In a March 16 conference call with college press, actor Donald Glover announced his arrival the way you’d expect his loveable but naive character Troy Barnes from the NBC comedy “Community” to.
“(MTV) told me to say something as an opening, but it sounded very presidential to me, so I don’t have anything,” Glover said. “I will say thank you, my voice is crackly and I apologize.”
Glover is discussing his duties as MTV’s first-ever host for the MTVU Woodie Awards. MTVU, which is available exclusively to more than 750 college campuses across the U.S., has been holding the Woodies since 2005 in order to salute the best indie rock, hip-hop and pop bands as selected by college students.
Glover is best known from the previously mentioned sitcom “Community,” but has done substantial work writing for Tina Fey’s “30 Rock,” and has even started releasing hip-hop mixtapes under the pseudonym Childish Gambino.
The Woodies are Donald’s first time ever hosting an awards show, as well as the first time the Woodies have had a host. The show aired live March 17 on MTV, coinciding with the music and film festival South by Southwest held annually in Austin, Texas.
The live format of the show offered exciting opportunities for both Glover and his audience.
“I’m most excited for the fact that it’s live. I like that a lot,” Glover said. “When you watch taped programs you think, ‘They’re not going to do anything too nuts, because somebody’s already looked over it and everything.'”
Despite his stand-up comedy tours and a short-lived rumor in 2008 that he would be joining the cast of the popular “Saturday Night Live,” Glover’s comedy work has mostly been for recorded television programs and films like “Mystery Team.” The instant response that accompanies live programming plays a vital part in Glover’s performance.
“When you do a movie you have to wait a whole year, or a really long time before somebody says, ‘That’s not funny. I didn’t enjoy myself,'” Glover said. “I like how immediate the reaction is to something live, because then you can change in the moment.”
Glover’s work on “30 Rock” has produced such memorable moments as the character Tracy Jordan’s Bar Mitzvah rap, “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” and he’s even responsible for creating the character Toofer. Working with the rest of the “30 Rock” writing staff, as well as writers on various projects he is involved with has helped Glover to remain collaborative while still honing his own voice, even with awards shows.
“I try to come out and say how I feel, and people tend to relate,” Glover said. “There are definitely bits that are scripted, including maybe a new Childish Gambino song, but there are other bits where we all agreed it will just be, ‘Oh, that man just did something crazy.'”
With Gambino and his character of Troy on “Community,” who is a former popular high school jock turned geek, Glover has been singled out as perpetuating the brand of “geek chic” comedy carried on by actors like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and Michael Cera. Glover said he feels that this is simply a reflection of audiences looking for characters that feel more authentic.
“It’s turned into people saying, ‘I don’t want to watch what I want to be, I want to watch what I am,'” Glover said. “Everybody’s quirky, everybody’s into weird things. They just don’t always show it. I think it’s something that’s popular because people are becoming more comfortable with themselves.”
As for Glover himself, the idea that a young African-American man could be a geek seems to elude some of his harshest critics. This was especially true when many attacked an online campaign for Glover to be cast as the quirky character Peter Parker in a new “Spiderman” film, a role that eventually went to “The Social Network” actor Andrew Garfield.
“When the whole ‘Spiderman’ thing happened … people said, ‘There are no quirky black dudes,'” Glover noted. “That’s not true. Even my dad was a quirky black dude. He totally liked listening to Kraftwerk and made me see ‘Star Wars’ in the movie theater.”
Another quirk of Glover’s persona is his musical project under the pseudonym Childish Gambino. The project gained notoriety with the 2010 EP “I Am Just a Rapper,” which led to the release of “EP” on March 11, his sixth release as Childish Gambino and most popular yet.
“I was not expecting it to be as popular as it is,” Glover said with a laugh. “People are telling me now that it’s worth the effort, so I’ll have to prioritize it I suppose.”
At the age of 27, Glover has been viewed as one of the most promising young comedic talents for quite some time. He will next be starring alongside fellow rising talent like Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Andy Samberg in writer Maggie Carrey’s film “The Hand Job.”
The script for the film landed on last year’s Black List, which compiles the most talked about unproduced screenplays floating around Hollywood. Glover says joining that cast is exciting, but it’s a lot like working on a team he’s already a part of.
“We support each other’s acts a lot, and it’s cool to be working in this capacity now,” Glover said. “We can just text each other and say, ‘Try doing (your act) like this,’ because we can get away with doing stuff now that we couldn’t before. And it’s pretty killer.”
Glover took the stage of the Woodies for the live broadcast March 17, played host to performances by artists like the Foo Fighters and even opened the show with a freestyle rap. You can still stream the show at mtvu.com.
Glover will be doing a stand-up comedy tour of America, as well as performing Childish Gambino tracks, during his upcoming “I Am Donald” tour. More information about tour dates, as well as Glover’s personal blog can be found at Iamdonald.com.