Donald Glover is freedom. “You can’t live in fear,” he says in the mini-documentary-sort of reminiscent of George Carlin’s “What the Hell Am I Doing In Jersey?” for the iPhone generation – that opens WEIRDO, the title of his first hour-long special, proudly-hell, defiantly-in all caps. It’s a concert film opening, yet the first two words out of his mouth on stage are “Hey guys.”
Referencing the Spider-Man “thing,” as he cooly called it (at first), or throwing a noun like Nutella into a seemingly throwaway bit, Glover lets his nuanced material and delivery build and coalesce into something greater than you’d expect from the guy behind “Bro Rape,” the infamous video by Glover’s band of merry men, Derrick. But that’s his thing, he’s the cool guy you knew in college who’s memorized Citizen Kane.
The crowd gets away from him for a second when he equates AIDS to having an unexpected baby, but he wraps the joke up so fucking tightly that they’re immediately back in his grasp. Critics and writers compare lauded comics by special – Delirious Eddie vs. RAW Eddie – charting the difference in performance like a middle schoolers first line graph. Now, I get it. WEIRDO Donald Glover vs. Comedy Central Presents Donald Glover is more than night and day; it’s a different fucking week.
What does this come from? How does a comic who seemed a little sheepish transform into a crowd controller of the nth degree? Take a small hint from the music, Glover walks on stage at the beginning of the performance to. His own. Childish Gambino, a formerly one-man venture started in his teens has turned into an alt-hip-hop monster, making the transition from Soundcloud to Billboard without the skip of a beat and by proxy raising Glover from a niche “thing” to a “thing” in its own right.
An impersonation of a Trinidadian New York babysitter? It could have came from the mouth of a number of comics, in a proper situation. Glover sets it up by saying he himself was a babysitter, to the byproduct of an organic couple who’d only let their son eat mints, the boy’s own fresh breath making his eyes water. I’d never thought about it before, totally possible.
Louis C.K. hits a particular note with a cross-section of his crowd, where he can make them laugh from the pit of their guts while still being challenging. Daring, even. It’s his cynicism, yet the explanation of the cynicism is in a positive light. Glover’s got a similar bent to him, yet he seems outwardly positive. Smiling. Laughing. Even doing a little bit of his self-admitted idol Chris Rock’s signature “giraffe neck” thing, seemingly from the subconscious.
About midway through the special, Glover launches into a bit about Armenian and Filipino girls – his preference – and I had a moment of deja vu. One of those “where have I heard this?” things when a band pays homage by inserting a line from a Bob Dylan song or something. In a verse of “Bonfire,” the first single on Glover/Gambino’s debut commercial LP Camp, Donald/Childish calls out the same two ethnicities – again, stating his preference. The guy uses his own line in a completely different medium.
Cross-platform hip-hop comedy. For nerds. Did you ever think you’d live to see that phrase? As a 10-year-old with a love for Batman and Puff Daddy and the Family’s No Way Out, I sure as hell didn’t. And I’m sure Donald Glover didn’t either.
Which is, in a way, Glover’s strong suit. He speaks for the post-adolescent creative masses. The 16-year-old photographer posting shots of his hometown on Tumblr, the young comedienne making sketches in her basement, the guys sitting at a coffee shop working on a screenplay about working on a screenplay. We’re young, relatively dumb, have our heads in the clouds and Donald Glover is our touchstone. He’s the guy who’s proving the cliché right. You CAN do it. You just might not be as good as Donald.