From last October to April, I was working on season two of the FX comedy, “Dave.” I had the incredibly pandemic job of being COVID monitor. Basically, I handed out masks and sanitizer to everyone on set — but nonetheless, it was exciting because I love the show.
For those unfamiliar, “Dave” is based on the life of rapper and comedian Dave Burd, AKA Lil Dicky, who is the show’s co-creator and star. The series follows a fictionalized Dave’s journey to become the most famous rapper in the world. With an incredible cast of characters inspired by people from Burd’s real life, the show explores the relationships between Dave and his friends and family while he’s trying to accomplish his dreams. There’s heartbreak, selfishness, tears, and a lot of laughs.
I was especially ecstatic to find out that this season would feature an episode that was centered all-around a bar mitzvah, aptly titled, you guessed it, “Bar Mitzvah.” I couldn’t wait to see how this piece of my American Jewish identity would be played out on screen.
When I first walked onto set, I was taken aback by how accurate the set decoration looked. In a perfectly manicured Los Angeles backyard, various tables were set up with candy centerpieces. A pool was in the center, with a basketball court toward the back of the yard and a trampoline for the kids to play on. A dance floor was set up in front of the DJ booth and a bar for the parents was open for business. There was a big picture of the bar mitzvah boy, Jakey, wearing a replica of Dave’s zoot suit from season one for all the guests to sign, along with a table for gifts, a box for envelopes, an over-the-top sweets table with the largest lollipops you’ve ever seen (that I got to try), and a DJ set up on the porch.
My only qualm was the number of Stars of David around. In banners, on cookies, and on the big “Mazel Tov Jakey” sign that hung on the DJ booth. There was also an abundance of gelt on the candy table. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Stars of David, but it didn’t feel especially accurate that a young boy would choose that as his main décor motif instead of a more personal theme. While complimenting the set decorator on her work, I asked about the use of all the stars and gelt, and was told that this episode was taking place during Hanukkah so they wanted to tie the holiday in, as well as make sure the viewer understood that this was a Jewish gathering, since some people might not know what a bar mitzvah is. Fair enough.
The extras that were cast as the attendees did a marvelous job. We shot for a few days in the terribly hot sun, but you would never guess. There were kids getting wild on the dance floor, adults schmoozing by the bar, everyone looking like they were having a great time. I had my eyes on the DJ, which was very important to me. As someone who has been to their fair share of b’nai mitzvahs, I know that your DJ of choice is an essential part of the event. For the most part, I was impressed by the set-up and wardrobe of the actor who played the DJ. He was wearing sunglasses the whole time, had on a snazzy jacket and scarf, and let his long hair hang in the wind. Since movie magic puts in the music post-production, the DJ was moving and grooving to the sound of silence while we were shooting, but he was very convincing.
As a COVID monitor, it was the hora that doused me in the most anxiety. Just picture it: 100 people close together, holding hands in a circle. After every take I would run down from the porch with my shield and a pump of sanitizer, directing everyone to put their masks on and hold their hands out. Ultimately, the hora is in the episode for maybe 30 seconds, but you can’t have a bar mitzvah without it so I’m glad they made the effort for this essential dance.
In the end, the actual storyline of “Bar Mitzvah,” which aired in July, has nothing to do with the bar mitzvah itself. Lil Dicky was hired to perform and the event was just a backdrop for tensions going on between him and his best friend, Elz, the complexity and crowdedness of the affair offering a great location for them to be at each other’s throats. There’s also much reminiscing for Dave and Elz, thinking back to their glory days of getting kicked out of services when they were 13. The atmosphere was able to bring them back together as best friends and hash out any issues they were dealing with.
Normally, I am very underwhelmed with the way that Jewish life and events are portrayed in film and TV. Too often things are half-assed, glossed over or just wrong. But I believe that this episode of “Dave” did an accurate job of portraying a modern-day bar mitzvah (for a super rich family in LA). And maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, considering it was written by a Jewish comedian, Dave Burd, and directed by Jewish actor/writer/director Ben Sinclair, best known for his HBO series, “High Maintenance.” More than that, Burd has talked about how his own bar mitzvah helped launch his career — last year he told Jimmy Kimmel that he saved the money he received as bar mitzvah gifts and eventually used it to fund his self-made music videos, the first of which, “Ex-Boyfriend,” went viral when it was released in 2013.
If you haven’t watched the episode yet, I highly suggest giving it a look. If you don’t tune into the actual story and just focus on all the stuff happening in the background, you’ll feel like you’re 13 again.