Lil Dicky Has a Small Penis. So He Made a TV Show About It.
Can a dick joke be profound? Rapper Lil Dicky’s new comedy aims to pivot from its phallus-heavy gimmick to really say something—often, ahem, rising to the occasion.
How much of a man’s life is defined by his penis?
Depending on who you ask and in what context, the answer could be all of it—everything; it is the most important, the fulcrum of a man’s identity and way of thinking. Or maybe it’s just a body part, inconsequential outside of the biological service it provides.
When you’re a man who suffers from hypospadias—explanation here—who then goes on to become a YouTube rapper with the stage name Lil Dicky, perhaps the answer bends, if you will, more toward the former.
It’s certainly on the mind of the titular character of the new FXX series Dave, alter ego Lil Dicky, who begins an STD check-up with a preamble for his doctor: The tangled urethra thing. The surgeries he had after birth. The “chicken skin”-like texture of a normal person’s testicles is also on his shaft, probably because of the surgeries. “My dick is made of balls,” he says. It’s baptism by fire—inferno, really—for the doctor, but maybe more for the audience about what is in store.
It turns out that Dave doesn’t have herpes. The red bumps he noticed in his pubic region were razor irritation from shaving. This time, it was anxiety that was driving all of his actions. Other times, it swings in the complete opposite direction. An uncomfortable, perhaps unearned amount of confidence is Dave’s other defining trait.
Dave is of a peculiar kind, someone perpetually foiled by insecurity about his manhood—metaphorically and literally—but who also goes through life with his dick swinging, a kind of confidence we’ve come to label Big Dick Energy. It’s a dissonance that is fascinating; one that seems to mirror the creator’s own strange vibes, and one that makes Dave worth watching almost in spite of itself.
Lil Dicky, you see, is very real. He is the rap alter ego of Dave Burd, a former advertising drone who became a YouTube sensation overnight in 2013 with the release of his first video, “Ex-Boyfriend.” Burd co-created Dave with The League and Curb Your Enthusiasm alum Jeff Schaffer.
With elements of the show that echo his own unlikely, somewhat controversial rise in the viral-rap game, it’s one of those half-hour comedies where you don’t know where the real subject ends and the heightened-for-TV character begins. In this case, that’s a millennial Larry David by way of Seth Rogen doing an SNL sketch about white Jewish rappers.
We meet fictional Dave soon after he’s gone viral on YouTube as Lil Dicky. He’s attempting to parlay that into legitimate hip-hop success, motivated by the fervent belief that he is the next great rapper and music won’t know what hit it. You know... once he figures out how to record and release an actual track and be taken seriously by the music industry.
Dave is very funny. That’s not the most astute critical assessment, I know. But it’s what you probably most want to know. It’s also deeper than it has any business being, even if it never convincingly answers the question of whether this is a story that needed to be told in the first place.
The whole penis thing—from juvenile dick jokes to greater matters of phallus-meets-masculine worth—is both a passing gimmick and the entire point of the show, just as Burd’s stage name, Lil Dicky, is at once a silly, attention-grabbing moniker; an encapsulation of his music’s satirical, hyper-raunchy point of view; and an act of subversion. “It’s actually a super-intellectual commentary on hypermasculinity,” Dave says, defending the name to a friend.
The idea is that the puerile content is the gateway to really saying something: about privilege, about masculinity, about confidence, about the digital age. There are moments when it earns that.
The first two episodes, which premiere Wednesday night on FXX before debuting Thursday for streaming on Hulu, are cannily written, sharp-as-they-come cringe-comedy outings—if shallow and maybe too reminiscent of a time when neurotic white, wayward straight men snow-blinded the TV-comedy landscape.
But as the series moves forward, it offers glimpses of something more worthwhile. An extremely sexually explicit third episode spelunks questions of sexual expectations, insecurity, desire, and the psychology that weighs on all of it in ways a bro-comedy has never so seriously tackled. Episode five posits Dave’s own shortcomings, so to speak, as an invitation for others in his life to feel validated in their own perceived deficiencies.
Underpinning it all is a sight gag that becomes a thematic throughline, echoing the real Dave Burd/Lil Dicky’s professional mission, in essence.
Here is this man who, as Schaffer described, “looks like a piece of broccoli had a bar mitzvah,” storming a hip-hop recording studio with Teflon confidence that he is a rap genius and his takeover of the world is imminent, in spite of the fact that he’s attained no real success outside of being recognized as “the YouTube rapper with the small dick and all that.”
He’s the underdog in the rap game, in that sense, obliviously showing up to a recording studio in a peach shirt that has another aspiring artist, GaTa (playing himself), faux-admiring, “You gotta lot heart for wearing that color.” But his existence in the game at all is one of privilege. He stumbled into viral success. He finances an intro to a major guest artist and producer by cashing in $10,000 of his bar mitzvah money. He can Bloomberg his way into a world that has gates up for others, maybe even others who are more talented.
Similar dichotomies permeate much of the surface-level comedy.
This dweeby-looking guy out of his element hobnobbing with hard-hitting rappers—stuttering trying to keep up with talk of “hos” and yelping when he sits on a pile of guns—yet who manages to spit out impressive lyrics when put on the spot by one of the biggest names in the biz. This man who is walking through life with undue confidence about his rapping abilities, but who collapses into fits of anxiety over the most minute details in his life.
He’s a rising star who mimics the braggadocio and delivery of hip-hop greats, but who has a Jew fro. He’s a rapper whose lyrics are sexually explicit, but also entirely self-deprecating and humble—as if Lin-Manuel Miranda was rapping about eating ass.
It’s always a question of whether a creator’s actual personality should matter when it comes to the content of a semi-autobiographical show like this, but it is worth noting how diabolically confident Burd, née Lil Dicky, is in real life. His interviews read like parody.
“These guys would be crazy not to green-light this,” he told Vulture, recalling pitching the show. His assessment of what he made: “I’m so absolutely confident that the general public is going to love this show. The thought of ‘Is this good or not?’ is not even in my head.”
Or there’s this, to The New York Times: “In my heart I feel I’m one of the best rappers alive.” And his assessment to them about his work on Dave. “I feel I’m destined to be amazing at this craft,” he said. “I’ll be brutally disappointed if it isn’t one of the most explosive comedies on television.”
He embodies all the dichotomies, all the dissonance, all the disparate things that are supposed to make Dave different from all the other white-boy single-cam comedies out there—but also the insufferable thing that makes its existence possible in the first place. The relatable, dorky everyman to get behind, but with the privilege, resources, and unflappable confidence to make greatness happen for himself, whether or not he is the one who most deserves it.
How much of that has to do with having a little penis?
“Okay, so my penis has always been a big issue for me,” he told Vulture. “I literally had surgeries on my penis as a child. I’ve had the most lucky, privileged life ever. So on the one hand I’m very confident and rapper-y in my self-belief, but I’m always grounded in this insecure, self-deprecating place. And I think my penis is probably at the root of it.
“So to tell my origin story as an artist, as a rapper, as a human being, I couldn’t possibly do it without dedicating a good chunk of time to talking about sexual insecurity. So you can write it off as some big dick joke, but it’s actually way more personal than that.”
Write off Dave as a dick comedy if you want. Big or small, it comes through swinging.