Dave Burd is better known by fans of his music as Lil Dicky. To brands and advertisers, he’s the ideal pitch man.
Burd worked in advertising for years before committing to a rap career, and now that world is following him, seizing on the talents that initially sprung him from the industry. But it’s a natural, almost inevitable fit: the 29-year-old Philly-native is friendly, clever, relatable, cuddly, and just edgy enough to connect with millennials searching for authenticity. In short, the perfect vessel for advertisers.
That was on full display last week, when Inverse shadowed Burd on a commercial shoot for Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Drizly. They gave him just the bare bones of a script; Burd was given free range to riff on their products and services, because they knew he’d deliver bits better than any copywriter could conjure. He’s likable on camera because he is likable in real life.
The premise of the shoot, surprising a Brooklyn local with a Mike’s Hard Lemonade delivery and an invitation to a private party, meant Burd had to show up at a stranger’s door decked out in corporate swag. When the fan opened his door and saw Burd holding a garden gnome, he asked, “What is this? Do you have my drinks?”, to which Burd replied, “Which do you want first, the drinks or this gnome?”
The fan, catching on to the idea that they were being filmed, and that this was a marketing stunt, asked, “Wait, is there something in the gnome?” Burd answered, “There’s not like…a malevolent spirit in it, if that’s what you mean. If anything, there’s good vibes. Mike’s Hard Lemonade.”
When the producers called cut, Burd didn’t check with anyone to see if his performance was in good shape. He simply recalibrated and fired off a new series of punchlines at the fan, who played along.
On camera and off, Burd is a joke machine, and incredibly earnest — this wouldn’t work if he was cynical about the process. That’s what his music is all about, and why it connects: Professional Rapper, his first record, debuted #7 on the Billboard 200 with tracks like Personality, about having to woo women despite being an average looking dude, and Save Dat Money, about budgeting his way through an early rap career. Save Dat Money was licensed by Old Navy for commercial spots, and he was a face of Madden 2017’s digital campaign.
I asked him if he actually liked Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which I admitted I called “cheerleader beer” in college. “Yeah, I prefer it to beer,” he said. “In fact, if I have to have a beer, it’s a Guinness.”
He’s getting really good at this marketing game, and a response about the beer’s thickness drifts towards sales. “It’s like dessert. You forget you’re drinking a beer at all. In fact, that’s a good new tagline for them.” He raised his hand like he was unveiling a banner. “Guinness: you’ll forget you have to drink a beer.”
When our conversation drifted to how many brands now back him, Burd dryly repeated, “Well, I’m actor, comedian, model…” Someone laughed at the phrase, and he pulled down his jeans to reveal MeUndies, an underwear brand he reps. “I’m an underwear model,” he reaffirmed, standing in the middle of a circle of PR reps, the commercial producers, and me.
This commercial with Mike’s Hard and Drizly is far from his first; he starred in a series of Trojan ads in which he made fun of men who didn’t want to protect themselves while having wild sex. Burd says his agent just gets offers from male-focused brands, and he decides whether or not to partner with them based on whether he uses their stuff.
“I don’t think about the brand so much, I just react to what’s being offered to me. In the case of Mike’s or Trojan, I just like these products.” The Trojan ads matured his image just a bit; in the series, he’s not a loser who can’t get a girl’s attention, but a wordy, neurotic man who brings home a beautiful woman just to lecture her about condom usage, though she’s too horny to talk.
They all want a piece of him, to grab a hold of his relatable aura. He seems so comfortable goofing off and improvising that watching him, I almost forgot what he’s famous for in the first place.
When I ask if he’s becoming more a stunt comedian than a musician, Burd says, “I’ll tell you what, I was a lot braver as a child. The child version of me could do so many things and keep a straight face. The more I grow up, the nicer of a human being I become, and I feel bad for being an asshole, which you kind of have to be if you do social stunt type comedy. More than anything, I’d like to be a Larry David, have my own TV show and be in movies.”
Right now, he’s focusing on his next album, which he says will portray a more complex persona. “I could have put out a second rate album by now, but I need to be patient and work toward something that can last me a lifetime,” he says. “You only get so many first impressions. Not that this is my first impression, but there are a lot of people out there who don’t know me now, but might find me because of my next project, so I need it to be mesmerizing.”
He’s still working on making it mesmerizing, and says that if he “were a betting man,” he’d put a wager on it coming out in mid-2018.
The day ended on the Brooklyn Barge, where Burd’s team, along with the brands involved, threw a party for everyone involved. Though Burd probably decided ten minutes or so into the party that he wanted to leave, it took him nearly twenty minutes to make his rounds. It was a strange experience, drinking the first Mike’s Hard Lemonade I’ve had since I was 19, watching Burd’s face rise and fall before and after taking selfies with fans.
“I used to be at commercial shoots just like this,” Burd tells me, “but just like…as the account guy, or as the copywriter. So it does feel like I’ve come full circle.”
The irony is that in hoping to escape his job in advertising, Burd quit and pursued a music career that landed him back where he started: on a set talking to publicists and developing ad copy, though this time he’s also the commercial’s leading man.