When in his rap alter-ego Childish Gambino, actor-writer-comedian-musician Donald Glover dismisses the thought of being perceived as an actor with a side hobby. Still shooting episodes for NBC's cult sitcom Community (currently on midseason hiatus), Glover is looking at doing a feature film while also prepping to go on a North American "Camp Gambino Tour" this spring.
The fact that Childish Gambino is a name he found using an online Wu-Tang Clan name generator notwithstanding, Glover handles acting and music with equal measures of passion and determinism. Since releasing his first studio album Camp last November, the response has been upbeat. Mostly.
"I think that all the feedback and sales is good but also a lot of it has been troubling. Sometimes I'm like, 'What have I gotten myself into?'" says Glover while doing a promotional stop in Toronto. And if some are trying to define his music or acting "nerd/geek" persona to mean he's some standard for an "alternative blackness" he's not sure that he's the one. "It's this kind of thing where it's okay if that's what you guys want from me. But I'm going to keep being myself. And you're probably going to disagree with some of my stuff.
What are you up to?
I'm making a mixtape. It should be out soon. Is this like my girlfriend? So, what are you up to? I don't know babe but I got work to do.
What are your current fixations?
I don't know. I've been really into the idea of anti-elitism. That's not a trend or anything but I've been reading a lot about it, class systems and stuff like that. It's been really bothering me how everybody has been trying to be better than everybody now. I'm not a hippie person and don't see myself being all hippie-dippy but I definitely see like the way how things are turning right now just kind of makes me mad. Everything becomes like how many page-views you can get but just saying outrageous shit. It's so boring. It's grossing me out.
Why do you live where you do?
You mean L.A.? I live there because that's where my show is.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Toy Story was something that really blew my mind when I saw it. It was very cool, I like the colours, I never saw anything like that before in my life.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
The last time I was in Toronto was pretty memorable because my show didn't go as good as it should. The last time we played New York was pretty crazy. We played in front of 2,500, 3000 people. It was packed and people were scalping tickets which was something that I had never seen before. Which was not cool but was like wow, people want to get in that bad? Yeah it was cool.
What have been your career highs and lows?
They are pretty much all over the place. It's just finding out more about yourself and what you're really all about. The thing is, a high is only a high if you allow it be. And a low is only a low if you allow it to be. It's really about how you see yourself and what is important. That's why I've been looking at elitism and things like that. And that's the thing: I really don't know what's important. I wish I had the answers.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
Wow, there's so many to choose from. I guess it would be, "That was good." God, I hate that. There's nothing worse than hearing that. No one wants to hear that. What if you were having sex with some girl and she was like, "That was good." No, I want to hear, "This is fucking great! That was amazing! You're the best at this. I want to do this again!" You don't want to hear, "That was good."
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like that I am passionate and I can be brave sometimes about stuff. I really appreciate that about myself. Like my work ethic, I'm very passionate about it and I will try very hard. What I don't like about myself is that I guess sometimes I can be a hot headed. Passionate comes with reacting without really thinking. Doing stuff without really thinking about it and also I feel like I'm too open because it's all really sensitive stuff for me, you know?
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
You have all the time in the world to really find the right thing. Enjoy being something while you're there. Enjoy being a kid while you're there. You're always going to have time to sell out too to make money. Having fun and doing stuff for you only happens once. Really enjoy doing what you're doing because those opportunities don't keep coming.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
I bought Schoolhouse Rock Rocks! and Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt with my own money.
What was your most memorable day job?
I didn't have a lot of day jobs. But I would babysit, I had a lot of those jobs. But I had one where I broke down boxes for a teacher supply company. It was memorable because I didn't do anything. I was so bored. That was before computers and phones ― I guess that's what kids do now. They're tweeting and playing games on their phones, playing Angry Birds to become the best. But now I look back and I'm happy because being bored? That never happens anymore. That's where I came up with my best stuff.
How do you spoil yourself?
I get pretty decadent. I'm super spoiled now. To the point where I'm like, I need to stop doing this. I don't want to be like Rick Ross, you know? You need that dude around but I don't want to be ― is it true that he took a helicopter to his birthday party and then he had a big pile of money at the place. That is baller! That shit is hot! But I don't want to do that. I go on trips a lot. I mean I spend a lot of money on hotels, food, alcohol. I want to be so wealthy so like my kids can't get rid of it, my grandkids can't get rid of it. I want to get to that point. So I think a lot of my music and my take is, I don't want to be hood rich. I mean who doesn't want to be hood rich but like the white kids I grew up with, they went to vacation every year. I took my parents on vacation for the first time this year. And my dad got a massage for the first time in his life. So like that's how rich I want to be, where it's like you have everything everyone else has and no one thinks twice about it.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
I'd probably work for Pixar. Or Apple. I could see that. Like a stay-at-home dad who does animation on his laptop.
What do you fear most?
I don't know. It's weird. I guess I struggle a lot for people to be okay with my image. Which is whatever it is at the time. I mean like, people like to depend on you for something. Rick Ross, I like the fact that you know what you're going to get when you hear his song. But I'm not like that. I don't think the thing I do is the thing that I offer all the time. Because I would get bored with myself. But I also know that that's not marketable. "Come to this thing that will be hopefully something that you will enjoy." That's my biggest fear. And right now I've been on a pretty good streak of creating things that I like. My biggest fear is that I'll start doing stuff that only I like. But that's how this started: it was just for me. And then people were like, follow that.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I was at Comic-Con and I was walking around and Fred Savage of The Wonder Years ran up to me just like grabbed my face and screamed in face. Then we jumped around in a circle. He was pulling me in a circle and we just jumped around and I was like, "What's going on?" And then he ran away. It was so random. And then I ran into him later and he apologies and says he really likes me and he was just on one. He was just gone. And I was like that's cool. But it was a weird thing: Fred Savage just attacked me in joy and then just ran away.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
Just to hang out with and talk to? Malcolm X, Richard Pryor ― people who were on this road, something happened and they just went on a different path. I'd probably serve them salmon. Salmon is a good talking food. It gets people talking because you feel like you're getting smarter when you eat it.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
Oh, she wishes I was in church. She wishes I was a devout Jehovah's Witness. I know she's happy because I'm taken care of and it pays the bills, and she's able to do stuff. But I know that she would rather me be poor and in heaven. I think she struggles with that as much as I struggle with it.