He’s no Lady Gaga—and that’s fine by him
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Donald Glover wants to do everything. After achieving some notoriety for making funny YouTube videos with his college troupe, Derrick Comedy, he started his career as a writer on 30 Rock. He left the show’s writing staff to pursue his passion as a stand-up full-time, and then, he parlayed into a cast spot on NBC’s Community. The sitcom has raised his profile to the point that he’s been able to pursue his music career as rapper Childish Gambino. After a pair of free releases—including the 2010 full-length Culdesac and March’s self-titled EP—garnered the writer/comedian/actor/rapper some attention for his mic skills, he opted to take the show on the road with the IAMDONALD tour, which features both stand-up and rapping from the performer. The A.V. Club caught up with Glover to talk about the tour—which makes a stop tonight at Park West —whether he’s the new Will Smith, and his propensity for hitting on Rashida Jones in his songs.
The A.V. Club: Has Rashida Jones heard “Not Going Back” yet?
Donald Glover: I don't know! I’m sure she will eventually, probably. So we’ll see what she says! There’s nothing bad in it, it’s just truthful. I know sometimes people get kinda weirded out by truthful stuff. But I’m sure she’ll take it in stride. She took the first time, when I wrote the thing about the crowd being “more mixed than Rashida Jones,” pretty well, so I doubt she’ll take this poorly.
AVC: What’s the show like on the IAMDONALD tour?
DG: I wanted to do a music and comedy show, but I didn’t want it to be hokey and lame. So, it’s like stand-up with video, and it’s essentially a concert. Whether it’s a music or a stand-up concert, that’s up to you. It’s just a big happening, which I’m really excited about.
The great thing about seeing Odd Future live is that it’s obvious they’ve never seen a real hip-hop show. [Laughs.] It’s not a lot of dudes on stage mumbling. It’s a lot of people on stage doing stuff, and that’s what I wanted to have happen with this show. There’s a lot happening. It’s a live comedy music event.
AVC: Have you ever done that on this scale before?
DG: Never. I’ve never done anything on this scale, really. I don’t even know why I thought it was even possible. I’m lucky. The EP is doing extremely well and has gotten really popular really fast, and my comedy ended up getting very popular really fast. So the show is selling out all over the place. But it could have gone the opposite way. I don’t know why I was like, “People are going to want to see Childish Gambino!” They’ve never heard of Childish Gambino! “But they’re going to love him! And my stand-up, which isn’t that huge—people will definitely want to stay around!” But I wanted to do this. I know a lot of musicians do comedy, and a lot of comedians do music, so I thought somebody needed to do it, and I wanted to do it first.
AVC: You went from making comedy videos to writing for 30 Rock. Now you’re the guy on the TV show instead of the guy writing it, you hosted an awards show at SXSW, and Childish Gambino is selling out a nationwide tour. What’s it like to have spent six years working to be an overnight success?
DG: [Laughs.] I’m very impatient, so I was like, I want to be able to do whatever I want now. But even the biggest stars—you look back and they weren’t overnight. It just felt like that. Will Smith was on Fresh Prince for eight years—almost a decade—before he was like, “Okay, time to do a movie!” People don’t see it that way. They’re like, “Yeah, he blew up and there was a summer of Will Smith!” That kind of thing. But he planned that shit.
In this business, you have to plant seeds. I started doing 30 Rock and started writing Mystery Team at the beginning of that. While I was doing Mystery Team, I started practicing stand-up. While I was doing stand up, I got Community. It’s like I planted trees six years ago, and now they have fruit. People are like, “These trees came up overnight!” No, they just didn’t have fruit. They were growing. You saw them growing, they just didn’t have anything that was worth anything to you yet.
And it’s keeping that going that’s the hard part. I don’t know how Lady Gaga does it. I couldn’t be Lady Gaga and outdo myself every time. “I just wore a meat dress! How do I outdo a meat dress?” I wouldn’t want to do that, but that’s why I’m not her. That’s why I’m me. I try to be me to the utmost.
AVC: Does being on Community help you do projects like this?
DG: The only reason I’m able to do music is because I’m making money on Community. If I wasn’t, I couldn’t pay for things. People are always like, “Man, rappers need to have more live bands! They need to have more live music!” Do you know how much a fucking live band costs? I’m coming out of pocket on my live band. Literally, I paid them out of my wallet. This one dude came up to me after a show, he was like, “I’ve never seen an artist pay his band by check.” I do that shit because it’s important to me. All this music shit is out of pocket. I just like it.
So you do not have to worry about me quitting Community—being a musician just costs money. It is expensive, and you don’t make any money. That’s why people sell shirts and shit, because that’s the only time you make any money. I’m not making money off the EP. It’s all about touring. Even the IAMDONALD tour is just breaking even. I’m not making any money.
AVC: And that’s a sell-out tour.
DG: That’s a sell-out tour. If people didn’t know me—if I was just some band trying to make it, I don’t know how I would do it. I really don’t. I’m lucky. I’m very lucky.