Before Dave Burd Became Rapper and TV Star Lil Dicky, He Was a GS&P Copywriter

How he went from writing ads to starring in his own FXX series

Dave Burd plays a version of himself in the new FXX comedy Dave, which he also co-created and is based on his life.
FX

When Dave Burd started as an assistant account manager at San Francisco agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners a decade ago, he had no idea that he was starting a journey that would lead to him becoming a YouTube sensation—and then a TV star.

But Burd’s GS&P job—working as a Doritos account executive, then a creative on NBA—led to his transformation into rapper and comedy Lil Dicky, whose songs like “Professional Rapper” and “Freaky Friday” have racked up hundreds of millions of YouTube views.

Now he’s playing a version of himself in the new comedy Dave, which Burd co-created. The comedy debuts tonight on FXX and will be available to stream tomorrow on the new FX on Hulu branded hub. (Two episodes will air tonight as part of FX Networks’ new scheduling strategy.)

Burd talked about his unlikely career path, his “dream job” at Goodby and the commercial dream he still hopes to realize.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Adweek: Let’s talk about your time at Goodby. How long were you there for?
Dave Burd: From like 2010 to 2013. I was a business major, so I came in as an assistant account manager. My goal was to work in the creative department. I always wanted do something creative, professionally, but I didn’t want to go to portfolio school and spend two years of time and money building a portfolio, if I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted to do. So I wanted to go in an ad agency and see what the heck goes on over there. I started off as an assistant account manager on Doritos, and was the low man on the totem pole. One of my assignments was, we had to give this report on how the chip sales were doing and how the ads were—it was this painfully boring Word document that I would send out every three months. The template was given to me by the assistant account manager before me. But it was my one time where I’m emailing the partners at the company—the report went to everyone who touched the Doritos account. It was my one chance at being noticed by people that are that high at the company.

I was like, instead of it being a Word document, why don’t I record an MP3 or do a song? I made a song about Doritos chip sales and sent it out one day. The partners at the company went crazy, and they immediately switched me into the creative department. All of a sudden, I wrote like 10 ads that were on TV by age 22. I did the whole NBA playoff campaign in 2012.

I’m probably over-answering this question, but it is the story of Lil Dicky, to be honest with you. Because I was like, if people are loving the way I apply rap to sales of chips, what if I applied my comedic sensibilities to rap? So that sparked the idea, and Goodby has a whole production wing where they have lights, cameras and equipment, and they lent me all types of things to make my first videos ever. If I didn’t work at Goodby, I don’t think I would have been the success that I am.

What finally prompted you to leave?
I think working at an ad agency is the dream job, if I was not [going to be] my own boss and was held to corporate America. I was able to be creative. It’s such a great culture. I love everything about Goodby in every single way, but it’s certainly not living my dream and being a rapper or being a comedian. So when I posted my videos online and they did so well, mentally I was like, “You’re leaving. You’re going to do this.” But I couldn’t do it until I had money to do it. So I kept working there while Lil Dicky stuff was out for like six months. Then I did a Kickstarter and raised $113,000, and I left.

If I didn't work at Goodby, I don't think I would have been the success that I am.
Dave Burd

What did you learn at that job about building the Lil Dicky brand?
I learned a lot about production—just simply coming into LA on shoots and being in edits. I’d never edited anything. When I grew up, a music video was like Puffy and Biggie on a jet ski; this unattainable thing. Then when I was at Goodby and I saw how easy it was to make things—even in-house, in one day—that looked like a music video. It really blew my mind on what was possible. And I saw that I could write scripts and add value on set.

People always say to me, “Man, you’re so good at branding yourself.” And while I certainly appreciate the claim, I don’t do anything beyond just be myself and use my judgment and taste. So I don’t think I learned a lot about branding there. I just learned a lot about how to make things.

Are you working on any commercials?
I’m doing a Trojan commercial campaign this year, so I think I’m going to be writing commercials that appear within my TV show. It’s like full circle.

I really take pride in writing commercials. It’s still a dream of mine that I haven’t achieved to write a Super Bowl spot. I really would like to do that.

Do you have a particular brand or category in mind that you would like to do that Super Bowl spot for?
Hmm. [Thinks for a few seconds] I’m just telling you what comes into my head… Nike.

Why?
I just respect their brand and I respect their marketing. Apple, Google … but at the same time, I would imagine I’d thrive if it was a comedic commercial. But maybe there’s something interesting, you don’t see a lot of those brands make funny commercials. But when I think of the landscape of television, is it still Wieden [+ Kennedy] making the Nike commercials? They’re doing epic ads. I really respect great campaigns. Geico, they’re still pumping out hits. I love SportsCenter commercials. The sports world is something I’m really interested in, but I don’t know. I don’t wanna even limit myself. It would be cool to make a Doritos spot, and come full circle.

"That billboard is perfect," said Burd of FX's marketing plan for Dave.
FX

Given your background, how involved were you in marketing Dave?  
FX marketing is the best in the world. They win the [Promax] award every year, so they come in with that track record. I obviously come in with like the attitude of, no one knows how to do this better than me. I was nervous about what would it be like, because they are extremely prideful and that’s their job. But we work so well together. [FX marketing chief] Stephanie Gibbons, I love that woman, and I think she loves me. I trusted them a lot and they were right. That billboard is perfect. That’s the first time in my career that somebody made something that I wasn’t in control of, presented it to me and A) I liked it, B) I had no comments. So they’ve really earned my trust and I think the marketing for the show is incredible. You saw the one thing I made, a little song and we made a video for that:

And the billboard’s amazing and there’s another 30[-second spot] that I love. So I think the rollout, in terms of marketing, it’s top notch. And as an ad guy, I have a lot of pride in that. I spent so much time making commercials for other people. I’m making commercials for my own show now; they’d better be great.

You’re 31. How old do you think you can still be known as Lil Dicky?
Well, it’s certainly a young man’s game, but at the same time, Kanye [West] is 42 and I’m still listening to his albums. I’ll probably rap as long as people want to listen to it, but I also don’t want to be that old guy. I have enough awareness, I think, to know, you should stop rapping. I think I probably got five to eight years left; that’s a ballpark. And I’m going to make the most of it.

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