“Community” Star Donald Glover on Comedy, Critical Acclaim and “30 Rock” (Wall Street Journal)
By Amy Chozick
January 7, 2010, 10:30 AM ET
The critically acclaimed but low-rated NBC comedy series “Community” returns tonight [OP note: There's actually a rerun of 1.08 on tonight. The next new one is Jan. 14th]. The series follows a group of middle-aged misfits and twenty-something slackers as they navigate the pitfalls of studying at a Denver community college not known for its academic rigor. The series quickly gained fans in comedy circles and is slowly picking up viewers who watch other Thursday night comedies on NBC like “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “30 Rock.”
Donald Glover, 26, plays Troy Barnes, a former prom king and high-school quarterback, who takes classes at Greendale Community College, opposite Joel McHale and Chevy Chase. Speakeasy spoke to Glover about the show.
The Wall Street Journal: “Community” debuted to a lot of critical acclaim, but the ratings weren’t so great. Do you think the series is picking up steam?
Donald Glover: I really do feel like it’s picking up, yeah. It got a lot of praise up top but I think it’s hard to get viewers, especially when you’re on at 8 p.m. 8 p.m. isn’t really where our audience is. But even more so, it’s the kind of show, like “30 Rock,” that a lot people watch on DVR and DVD. So, I’m not so focused or worried about that type of stuff [ratings] because it’s beyond my control.
How’s the series developing?
It’s moving right along. I’m excited about reading the new episodes. It’s weird because I was in the writer’s room at “30 Rock” for so long, knowing exactly how the episodes and characters developed and why things were developed a certain way. It’s interesting being on the other side [as an actor]. But Dan Harmon, the creator, really knows what he’s doing.
As a comedy writer, do you ever want to weigh in?
The closest thing [to weighing in] is when I improv on set, which I do very once in a while. But I wouldn’t want to give my two cents without someone coming to me and asking. My character [Troy] was pretty loosely defined at the beginning of the season but now [the writers] have a good hold on him… [The writers wanted to know] what do you think of this guy and how would you play him? If they ever asked me to write an episode, I would do it in a heartbeat.
How is the feel of “Community” similar or different to “30 Rock”?
I think the pace—and this might just be TV—is so fast [on both shows]…The ending clips with me and Danny [Pudi] playing Abed, a lot of those are shot the week the episode airs. The episodes are shot months in advance but those ending clips [that run when the episode is over] are shot the week of so the shooting pace is really fast and that’s similar to “30 Rock.” And on both shows everyone is on set making jokes; the pace is just heavy.
Is the shooting style of “Community,” “The Office,” and other popular sitcoms like “Modern Family,” the future? Do you think multi-camera sitcoms are dead?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, actually. I honestly think multi-camera is kind of like plays. That was the form of entertainment everyone went to see and everyone was used to it. People aren’t used to that anymore. We’re going to see even more “30 Rock” and “The Office” style shows and more single camera sitcoms. People are just ready for that kind of movie quality shows. You notice how much it looks like a movie.
Tell me about your new movie.
It’s called “Mystery Team” and it has a whole bunch of comics in it like…Aubrey Plaza, and some people from “30 Rock.”…It was kind of a passion project we did with the money we made from our sketch comedy group, Derrick Comedy. It’s kind of an Encyclopedia Brown-esque movie with these kids who are trying to solve a double murder. The three kids are trying to prove themselves to the town that they can take on a double murder…It’s a dark comedy. It opened in New York and is going to open in Portland, and Los Angeles in March. It will open in Chicago in February, so it’s playing in select cities.
Has your role on “Community” helped your comedy career?
Honestly, it’s one of the biggest breaks of my life. “30 Rock” really broke me. Tina Fey, I have to say, ever since I met her I haven’t been broke so I have to thank Tina Fey. “Community” has given me some credibility among comedy geeks. They really respect the show so it’s added an extra layer of comedy pedigree because they [comedy fans] trust “30 Rock” and “Community.” [It also helps that] I’m on the other side of the camera. It’s nice for people to notice who you are, as opposed to being a writer when people don’t know who you are.
I just taped my first half-hour [of standup] on Comedy Central. That will come out March 18 at 11pm.
Have things blown over since reports came out that you would play President Barack Obama on “Saturday Night Live”?
Things started to blow over when Fred Armisen went on. But it was insanity for a week or so.
How do you think Fred Armisen and other comedians are doing in poking fun at Obama?
It’s a weird thing. It’s such a big difference from [President George W.] Bush. Bush had a lot going on [for comedians]. There was a lot to make fun of. It just feels different now. People are more tentative because there are so many big problems…It’s harder to find joy when you don’t have a job. I think they’re [comedians] are getting a handle of it but it’s a different beast than when you’re making fun of Bush.
Though it's not my thing, I'm told Donald's new rap album is hilarious: http://www.iamdonald.com/2010/01/05/childish-gambino-i-am-just-a-rapper-mixtape/
(Alternate link: http://www.filedropper.com/iamjustrapperfinal_1)
And to save on the "needs more Abed" comments *grin*: