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A couple of hours before Donald Glover’s sold-out performance at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival, a few people are congregated outside the venue, waiting to see if they can snag some last-minute tickets. One turns to a friend and asks, “So who are we waiting to see again?” The friend points to a picture posted on the door. “This guy. He’s the one I was telling you about. The guy who’s not big yet, but is going to be.”

Though it seems a little odd that people are lining up to see a comedian they’ve never really heard of, it’s symptomatic of the marketing behind Glover’s fest appearance. He’s poised to be the next big thing, he’s a star waiting in the wings, a phenomenon just on the verge of explosion.

As a relative newcomer to stand-up and a Just For Laughs first-timer, the fact that Glover is headlining his own hour-long show at the famous festival is highly unusual. But Donald Glover is the kind of guy who likes to take risks. He’s also the kind of guy who comes out on top. After all, at only 24 (he’s now 27) he decided to quit his full-time job as a writer for one of the most popular and critically acclaimed TV comedies of recent times to take a gamble on something he had never really done before.

“I left 30 Rock just to do stand-up,” Glover explains. “I was doing a whole bunch of stuff, and I felt like it was unfair, because I wasn’t able to focus on the show, and that show is a lot of work. It’s one of the best shows on television, and you just have to really be able to focus.

“I had just fallen in love with stand-up at that point, and every night I was going out to try to do some. We’d get off really late, and my first thought would be, ‘Maybe I can still make this open mic.’ I was getting like three hours of sleep a night, and I just felt like I had to go.

“Tina was very awesome about the whole thing. I was doing a bunch of other little things, but I left because I wanted to do stand-up. And then I happened to get Community.”

From an attention-grabbing internet video called “Bro Rape,” to the 30 Rock gig straight out of university, to co-writing and starring in the feature Mystery Team, to landing a major role on NBC’s new hit comedy Community, it seems that Glover just has to keep trying new things. The first funny sitcom in years to actually feel like a sitcom, Community is breathing life back into the format that was almost killed by the mockumentary. By offering a fresh take on traditional sitcom style, it does to shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation what they did to shows like Friends and Frasier: makes them feel tired.

“I don’t know why, but suddenly people just decided, ‘Oh, shaky cam means funny!’ Probably because it makes it feel a little more real, but there are lots of shows that are shot hand-held documentary style that suck. Community is just not that type of show. It is the type of show that plays off all those other shows,” asserts Glover.

“I think the thing that makes Community different is that we’re having a dialogue with the audience constantly. If a bowling ball lands on my head and I start speaking French, that’s an old trope and we know that you know that. We know an audience is smarter than other shows treat them.”

Adding a stand-up tour to a CV that already includes writing, acting, improv and even a couple of hip hop albums (Glover raps under the moniker Childish Gambino), might lead one to believe that the comedian is spreading himself too thin. The Renaissance man doesn’t see his many pursuits that way.

“I don’t think they’re even competing with each other. Stand-up is one of those things that you can do and don’t need coordination with other people. I’m kind of a control freak. I like to control everything that I can, and stand-up allows you to do that, because you don’t have to worry about what other people are doing. You just need a mic, and sometimes you don’t even need that. Just get up and talk about stuff.”

Taking the stage at Just For Laughs, Glover makes a quick quip about the venue that the festival chose for him. Katacombes, usually reserved for beer-drenched thrash metal and crust-punk shows, is a certainly an odd place for a comedy show. Dark, grimy, and covered in plastic skulls, the place is a little scary. But then again, fear is just the stuff that keeps Glover motivated.

“I’ve learned that if you are not afraid when you are doing any of those things, then you are not doing it right. You have to go for the stuff that scares you, and go for the stuff that interests you. On all my rap records I rap about things that really scare me.”
So what does scare him?

“Monsters. Monsters and, you know, well, mostly monsters, now that I think about it. And babies. They are fucking EVERYWHERE, man.”

Words by:  EVAN MILLAR
September 13th, 2010