At just 26, Donald Glover is a YouTube sensation (with his five-person comedy troupe, Derrick) and a veteran of the vaunted 30 Rock writers’ room and has a role on NBC’s Community as the dim-witted ex-jock Troy. Next up: Mystery Team, Derrick’s self-financed first feature—which Glover, for good measure, also scored. He spoke with Amos Barshad.
When did all this hyperactivity begin?
I went to a performing-arts-type school that my mom made me go to—she thought it was safer than my district school. I auditioned with a monologue from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—the ending speech that Cameron gives. I did that, and I sang a Boyz II Men song. Luckily, the guy I was auditioning for was a big Boyz II Men–Ferris Bueller fan.
What are the odds? And then right after graduating from New York University, you got hired to write for 30 Rock?
Yeah. I literally had my R.A. pager go off the first day of work. I had no money. That summer before I got the job, if I wasn’t at my dorm, I was in the psychological wing of NYU, doing some sort of test for $200. If you were lucky, it was just questions. But sometimes it’d be like, “Okay, put these goggles on and look at this light for a half an hour.” Then I got an e-mail out of nowhere from one of the producers. I was doing a lot of improv at UCB Theatre and other places, and my name got passed around.
You wrote a lot for Tracy Morgan’s character. How was that?
The first day I met him, I had a small Afro, and he was like, “You know, if you want to get dreads, you should get your girl pregnant and put the placenta in your hair.” And I was like, “What the fuck … are you talking about?” But from that point on, I thought, Any brain that can make that up needs to be studied.
How did you land Community?
I auditioned, but I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere. Not that I didn’t like it, I just thought they’d want a good-looking, hunky, football-player-y white dude. I was more focused on my stand-up because I had just quit 30 Rock.
Wait—you quit 30 Rock before being cast on Community?
Oh, yeah. I was really getting into stand-up, and I wanted to write more. I was unemployed for six days.
Impressive. So Mystery Team is essentially an Encyclopedia Brown spoof—three kids who used to solve mysteries like “Who stole the cookies?” grow up and try to solve murders with the same techniques they used as kids. How did Derrick raise the money for the film?
A lot of it came from YouTube dollars—they set up a revenue program [for people who produce extraordinarily popular videos]. Also we produced online commercials for Clearasil.
What do you see for Derrick in the future?
I honestly hope we become something like Pixar [laughs].
Anybody else, I’d laugh too.