Jason Reitman interviews Donald Glover: Life of the (Tea) Party

Alex Moore :: Thursday, April 29th, 2010 5:00 pm

Picture 4Ok, so Donald Glover is not exactly a Tea Party man. “It feels two steps away from white robes,” he told the Huffington Post in a recent interview. “I’m sorry, I know there are some good people there, but any time I see white men over sixty screaming, I get nervous.”

And probably for the better—Donald Glover is too busy to party these days. In the last couple years he’s been the youngest staff writer for 30 Rock, a star of Community with Chevy Chase and Joel McHale, a pillar of Upright Citizen’s Brigade and a regular of the stand-up comedy circuit, recently appearing on the Axe Twisted Humor Tour and starring in his own Comedy Central Presents special last month.

And that’s not even mentioning the rap career. Somewhere along the way, the comic found time to release the mix tape I Am Just A Rapper as the Childish Gambino, mixing indie rock like Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” into his track “Bitch Look At Me Now.”

Jason Reitman, director of Juno and Up In The Air, who also moonlights as one half of the electro turntable duo Bad Meaning Bad, made waves when he listed “Bitch Look At Me Now” as one of the top-played tracks on his iPod in an Entertainment Weekly interview. Suddenly everyone wanted to know—just who is this Childish Gambino? D+T contributor Danny Fassold asked Reitman to find out for us. In a sit-down at the director’s house in Beverly Hills, he did his best. (Photos by Bryan Sheffield)

Jason Reitman: When I listen to your hip-hop, you talk about being unpopular in high school. But I know you and you’re really funny and charming and handsome. It’s hard for me to believe that the guy you’re describing in high school is actually you, because I was that guy in high school.

Donald Glover: Yeah, but people would say the exact same thing about you, right? I’m sure that everybody that went to your high school, they would not be like, “Reitman, yeah, he was the white Urkel.”

JR: Ha! When I tell people that I was that kid stuck in the video lab, they actually think it makes a lot of sense.

DG: But yeah, my unpopularity bit was totally genuine. I was nervous because I was around all these tough inner-city kids, so I was trying to make them laugh all the time and getting myself in detention.

JR: You were a smart-ass?

DG: I was. But I was also getting my ass kicked a little bit. Kids just were not having it.

JR: You’ve been in fights?

DG: It wasn’t like a punch-punch crazy thing. I just remember kids pummeling me. I came to school once with this new Nike hat I’d gotten from my dad and this one kid took it and filled it with dirt that a cat hat pissed in. Like something out of a movie! He’s like, “Wear the hat with sand in it, damn it!” [laughs]

JR: It’s amazing, right? I mean, you would never do that to an adult.

DG: You can’t do that to an adult! You can only get away with that when you’re a kid.

JR: In your music you talk about the idea of not sleeping a lot because you’re constantly working. There’s a few people I know who are like that. [Judd] Apatow is one of those guys. He just doesn’t sleep. He’s like a machine, where he’ll wake up at like two in the morning and start writing. Is that how you are?

DG: That’s me. It’s a problem because I want to get my sleep, but it’s like as soon as I get home, even if it’s a long day, I’ll have all these ideas. So there’s this weird cycle where I’m wide awake and I have all these things I want to do, so I usually end up getting three to four hours of sleep.

JR: And you don’t go looking for porno at that moment? You actually buckle down?

DG: The porno’s a weekend thing. [laughs] My producer was over at my house the other day mixing the album, and that stupid history thing on it went to instead of Youtube! I was so embarrassed, but he was like, “Oh, so when you do this you’ve got to go to the private settings.” It was very sweet of him.

JR: This was a normal porno clip?

DG: Yeah, it wasn’t a weird one, like a cat and a dog and some sweaty guy chewing on glass, or a snuff film with a hippo or something like that.

JR: Jesus, Donald!

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DG: I need to talk about this in this interview. I have a problem…

JR: [laughs] It’s interesting because hiding porn has become very different. It used to be that you would hide the physical magazines and tapes, and now you’re hiding it on your computer instead.

DG: There’s really an art to hiding porn. You can’t just clear your history because your parents or your girlfriend will see that it’s cleared and know.

JR: Exactly, so then you have to go fill it with all this stuff.

DG: Right! And of course you have to make it look organic. So then you’re like, Okay, I went to this shoe website. But then I can’t go directly to Google because that wouldn’t make any sense, so then I have to look at the whole catalogue! See, you’ve got to make it look convincing. But then, I don’t have a girlfriend right now so I can just go straight back to more porn.

JR: So when did you start figuring out what kind of comedy you wanted to do?

DG: The two things I remember having a huge influence on me when I was young were the Looney Tunes and my dad. My dad had a bad back so he wasn’t able to play with us. So he would watch Looney Tunes with us and crack up.

JR: That’s interesting because I see Looney Tunes in your work. Like when I think of you guys in Mystery Team dressed up as gentlemen, and you’re walking into the gentlemen’s club with monocles on and everything, I can imagine a group of Looney Tunes characters doing the same thing.

DG: And so later on when I was going to NYU I’d go out and see comedians like Bobby Moynihan, who’s on SNL now, and Louis C.K., and these were dudes who had the exact same sense of humor as me.

JR: So it was more like, “Oh my god, I thought I was the only one!”

DG: Yeah, especially after I got into the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre. The first thing we did there was something called “The Dirtiest Sketch Contest” and this one comedian was explaining how a lot of stand-up comics will make jokes about anal sex, but yet they’ve never seen it or done it. So their whole thing was, “We’re going to take the bullet for this!” And then this guy in this Darth Vader mask pokes this dude with a dildo in the butt on stage!

JR: No…

DG: Yes!

JR: Are you kidding me?

DG: On stage. Everyone’s jaw in the whole audience just dropped. It was so rough, but at the same time the guys are laughing because it was so awful. And in a weird way I was like, “I’m home!”

JR: So ten years from now if you could only be doing one of the things you’re doing right now, what would it be?

DG: That’s a hard-hitting question. I guess I’d have to choose music because you can do that forever. Like Dr. Dre—he can put out an album once and a while and people are ready for it.

JR: I’m very intrigued by what Dre will do next. My problem with the second Chronic is that on so many of the songs the theme was, “I’m still here.” And it’s like, okay, I get it. I’m a fan, I’ll buy your album. Just give us something new!

DG: That’s the problem. The thing about rap is that it’s always about how young and fresh you are. That’s why I’m really excited for Detox because it’ll be the first album where he can be that older rapper.

JR: It would be funny though if he’s like, “I’m still killing people.”

DG: “I’m in the studio here just chopping people up.” [laughs] Yeah, it’d be nice if it was just about enjoying life, cuz rappers don’t really do that.

JR: Have you done live hip-hop yet?

DG: I did it in a basement once. That’s about it.

JR: Do you know all your shit by heart? Because your words are intricate. I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing where it’s hard to get them on beat every time.

DG: I have pretty much all my lyrics memorized, but it is one of those things where when I have live instrumentation it will be trickier. However it goes I feel like my shows will be really different. Because I love hip hop, but when I see it live a lot of times I feel it’s a little weak.

JR: Well hip-hop has two problems. One is that a lot of rappers can’t flow live. They’re basically studio rappers. And on top of that, for whatever reasons, with hip-hop performance there is a lack of quality in the sound system. It’s just awful.

DG: It’s become a studio art. It’s not about how you play it live.

JR: I saw Busta once live, and he could flow. He’s like a monster. And Jurassic 5 was fantastic live. Yeah, but a lot of guys, they just can’t do it. It’s strange how ill-equipped they are to perform. So when are you going to tour?

DG: Hopefully in May. I’m supposed to go to New York soon and talk to Chitty Bang. They’re like an electronica indie rap group.

JR: I could see indie music really being a good fit for you in terms of opening up for somebody. It’s so much easier to think of you opening for like Phoenix than opening for a traditional hip-hop group.

DG: I honestly think the same thing. When my live act gets going I’m planning on having a guitarist and a bassist and a drummer. But also a D.J. to scratch in other indie bands. Because I feel like that’s not used enough in live shows. I saw the Beastie Boys live once and Mix Master Mike did it in such an amazing way.

JR: He’ll come up with anything! And even the other band members will have this look on their faces where you can just see them getting wowed. When his mix song comes in at the break it can be anything. It can be “The Girl from Ipanema” and it’s in rhythm!

DG: I don’t get why more rappers don’t do that.

JR: See, that’s the kind of stuff Badmeetingbad is all about.

DG: When are you guys going to do another show?

JR: Now that the Oscars have happened, Mateo [Messina] and I are practicing again. We brought the live drummer in the other day and it sounded awesome. In about a month I want to start booking shows again for over the summer. But we have to play together.

DG: Absolutely.