Inside FXX’s ‘Dave’ Writer’s Room: An Exclusive Interview with Niles Abston

Posted on: Jun 28, 2023

Photo courtesy of John Becker

By Steffanie Bradley

With the arrival of season 3, Dave soared to new heights, captivating audiences worldwide with its fresh perspective and unabashed authenticity. The show not only became a cultural phenomenon but also provided a much-needed platform for discussions surrounding mental health, artistic expression and the pursuit of dreams.

Staff writer Niles Abston‘s contributions to Dave have been instrumental in shaping its success. Abston possesses a unique ability to craft narratives that resonate deeply with viewers. His keen understanding of the show’s themes, coupled with his exceptional storytelling skills, has helped to create moments of laughter, introspection and genuine connection.

Season 3 of Dave catapulted the show to unprecedented levels of acclaim, drawing in a larger audience than ever before. Its fearless exploration of personal growth, alongside the trials and tribulations of its protagonist Dave Burd struck a chord with viewers worldwide. Niles Abston’s creative vision and commitment to authenticity have undoubtedly played a significant role in the show’s continued success.

How did working as a staff writer on FXX’s Dave come to fruition for you?

Well, I’m a stand-up comedian. I moved to LA to write, but I started doing stand-up back in 2016 and in 2020 I put out my own comedy special on YouTube. I shot it in my friend’s living room.

You did it Bo Burnham style during COVID, right?

We did it on my birthday. So literally it was the month before [COVID]. It was just crazy that literally everything people would be doing would be in their house for the next year or so. I did that before the pandemic started. We packed over a hundred people in this house [and recorded it]. I performed for over an hour in this living room. I wasn’t really necessarily going to put it out [at first]. But then everything shut down, so I was like, might as well. I don’t know when I’m going to do stand-up again. So [I] put it out for summer 2020. I love stand-up, it’s great, but I always wanted to come out here and write for movies and TV. My whole idea behind it was like, if I just put this out on the internet where anybody could see it, if somebody has a TV show, they could see that, “Oh, he wrote a whole hour of jokes. Why couldn’t he write a couple jokes on our show?”

Were you ever a writer’s PA or anything like that?

Nah. It’s a tough business. Which is why I was like, let me just do something different and put that out. You see a lot of comedy specials on YouTube now, but I feel like at first it was more just comedians who were just already kind of established that put stuff out. Whereas I was turning 25 and had no connections or anything, I just put it out. Now you’re seeing a lot of comedians that don’t have a following or are just getting popular and they’re putting stuff on YouTube now. So I think that’s really cool. But yeah I guess I got it there’s a short list of writers that were getting submitted for the show and I did a few interviews and when I did my interview with Dave Burd and Jeff—the co-creator Jeff Schaffer—Dave had said he watched my comedy special and that’s why he wanted to talk to me. I was like, it all makes sense now.

Because Dave also got discovered in part from YouTube.

Right. Writing for the show, I had to go back and really look at all the stuff he had done. Then it really inspired me to do even more stuff. But it just made sense that a guy that started by putting stuff on YouTube by just taking a chance, gave me a shot to write on his show. Because he saw that I did the same thing. That’s how I got hired on the show. I was [already] repped at CAA for acting and writing.

Getting an agent as a writer is difficult. How did that happen?

Well, so my comedy special went viral, so I grew an audience. This woman who was a writer as well, just DM’d me one day, was like, ”I love your comedy special, do you write scripts?” I was like, “Yeah.” So I sent her this movie I wrote a few years ago. So then she hit me back. It was like, “I have a friend I went to college with that works at CAA, could you meet with her?”And then I was like, “Sure.” People in LA say all the time, everybody has a friend that works somewhere [in the industry]. So I didn’t really think much of it. Then one day I just got this phone call [from] a random Beverly Hills phone number, and they were like, “Can we set up a meeting?” [It was] CAA. I had this Zoom meeting with the lady that is now my agent. I took a lot of shots. And that’s what I’m just continuing to do. I learned a lot from Dave and GaTa just working on the show and I was just like, “Wow, they just didn’t stop [trying].” That’s really what it is.

They kept going after it.

Yes. They kept working really hard, have a unique perspective and just like, don’t stop. Then [you have to] find people around you that can help with that. Because the two of them just complement each other well. I don’t think Dave would’ve [done] the show if there was no GaTa. I don’t think GaTa would be on TV if he didn’t know Dave.

Are they besties in real life?

Yeah. I think that’s why everybody loves the show. The two of them are like…[chuckles] they’re just great. A lot of people say that the show doesn’t feel written or acted at all.

I see that you have credits for every episode, is that right? Was there a big writers room, or how did it kind of set up?

Yeah, I do. I think we had 10 or 11 writers. Our script coordinator, Emma Wisdom, got to write an episode. She wrote the ‘Wisconsin‘ episode. Our showrunner’s assistant, Trevor Alper, co-wrote the Met Gala episode with me. A lot of people have said that was their favorite one. Two of the ladies were there that were in production and set design for the show were at the wrap party. I went up to them because I remembered them when I was on-set for my episode. I told them thank you for doing such a great job with the Met Gala [episode]. Because it was like me and Trevor could have written whatever, but they made it come to life. The staircase, the banquet room, the outfits. I mean they killed it. Pretty much everybody on the crew was worried. This is the one that’s going to be so tough. But they did such a great job. They made it look easy.

Did you know going into it who the guest stars were going to be for the episode? There were a lot of cameos.

Some of the people we knew. I think we had Jack Harlow locked in pretty early. Everybody else was just kind of a toss up.

Even Rachel McAdams?

Rachel was kind of that last domino to fall. We needed her to make it work. Dave got her to come on for three different episodes. That was crazy. Dave just wrote these people letters. He found out they liked the show and he wrote them asking if they’d want to be on it. That’s how we got Brad Pitt, Drake and so many others. He just goes for it. I love it. I don’t know how you can see a guy [like] Dave and not be inspired to just go after it. I don’t see how you can look at that guy and not think, I’m going to take my shot. 

What are your thoughts on the writer’s strike?

We need to get paid more money. I work at a dispensary right now, and I wrote one of the best episodes on TV that’s out, and now with the strike I’m working at a dispensary. I’m hoping to get something soon. I’m on the picket every day. It’s like, it’s tough. A lot of writers, they’ve made enough money to where, right now, they’re fine or whatever. But there’s also a lot of us who are young that just got into this, that are on the picket line and then having to go to work [a regular job] after. It’s tough. And then I have people come into the dispensary, that … “Yo, I watch Dave, you’re a writer” or “I’ve been to one of your shows, you’re so funny.” I’m still doing stand-up and a tour this summer. I’m still writing, too. I don’t want an opportunity to come and not be ready. You have to keep going.

Stream FXX’s Dave on Hulu and catch the S3 finale starring Brad Pitt, Rachel McAdams and Drake on YouTube for free.

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