burd exists in Lil Dicky?

A good amount.

Percentage wise?

90%.

What’s something that Lil Dicky would do that David Burd wouldn’t?

David Burd really subscribes to social etiquette, like when I’m in society I’m a prisoner to societal norms.

I think we have fairly reasonable norms, but like Lil Dicky would step up and question when he had been charged twice for iced coffee when they refilled it.

David Burd might say something, but Lil Dicky says it 100% of the time and says it like ‘what the fuck?’ Whereas David Burd is more like ‘excuse me, I think there’s a discrepancy in the bill.’

I think it’s really just the way in which I say things.

Talk about the tour…what does it feel like to be on stage? What’s it like being up there and seeing the front row rap every word?

That’s awesome, the extent to which people know my lyrics is awesome and I’m so lucky to have fans that love the lyrics.

In terms of being on stage, what I was surprised by was how naturally it came to me. My first show ever, by the end I felt like it was something I had been doing for the past 10 years.

No nerves? It just clicked?

I didn’t know what to expect. I was like look, ‘you’re a good natural social performer, you perform well at day-to-day activities.’ But I was like ‘can you carry a room?’

I’m also surprised at how physically taxing it was, like super tiring.

You’ve talked about struggling to win and maintain a female fanbase, has that changed at all on this tour?

No, I totally understand why I have a smaller female fan base. I’m making music and I go out of my way to appease the man.

I’d say on my album, there’s a lot more stuff that appeals to women and like we talked about, David Burd versus Lil Dicky, David Burd couldn’t be more of a sweetheart in terms of loving girls and wanting them to love him back.

All I want to do is meet my wife.

Are you still on Tinder?

Yeah man.

Looking for love?

Looking for love. I’m never looking for like a quick hookup.

What’s David Burd’s Tinder bio?

It states: I’m a professional rapper with a big heart.

How’s that working out for you?

I get a lot of first dates. I’ve been on a lot of Tinder dates this year in L.A. I haven’t met anyone that I’m really trying to marry.

It’s cool though, I’ve had sex a few times.

What has been the biggest lesson learned making your first album? How has the process been different than what you expected?

The lesson learned is that I had no concept of time. It’s like a painful process to some extent.

How my shit works is like, I make a song, if I think it’s good I send it to 2 of my best friends. Their opinions are the only two that matter. The song needs to be approved by both of them to even be considered and they have a pretty exacting criteria.

They’re not easy to please. I’d say they approve 1 in 4 songs I throw their way.

If there are 16 songs on the album, ‘what’s 16 times 4?’ 64, I made at least 64 songs for the album. Like, that’s a lot of fucking songs.

Is there any give-and-take? If you send them a song that you know is good enough for the album and they say it’s trash, is there a negotiation?

If they say it’s trash, it’s trash.

But like, for example “Lemme Freak” you know how it says ‘girl I even have the fridge that has the water on the door with the crushed ice?’ So that part didn’t rhyme with the part previous and like a piece of feedback from my friend was like, ‘ I think you have a really catchy pre-chorus you then derail by not rhyming at the end.’

And I was like, ‘I hear ya, but there’s comedic value in it not rhyming and being so random.’

When you work for three days on a song, you try and sell it. When I send the track, I send it with a couple caveats, I’m like, ‘here’s why I think it works.’

But like, I value their opinions, there have been times when they’ve turned something down and I’m like, ‘well they’re fucking idiots.’ But then I go back and listen to it and I’m like ‘they were right.’

Describe your personal style.

Comfortable, I’m not stylish. Even in the jerseys, I’m starting to feel clownish.

I need to figure out an alternative on stage. I think I’ve taken the jersey thing as far as I can take it. I don’t know what the alternative is though. Like I’m never going to rap in jeans. I’m never going to get up there and be like a cool, good-looking, young guy, so it’s like, ‘what the fuck do you wear?’

Will Larry David be featured on Professional Rapper?

Dude, no. I tried, I mean first off Wale with the Seinfeld thing, I would have looked like a poser.

I tried to get Allen Iverson; he’s too hard to track down. I’ve got a pretty big standup comedian on my album, but it’s not Larry David.

Any final words for the ‘Dickheads’ out there?

I’m good man, I gotta poop. Thank you.

Lil Dicky’s Professional Rapper album available now on iTunes.

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