Birds are chirping outside, which means it is Spring, here in Los Angeles. The city has managed to swerve past back-to-back rain showers making the perfect day for Travis Bennett and I to chop it up about his newest season of FX Network’s, Dave.
The first two episodes of the zany comedy series dropped on April 5. Dave is a scripted retelling of Lil Dicky’s claim-to-fame story in the music world as an off-the-wall character who manages to break into the industry with rap punchlines targeted at himself. In its third season, the semi-biographical comedy feels even more meta considering Dave Burd’s off-camera stage persona and Travis Bennett’s former alias coming up in the scene with Odd Future as “Taco.”
“It was hard in the beginning [to let go of Taco], sometimes…even now, it’s kind of a battle between the two,” Bennett admits with zeal of this evolutionary part of his career to ESSENCE. “That was a crazy whole identity moment for me but I’m really happy that I did change because I was too worried about people that knew who I was instead of being worried about the people who don’t.”
Bennett plays Elz on the hit FX series, the DJ/wise-cracking confidant to the titular rapper, Dave — portrayed by artist Lil Dicky (Dave Burd). The opening episodes of the season concern Dave having hiccups in the relationship department when he is hoping to find a lover for a lifetime, (not with a fan). Elz and Dave go on tour, traveling humbly from one small show to the next. With the unexpected taking place, awkward commando run-ins, and socializing with strange fans, Dave presents a real take on the haphazard, underdog tale of a rapper on the rise.
Bennett is well-versed in the tour life having traveled heavily with his misfit Odd Future music collective that included Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt and his sister, Syd. Nearly a decade since the squad’s infamous show, Loiter Squad’s conclusion, Bennett is returning to the TV screen consistently again. But, instead of crude skits to get the last laugh, Bennett is searching for more and is now on the precipice of becoming a familiar on-screen face due to his most recent role in Netflix’s You People, where he was seen as Eddie Murphy’s fictional son.
Bennett talks to ESSENCE about his Los Angeles shenanigans, living multiple lives on tour as Elz on Dave and himself, and what he wants to see more of in filmmaking.
Essence: How collaborative was carving out your role as Elz in the Dave series?
Bennett: Somewhere in between. There are moments where Dave will hit me and be like, “Yo, are you okay with this happening with your character?” and I’m totally fine with that. The main art about building my character to me has been the vocabulary and the little nuanced actions he does. We all have our own habits and Elz calls everybody a nickname. He is very playful in that sense.
How is the relationship you have with Lil Dicky (Dave) onscreen different from your offscreen bond?
Bennett: Between me and him, our text conversations usually are just basketball and random topics but he just got a puppy. We’ve been friends for a while, so our off-screen comedy is almost the same as on-screen. It’s just a little bit funnier. We’re a good duo. We’re a good team over here at Dave.
With the severance of your Taco alias, was there a challenge of trying to separate yourself from the identity so many people have come to know you for?
Bennett: It really is all about sticking with Travis. Letting it all play out and doing opportunities outside of the Taco umbrella. I don’t need to keep a certain demographic happy per se, because they don’t decide my decisions. They don’t make the decisions for me. So, it’s really just about being okay with kind of starting new and starting fresh with a clean slate and building a building next door to my other building.
What about playing Elz has been particularly sentimental? Were there scenes that you filmed during this season that really made you reminisce or reflect on your past life on tour with Tyler and the gang?
Bennett: Until this season, everything else prior to this had nothing that really was sentimental to me. But being on tour was the most sentimental thing that I’ve ever experienced in my whole life. I did that for so long with my best friends and when we shot Dave season one that was during the year that Tyler’s IGOR toured. That was the tour that I was most excited to go on and I had to make the decision between the two of whether or not I was going to go on tour or I was going to shoot this show. It was a hard decision. It was like saying no to summer camp. You know I am used to doing this with my boys all the time and then to say no left me a little bit heartbroken.
Do you have any cringe memories you can recall that have happened at smaller shows with your friends in the past?
Bennett: Too many to name. Honestly, I’ve lived ten lifetimes on tour. We got in trouble in a hotel for paintballing one time. That was pretty crazy. There were some other crazy moments with fans that got a little bit out of hand. One time a knife got pulled on me at a show because I didn’t take a picture with somebody.
When in Season 3, do you feel the narrative taps more into Elz’s character arc? How so?
Bennett: You just see him dealing with life. In season two, he was living such a good life and everything was going so sweet. Season three is really about Elz adjusting to a position that he didn’t think he would come into. He’s learning life lessons right now about love and his vulnerability is important in this season.
Why is playing roles that uplift the comedy elements in a story such an important part in your life?
Bennett: I think that is what I’m best at. Why would I try to show somebody certain things that I don’t know if I’m good at yet? There are definitely other things I want to try but I just don’t think I’m personally ready for. I just like to make people laugh, that’s always a good feeling to me, putting smiles on faces.
What would you want to serve in your dream cinematic universe?
Bennett: They don’t have too many good Black villains. I know that sounds crazy, but there aren’t a lot of Black villains besides Jamie Foxx or Kang, Jonathan Majors’ character [in the Marvel Cinematic Universe]. Psychotic characters. I want to play a character who is outsmarting everybody, somebody who is thinking ten steps ahead of everyone. I’m not asking for a Black Joker or anything, but somebody who’s just a little bit off the beaten path.
If you were to educate someone on what’s the best way for you to get a laugh in a scene or skit, what would you say is the best formula to getting a positive reaction?
Bennett: Don’t try too hard. I feel like comedy is a natural thing. A read the room kind-of-situation, you know? See what everybody else looks like and it all sort of depends.
What does a prime sunny Sunday in LA look like for you and your group of friends?
Bennett: No responsibilities. Go to breakfast, loiter at a breakfast diner for a second, go get a beverage from somewhere after. Then, we would go and kick it at my house or kick it outside somewhere to get a little bit of sun. If there is heat, we will go into the pool. This would lead into the night and at nighttime, we would just hang out with my friends and make some shit up like Uno or anything, literally.