What the heck have you done with your life? Earlier this month, Community star, stand-up comedian, and former 30 Rock writer Donald Glover released his third rap album, Culdesac, under his musical pseudonym Childish Gambino (you can download it for free here). Today, he’s in Montreal to collect the Rising Comedy Star Award at the Just for Laughs festival. Unbelievably, he had a few spare minutes to talk to Vulture about Culdesac, Community, and why he’s not mad that Sony picked Andrew Garfield to play Spider-Man.
When do you find time for music? Are you getting enough sleep?
I make time. Most of Culdesac was made on my trailer during breaks on Community or up late at night. A lot of people on Community said, “You’re stayin’ up too late,” but I’d go home, I’d do a little work, and then I’d make a beat for Culdesac. I’d probably stay up until like three in the morning and then wake up at like 7 a.m.
How did you settle on Childish Gambino as an alias?
There’s an online Wu-Tang Clan name generator, and when you put in your name, it gives you a Wu-Tang name, and we were doing it one night in college as a joke and my name came up as Childish Gambino, and I just fell in love with it. I was like, ‘That’s perfect for me.’ And it was different. Like I say on the track “The Laugh,” I didn’t want to use my real name because people would think, ‘Oh, he’s a comedian. This is a joke album.’ I didn’t want people to be confused, so I just thought Childish Gambino is the way to go.
Obviously your albums aren’t funny in the same way that your stand-up is. What’s been the reaction from fans of your other pursuits?
It’s been a little strange. A lot of people didn’t want to listen to it at first. I have an uphill battle to prove that it isn’t just a joke, especially because I did a rap on Community. So I feel when people say, “Yo, Donald Glover raps” they’ll think, “Oh, dónde está la biblioteca?” It’s just really hard to get people to see you in a different light. Drake’s got his own thing. He had to get people to not think, “Oh he’s that kid in the wheelchair in Degrassi.” He had to do that. That’s hard work to do. Same thing with Jamie Foxx. Same with Will Smith. He had to make people think he’s a serious actor, not just rapping about parents not understanding. I’m not worried about not being able to prove it, but I’m excited because I think it’s just going to make me work harder. I think the albums are just going to get more personal and I’m just going to get better at it.
Which is easier for you to do live — rapping or stand-up comedy?
I guess I’m equally terrified to do both. But I think that’s part of it. If you’re not scared, if you’re not terrified, if you’re not baring something, you’re not doing it right I don’t think. When I rap about my mom, or I rap about the girl that broke my heart, or I rap about not being happy or scared or angry, and being in relationships I know I shouldn’t be in, that’s a part of my life I probably wouldn’t want to share with everybody. And that’s what makes it important to say. I think it’s the same thing with stand-up. When I do jokes about my cousin who’s HIV positive, the scary things I went through as a kid, I need to be nervous, because that’s why people are coming.
Whom would you most like to collaborate with?
I really would like to work with Sleigh Bells. They’re not rappers; I just think they’re amazing. I guess like in the rap game, who doesn’t want to work with Jay-Z? He’s a legend. I’d love to work with him. I guess the first people that come to mind are, you know, Javelin. They make amazing beats. Jay Electronica, he’s really good. Every time I listen to him I’m just blown away. I’m a big Lil Wayne head, big Gucci Mane head, Young Jeezy of course. But you know, the up-and-comers, people who are doing interesting things right now are people like Chiddy Bang and Kid Cudi and Drake are doing interesting, cool new rap that I think is dope, too, so I’d love to work with them.
Can you do anything else that we don’t know about yet? Are you writing a novel? Have you tried painting?
I did paint a lot when I was a kid and I do draw sometimes, but I’m not trying to sell those or anything. I’m working on a couple of movies, a couple of scripts right now. I’m making some videos for Culdesac. Hopefully we’ll do that in a little bit. Hopefully there’ll be Childish Gambino clothing out pretty soon. Not hoodies — legit clothing. And I’d love to help design some of it. There was talk about a book, but I was like, if I start to write a book I’ll just die this year. I can’t do that, so it’ll probably be later.
Can you spoil anything about the upcoming season of Community for us?
All I can tell you is that it’s going to be good because we’re actively trying to beat the paintball episode, because that was so great and all you can expect is us pushing ourselves further. The show is kind of a mirror for pop culture, especially for the characters. So I feel like everything that happened over the summer will probably be played with. So everything we did, whether it’s a Scream 4 reference or a Spider-Man reference, I think like that’ll be in the show.
Are you upset that Sony picked Andrew Garfield instead of you to play Spider-Man?
No, not at all. I think he fits pretty good. I think he fits the role really well and I’m really excited. I’m upset about people saying, “Donald, you too old.” And I’m like, “Andrew Garfield’s older than me and nobody was upset.” But I’m not upset about the choice, I think it’s going to be great, honestly. I’m just mad at hypocrites in general.
Were you ever in touch with Sony or Marc Webb?
No, it was never really a thing. I think they had heard about it, but it was never really one of those things. You don’t want to get, like, forced into a position or anything like that. I was very flattered by everybody being behind me and everybody supporting me. That was really cool, but I never really wanted to force anybody’s hands or anything like that. They’re a big corporation. They can make their own decisions about what they want to do, and it’s their money. But it definitely got me thinking, if people want me to play a superhero, maybe I should try and get involved in a superhero thing.