Dave Burd as a fictionalized version of himself in the second season of "Dave."
Dave Burd as a fictionalized version of himself in the second season of "Dave."

In season 2 of ‘Dave,’ a Jewish rapper struggles to not get canceled

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“You guys worry about cancel culture?” the rapper asks a group of teenage boys sitting around him during a bar mitzvah party in an episode from the new season of “Dave.” “You have the perfect alibi,” he continues. “You’re young. You don’t know any better. Your brains aren’t even fully formed.”

Jakey, the bar mitzvah boy, protests: “My Torah passage makes it such a big deal, you know, becoming a man.” “C’mon, Torah-schmorah,” the rapper shoots back. “You really believe that horseshit?”

This is what passes for an inspirational speech by Lil Dicky, aka Dave Burd, who has been hired to entertain Jakey and his pals during the party held at Jakey’s family’s Los Angeles mansion. What happens next is predictable: A few of the boys retreat to the garage, one ends up with his shirt off and a paper bag over his head, and a video of whatever they were doing gets posted on TikTok and then forwarded to Jakey’s father, who confronts Burd and kicks him out. It is not the first time Burd has been expelled from a bar mitzvah, we learn from his DJ and childhood friend, Elz (Travis Bennett).

While the very enjoyable first season of “Dave” revolved around Burd’s obsession with being taken seriously as a white, Jewish rapper (like the real Burd, who plays a version of himself in the show), the second season finds him trying not to get canceled — by his friends, his record label, even his own parents — for his various transgressions. (All episodes of both seasons are available to watch on Hulu.)

And while Burd obviously hasn’t matured much from one season to the next, the show itself has. It is more ambitious in its storytelling, more subversive in its exploration of social issues (from white privilege to mental illness), more creative in its crudeness. And the impressive list of guest stars proves how effectively “Dave” has managed to tap into the zeitgeist.

The new season begins with the same question at the center of the season 1 finale: Is Burd a “culture vulture,” someone guilty of cultural appropriation? He has flown to Seoul to shoot a video with K-pop star CL, but he is not a K-pop fan. He is doing this collaboration solely for the YouTube views. And while he frets over the “optics” of the video — he wears some generic Asian costume and raps in bad Korean — he won’t stand for anyone challenging what he believes to be his bold artistic vision.

CL smartly pulls out of the shoot, saving Burd from an inevitable backlash — but also leaving him with nothing to show the record executives who are expecting an entire album from him. It seems that among other afflictions, including hypospadias (a urological condition) and back acne, Burd has a bad case of writer’s block. So he returns to L.A., and over the course of the season attempts to get his mojo back.

When he is not sparring with Elz or his harried manager, Mike (Andrew Santino), Burd is awkwardly pursuing a friendship with his ex, Ally (Taylor Misiak), while also looking for hookups on a dating app. Rapper Doja Cat, who is Black and Jewish, makes a memorable guest appearance as herself after she and Burd match with each other. Meanwhile, Burd’s hype man, GaTa (Davionte Ganter), is also trying to find love in an unexpected place. “I’m on Jdate right now looking for my wife with a 401(k) plan,” the non-Jewish GaTa tells Burd. “Opposites attract.”

One of the wilder episodes features Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his best performance since 1980’s “Airplane!” The NBA Hall of Famer summons Burd to his home to interrogate him about one of his music videos. Burd nervously defends himself against the implication that the video, in which the rapper’s head is superimposed onto Abdul-Jabbar’s body, is a form of blackface. “What would you call it, blackbody?” Abdul-Jabbar asks. Burd replies weakly, “You should know, I made it like a year and a half ago, and back then I wasn’t a racist, but I certainly wasn’t nearly as anti-racist as I am today.” (This situation recalls the real-life controversy surrounding Lil Dicky’s 2018 music video for “Freaky Friday,” in which his character uses the N-word after switching bodies with Black pop singer Chris Brown.)

Fearing that Abdul-Jabbar is going to write a hit piece on him, Burd later combs through his old tweets in search of offensive ones to delete. “I just need to show this guy that I’m a good person,” he tells Mike and Emma (Christine Ko). “You could just be a good person,” Emma responds. “I’m gonna get [expletive] crucified,” he concludes.

The season 2 finale of “Dave” does, in fact, include a crucifixion, but not the one you’re expecting. Burd manages to avoid the fate of cancellation and cultural irrelevance, thanks in large part to his unfailingly loyal inner circle, especially hype man GaTa, who delivers a tour de force performance during the finale. One hopes and expects that “Dave” — with its unique blend of humor and pathos, irreverence, great music and complex characters — will also never get canceled.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.