[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains light spoilers for “Dave” Season 3.]
Not everything that happens in “Dave” is real. The FX comedy inspired by Dave Burd’s life as the rapper Lil Dicky is exactly that: inspired. By now, enough meta shows about fictional versions of actual people have aired for viewers to recognize when their scripted programming is prioritizing quality entertainment over factual reenactments.
But that doesn’t mean the episodes lack veracity.
“Have I ever been in that exact position where I was stripped naked by my fans to see my dick? Definitely not,” Burd said in an interview with IndieWire, referencing a scene from the Season 3 premiere. “[But] right before that happens, I open up to them and reveal all these truths [about myself]. And I remember one time, I was in a meet-and-greet line before a show. […] I was just talking to a couple and, for whatever reason, I opened up to them. I can’t remember the specific thing, but I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’m sharing a really interesting, nuanced look into my soul.’”
“[But] their only reaction was just like, ‘Can we get a picture?’” Burd said. “That moment stuck with me — I’m not even saying it reflects poorly on them. It’s almost funny. They didn’t ask for me to open up like that. They might have [only] come for a picture. Who am I to assume that just because I’m a famous person, they want to hear it? In that moment, they weren’t that interested in the 30-second monologue that I had thought I was providing.”
“Dave” Season 3 astutely examines that disconnect between knowing someone and knowing of them. Dave (played by Burd) is searching for the love of his life. At the same time, he’s on his first professional music tour. His personal and professional ambitions can make it hard to detect an intimate, rewarding connection with another human being while thousands of anonymous fans are shouting, “I love you, Dave!” What voices are real and relevant? Which are solely conjured by fame? And at what point do you start believing an overabundance of the latter can fill the continued absence of the former?
At times, Dave may not know the difference between true love and its mirror image, but “Dave” always does. Season 3 crafts a thoughtful examination of celebrity — and it uses a slew of celebrity guests to help out.
“This season, the two main themes are centered around looking for love, obviously, but also looking for fame and validation and success,” Burd said. “And there are certain people who represent those core themes. […] I don’t [want people to ] think it’s just that, ‘Oh, we think it’s cool we got these high-profile people to be random guest stars that just say hi.’ Their characters represent so much [more than that].”
Demi Lovato, Don Cheadle, Killer Mike, Machine Gun Kelly, Megan Fox, Rick Ross, Travis Barker, Usher, Jack Harlow, and Rachel McAdams all appear in Season 3. Early on, Rick Ross and Usher contribute to Dave’s continuing education about Black culture via famous rappers and their chains. The story hearkens back to themes from past seasons, but the guest stars’ responsibilities steadily evolve. Some, like Cheadle, tempt Dave away from his moral imperatives. At the Met Gala, he’s forced to ask if it’s worth making a statement about climate change if it means losing out on smoking cigars with Cheadle and Denzel Washington (who does not appear). The answer is obvious, yet the struggle, as they say, is real.
McAdams blurs that line even further. Dave’s relationship with Robyn (Chloe Bennett) is going well. Among the throngs of obsessed fans, he finds a down-to-earth “girl next door”-type who understands him, appreciates him, and pushes him. But when he bumps into McAdams — who, in “Dave,” is as sweet and caring and chill as her many onscreen characters — Dave can’t help but question who he wants to be with. Is he just blinded by fame? Or did he finally discover the kind of uncomplicated movie love he’s always dreamed of feeling?
“I don’t know anyone who could represent hopeless romanticism more than Rachel McAdams,” Burd said. “I think she’s my generation’s dream woman. Seeing her in ‘Wedding Crashers’ and ‘The Notebook’ formed my idea of what love is supposed to be.”
Burd isn’t blind to what celebrity cameos can do for his show. Plenty of series hire famous guest stars as little more than a marketing stunt — a means to attract new viewers to a show they may have otherwise overlooked. But “Dave” puts them to work for a greater purpose — a purpose his crew trusts, and that audiences, old and new, will too.
“Am I, like, hyper-competitive and want this show to be received at [the highest] critical level and [be recognized] by every single award show? Of course,” Burd said. [But] it’s not just me. It’s everyone who works on this show. They feel proud because everyone who works in the show knows how special it is.”
“People are asking me, ‘How did you get these [famous] people in the show?’ And really, it just speaks to the greatness of the show that they love the show and wanted to do the show. It’s not like I had any sort of weird relationship with anyone or got set up in a weird industry way. I just heard they loved the show and I loved them from afar, and I reached out. […] I don’t want to say they were essential, but I took a big risk writing all these people into the show.”
The Season 3 finale — which will not be spoiled here — takes Dave’s internal struggle to another stratosphere, helping to drive home the show’s points about love, fame, and their overlap, while moving its lead toward a new perspective. Burd wants to talk about these topics because they’re happening to him, but “Dave” isn’t a celebrity sob story. Season 3 broadens the conversation beyond a lecture on how fans should interact with their idols. It asks us to identify and appreciate what’s genuine in life.
“I view [the finale] as a cool way to have a sick, twisted mirror shined in front of Dave’s face,” Burd said. “[This is] what his personality and quest for validation could be if it was at a 10, if it was really hyperbolized. I think it brings all the themes from this season together.”
While plenty of credit for Season 3’s perceptive arc goes to co-showrunner and co-creator Jeff Schaffer — who has a bit of experience working with famous folks playing themselves via “Curb Your Enthusiasm” — as well as the writing staff and full creative team, Burd is part of that team, and his ability to see outside of himself gives the series bearing his name added depth.
“We’ll take a core truth about me — like, I’m a selfish person — and then we’ll just take that kernel and turn it into television,” Burd said. “Sometimes my selfishness would never present itself in that extreme of a manner, but it all stems from a core kernel of truth that then can perhaps get hyperbolized for the betterment of comedy or plot or etc., etc.”
Like the prior two seasons, “Dave” brings you closer to its central subject. No matter how extreme certain episodes may get, its emotional tether to the audience is rooted in Dave himself.
“I’m fairly sensitive because at the end of the day, the show is my perspective and I would never want my character to take on a huge vibe or perspective that is so incongruous with what I feel in reality,” Burd said. “The cornerstone of the show is my POV, so I wouldn’t want to stray from that.”
To that end, Burd insists he loves his fans, and the bad eggs shown in Season 3 aren’t emblematic of his feelings overall.
“A lot of times when I meet people, they’ll feel like they really know me when we haven’t even met,” Burd said. “I don’t knock anybody for [that] because first off, I want people to feel that way about me. I don’t want to be this completely enigmatic, ‘I have no idea what that man is like,’ type of celebrity. I think there is a sense of relatability — I’m very approachable.”
“The idea of me having a reputation that precedes me, I’m sure it doesn’t just occur for Lil Dicky or me. It probably occurs for any famous person.”
But by exploring Dave’s insecurities and how they subvert expectations, the series opens people up to a broader worldview. For Burd — and perhaps some of the celebrity guests on his show — that means people are starting to see him differently.
“I used to get like, ‘Oh, you’re really nice. That’s a surprise.’ I don’t know that I get that anymore because [of] the show,” Burd said. “You might look at a Lil Dicky rap video and think, ‘Maybe that guy is a cocky asshole or something.’ I don’t know. You might be less able to see the pureness of my soul or something, [but] I think the show contextualizes all that.”
“For those that have seen the show, when they meet me now, it’s more like, ”You’re just like that.’”
Not everything that happens in “Dave” is real. But it’s helping to inspire a more honest reality — for its namesake and audience alike.
“Dave” Season 3 is available to stream on Hulu. The finale premieres Wednesday, May 31 at 10 p.m. ET.