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James Van Der Beek Is the New Diplo


James Van Der Beek, who will be starring in the new Viceland show “What Would Diplo Do?”

Emily Berl for The New York Times

It turns out that James Van Der Beek is funny.

Defined for years by his title role as the earnest Everyboy in the teen drama “Dawson’s Creek,” Mr. Van Der Beek, 40, managed a sly reinvention this decade by playing an exaggerated version of himself on the ABC sitcom “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23.”

Experimenting in “that meta space,” as he calls it, prepared Mr. Van Der Beek for his unlikely — and delightfully niche — role as the underground D.J.-turned-pop macher Diplo in Viceland’s first scripted series, “What Would Diplo Do?”, a satirical (and often flat-out mean) look at the life of an irrationally confident E.D.M. star.

“In our loftiest ambitions, we were somewhere between ‘Louie’ and ‘Spinal Tap,’” said Mr. Van Der Beek, who is also writing, producing and serving as showrunner for the comedy, which begins on Thursday, Aug. 3. (Diplo, born Thomas Wesley Pentz and known to friends as Wes, is an executive producer.)

Initially conceived last year as a three-minute online short, the gag grew in scope at the behest of Nick Weidenfeld, Viceland’s president of programming, who raised the possibility of a full series. “That night I went back to my pool house, poured some wine, started listening to Diplo, and it just hit me,” Mr. Van Der Beek said, noting the comedic potential of a “musical genius” with real-word blind spots. “This is ‘E.D.M. Jesus sucks at life.’”

Day In the Life of Diplo Video by Diplo

On the phone from Los Angeles, the actor was thoughtful on silly subjects, seeming to approach the project as if he were a kind of cultural anthropologist. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How did you and Diplo first meet?

I heard him on NPR years ago talking about using Latin beats and reggaeton. I had him flagged in my head as somebody to watch. Then last summer, Brandon Dermer, this music video director, was tasked with coming up with a promo for the Mad Decent Block Party tour. “What if James played Wes, but in a Dollar Shave Club-type vibe?” I look enough like him to be a stunt double from far away. With a dad hat and mustache, it works.

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