There’s a huge risk/reward swing for performers who step outside their designated profession. Chasing those EGOT (an acronym for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) dreams can pay off for Justin Timberlake, when all everyone talks about are scene-stealing turns in Oscar-nominated films. Maybe JT can dance along that razor wire, but when ego outstrips talent, we end up with the low-hanging fruit of embarrassing projects to name-check for years to come. Just ask Bruce Willis and Don Johnson.
For Donald Glover, the risk seems like it should have been even greater. Handpicked out of New York University in 2006 to take his freshly minted undergraduate degree and immediately start writing for 30 Rock, Glover already had the kind of chosen-one career that leaves doubters eagerly waiting for any kind of slip-up.
When he left that plum gig in 2008 to pursue stand-up comedy—an art form he hadn’t tackled before—and to spend more time on his music, it could have been his David Caruso moment. Instead, Glover clocked in with a Comedy Central half-hour special, a string of albums under his nom-de-hip-hop Childish Gambino (including a turn for “Freaks and Geeks” off his latest release, EP, being featured in an Adidas commercial), a movie with his sketch troupe Derrick Comedy and a role on Community.
Now he’s putting it all together for the IAmDonald tour, stopping April 30 at the Hard Rock Café on the Strip.
“I come out and do stand-up, I talk to the crowd. There’s some video stuff in between. I come out and do music, then there’s interactive video stuff. It’s a big happening,” Glover says. “People leave their house to get something they can’t get in their house. I think this is an experience people can’t have in their home. The album is something you can listen to at home.”
Glover just finished filming a new hourlong special for Comedy Central, and he’s aiming for a September release for the full-length follow-up to EP, titled LP. With his stint on Community, it’s like three full-time jobs, but he juggles it by always working on everything. He works on jokes for the tour the same day he goes onstage. He writes songs in the shower.
That shotgun approach is an extension of his visceral opposition to being pigeonholed.
“Fuck labels. That’s what Childish Gambino is—it’s like fuck labels. I hate labels. Stop trying to label shit. Stop trying to say I’m a comedian. Stop trying to say I’m a rapper. Just enjoy the shit. Or don’t.
“In a weird way, I kind of regret bringing up the term black nerd,” he says, referring to a bit he did about Kanye West in his first special. “Because most of that stuff isn’t nerd stuff, it’s just stuff.”
It might all be “just stuff,” but it’s an awful lot of stuff. The risk is leaving a wake of clunky, embarrassing projects, but the reward is a rare career where vision trumps medium.