People around comedy have been saying "it's gonna happen" for Donald Glover for a long time now. His first job merely months after graduating from NYU was writing for 30 Rock just as it was getting started. Now he's leaving that job to step in front of the camera as a cast member in The Community, a sitcom set at a community college he stars in alongside Joel McHale and Chevy Chase. It's one of two new pilots that have already been picked up by NBC for fall, which means we'll be losing Donald any day now as he makes the leap to Los Angeles.
He'll be joined out there by his buddies in Derrick, the comedy group whose videos have gotten tons of view on YouTube and sell out shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade on a regular basis. Derrick has a movie of its own, Mystery Team, that just premiered at Sundance, was recently screened up at Pixar (for the employees' shits and giggles) and is hopefully hitting theaters soon. Before he leaves town, he'll be doing a stand-up show tonight at 92Y Tribeca along with Leo Allen and Eugene Mirman. We talked to him just after he had gotten out of seeing Star Trek about a possible Derrick-Lonely Island feud, how Justin Timberlake became the new Steve Martin and the nickname all of his childhood bullies somehow missed out on.
You see any good trailers before Star Trek?Transformers 2. Of course it looks dope. The first one looked dope. But I just can't get over the fact that they're huge machines. They're super accurate. Why can't they just stomp him at a moment's notice? Not just any of them, but the Deceptacons.
How are you feeling about having to leave something as awesome as 30 Rock? It's terrifying because 30 Rock is such a great job. My mom is freaking out. She almost pissed herself when I told her I quit. I have this awesome job and it's progressively getting better. And it's finally at a point where the ratings have gotten better, you're making more money—it's where you want to get when you work on a TV show. It's like being on a train and getting to the point where there's about to be a straight shot and I'm like, "I'm gonna get off now." But I felt like that wasn't my path for right now.
Did you actually have to do that thing where you had to tell Tina face to face? I had to sit down with Tina and Robert (Carlock) and have the conversation. We both sort of knew where it was gonna go, but it was like when you sit down with your parents and they say, "Uh, we need to talk." And you're like, "Oh no, this is the sex talk." So there was an awkward couple of days in between. Then finally the three of us sat down and I said, "Soooo, I'm leaving." And they couldn't have been cooler about it.
What is it like writing for the character of Tracy Jordan? Is there ever a point where you have to stop yourself and be like, "This is too insane. No one would actually say this," and yet wonder if Tracy could still pull it off. Well Tina keeps that in check pretty well cause she knows Tracy (Morgan) pretty well and she's sort of key to the tone of the show. So she knows when things are getting too crazy. We haven't found that with Tracy where we've had to say, "That's too crazy." It's hard cause you wanna keep him real. He has a family and kids. He is a real person. He's not Wile E. Coyote.
How did Derrick go from being this sketch group that did shows at NYU and then at UCB into this sort of internet phenomenon? We had just started shooting these videos and wanted to put them up online, but didn't have the bandwidth—it was just too expensive. So YouTube had just come out and we were like, "Let's put 'em up on this thing called YouTube cause it's free." Thank God YouTube got big as well.
As you guys started blowing up and your UCB shows started selling out, did people around the comedy community start treating you any differently? People were asking us, "How did you get so many views?" And I think just that they went up when YouTube went up and nobody at the time was really making videos. I think people saw it as foresight, but we really just wanted people to see them. We would have shown them at theaters at the time. But this was simple, it was cheap and people were talking about it at the time. Around UCB, people just respected us doing the work. So the biggest thing was just Amy (Poehler) coming back and saying, "Hey, I saw your guys' stuff, good stuff!" So we were all "Oh man, Amy saw our stuff!" all heart aflutter.
When did Derrick and Lonely Island first cross paths? Has anyone ever sat you guys down as these two big names in internet comedy videos? When I was first working at 30 Rock, we were working at SNL office while they were out for summer. And Jorma (Taccone) was just hanging out, working on Hot Rod. I ran into him and he was like, "Hey, are you from Derrick Comedy?" It blew my mind that he had seen that. Cause these guys were Lonely Island...Dick in a Box!
Someone will eventually sit us down and end this horrible gang war we've had for years. It's weird sometimes reading YouTube. People seem to think that we have some sort of rivalry. I guess cause there's three of them and three visible members of Derrick.
It's so awesome the way that those guys have blown up. When I saw Lazy Sunday, I was like, "This is the coolest thing on the show in ten years." And now they have this viable album from it. "Mother Lover" is still stuck in my head from two days ago. And I think what I'm most impressed about it is just how good the song is. I just wanna hear this song all the time cause it's just a good pop song. Those guys are the best at it. They are our generation's Weird Al.
This war is starting with that quote. I am either gonna get praised or beaten for it.
It's amazing what an asset Justin Timberlake has been to that show. He's their sixth man. It's weird that Steve Martin used to be their sixth man and now it's Justin Timberlake, who's a huge pop star. And now whenever he's on the show, the show's gonna be phenomenal.
Is there anything you're trying to do around town before moving out to LA in a few weeks to start shooting this show? I'm trying to go see the Statue of Liberty. I've been here seven years and I've never been. I've gotten drunk every night. The kidneys have shut down. I'm just trying to enjoy the night here since I'm about to be in LA where you have to drive forty minutes to do something and then sober up before you get in the car. I may be thinking about alcohol too much. But no, I'm trying to do as much stand-up as possible and walk around and enjoying the neighborhoods.
Do you have a favorite spot around New York that feels like your own? I like rooftops a lot. I like being on any roof all the time. I try to DJ rooftop parties a lot because you can see the whole city and see other people on their roofs and it feels very isolating, but at the same time very connecting.
I love the rooftop parties at the McKibbin lofts in Williamsburg where you're at one huge party and you look across the street and there's an identical one going on. I call those The Orphanage because I went there and that's what it felt like. There were kids running around drunk and people are banging on doors and there are pots under things catching drips. They're our age, but everyone sort of feels like kids.
So how did you feel when you found out you were gonna be on a show alongside Chevy Chase? I was really excited. The joke was me in the future tapping myself at ten watching Three Amigos and going, "You're gonna work with that guy someday." So it's weird, having grown up on Fletch and now I'm in a show with him. Just that we have a whole rapport in the pilot is really strange, but really fun.
The trailer for The Community already has people talking. It looks like a really fun mix of a cast that you recognize from different places. You, Joel McHale, John Oliver. It's not just one comedic crew The Soup has a whole following all on its own. Everybody was all on my (Facebook) wall saying, "Joel McHale? There!" He's really funny and a great impressionist and just a charismatic guy. He gave me free Pumas so I can't hate. I was like, "Hey, I like those Pumas." And he was like, "Oh I have a thing with Puma—here." And he just handed me some Pumas.
Welcome to LA. Yeah, apparently you can have whatever you want.
Do you have a favorite "Only in New York" story? The first week or two I was in New York, I was at NYU and I had gotten a babysitting job. I was walking down the street and going to the Citibank on West 4th to put some money in the bank that I got from my parents. And I was on the phone leaving a message to the kid's parents saying, "Hey, I'm probably gonna be about five minutes late picking him up from school. Just wanted to let you guys know." While I'm saying that, I get punched in the head by a homeless man who is like, "Stop following me!" So I start freaking out (in a terrified voice), "Nooooo! Why are you doing this?!" This schizophrenic homeless guy had just really hit me in the head.
So I went and picked up the kid and sort of forgot all about it and when I dropped him off, the mom was like, "Are you okay?" Then she played me the whole message that was like me running and crying. First week in New York—it was a big wake up call.
Are you feeling weird being in this place where you're about to be on TV and people might start really recognizing you on that next level? I don't think it's hit me yet that I'm gonna be on TV at all. The only thing is that now my mom will know that I have a real job. When I was like, "I'm a sketch comedian," that doesn't really play for a 37-year-old woman from the South. It's not like doctor or a lawyer. It's a very nebulous thing for a mom to hear. Then when I was a writer for a TV show, that was getting closer cause I guess you get to see my name every once in a while. But once I'm on TV, it'll be like, "Okay, he has a job." That legitimizes it. So I'm thinking about in those terms.
I saw someone make a joke about your Twitter name being "DonGlover" which could also be "Dong Lover." At what point did someone call that out that your name doubled as dong lover? You know, it actually wasn't until the third day of having Twitter that that clicked. It took Twitter being invented to realize that. Bullies for all these years made fun of me for being poor or black and they had this gold mine right under their nose and had no idea.