Best known for appearing as a bumbling jock on NBC’s Community, 25 year-old Donald Glover’s one of the busiest guys in comedy today. He got his start in the 30 Rock writer’s room, regularly puts out viral videos on YouTube with his NYU-born sketch comedy group Derrick, and DJs around town as “mcDJ.” The just-released Mystery Team, Glover’s feature debut, is an Encyclopedia Brown-inspired parody that blends heartfelt story with crude teen humor. Co-starring fellow Derrick members DC Pierson and Donald Dierkes, the flick tells the story of a group of overgrown child detectives, out to solve a real murder mystery before high school ends. Glover, making his way to the premiere, clued us in on Tina Fey’s influence on the Team, his 20-hour writing days, and the “ex-girlfriend” — hint: you know her, too — that he keeps on going back to.
Mystery Team comes out today. How’s that feel? Really great. It’s nice to have something that you’ve worked on for so long come out.
How’d it come about? We’d just finished a sketch and had some funds that we acquired from some little commercials, stuff like that. We had some money, and we were like: “We really want to do a big project.” I had just written an outline for an Encyclopedia Brown sketch that I wanted to do, but the rights were tied up and it wasn’t ever going to happen. So I had this outline for Encyclopedia Brown that I’d always wanted to do and I brought it to the guys. We loved it and we all got really into it really fast. We just fell in love with that idea, because it intrinsically wasn’t a sketch idea. We really wanted to tell a story. I’ve said it before, but in a perfect world, we would want to be the Pixar of comedy. We love Pixar’s stories and we think they’re really funny. If we could do things that really touch people that also have good jokes in them, we would do it.
When did this all start? November 2008. We started writing it immediately. I would come home late from writing at 30 Rock and we would spend three or four hours writing the script until three in the morning, four in the morning.
Intense. But we really wanted to do it and we knew that if we wanted to do it this year, it had to be done by, at the very latest, February, because then we would have rewrites and we’d have to start getting the crew together and have to getting all the rest of the money. So we made time. For a couple of months, I had four hours of sleep. That was me in the dark days, and we got it done.
I guess there’s no other way? Yeah. I guess you just have to buckle down.
How did your experience on 30 Rock inform Mystery Team? It was huge. We had never really written a movie before. It was kind of like babies just know how to drink. [No one teaches them how to] swallow water, but they just know what to do. We just kind-of ran the room like a 30 Rock [writer’s] room. I was like, “Okay. I guess I know how this goes. We’ll run it and we’ll write jokes kind of like a 30 Rock writer’s room.” So, Tina Fey, essentially, is the reason the movie [is what it is.] If you laugh at all, that’s Tina Fey. That’s the way she writes and that’s the way she runs the room.
You wrote it with Dominic Dierkes and DC Pierson. Do you have any jokes or scenes that you’re particularly fond of? I’m super fond of the joke that we all kind of fell in love. There’s one point at which there’s a bully and he’s about to leave and it looks like he has some evidence. Jason — my character — says, “We have to follow him.” D.C.’s character, Duncan, [responds]: “I don’t know Jason. According to his shirt, he has no fear.” And I always thought that was really funny.
It’s so earnest. It’s so earnest. It’s so that character! And people always laugh in the audience. I love that joke!
You’ve had an incredible few years from NYU improv to writing on 30 Rock and now NBC’s Community. Yeah. A lot of people say, “Isn’t this amazing. Have you ever thought about how much you’ve done?” I think that’s the reason that I get a lot of stuff done. I don’t really think about it. I’m always trying to do something a little bit bigger. I’m trying to write movies now. I really want to do another big feature with Derrick. We always have grandiose ideas. Like, should the next Derrick feature be a musical? You can’t dream small. It’s been a fortunate couple of days, but at the end of the day, it’s all from hard work. Tina works harder than anybody I’ve ever met. Joel McHale works harder than anybody I’ve ever met. They’re always pushing themselves and I think that’s what makes a good product.
So you’re working on a couple potential films right now? I am. Derrick needs to come together again. We have some things on the docket that we want to talk about. I have some things I want to write about.
Anything in particular? Or do you have to be discreet? I’ve got to keep it on the down low! I wish I could.
I guess we’ll find out. And you’re out in LA right now? How’s that? Living in LA is very different from New York. I miss New York everyday. New York’s like an ex-girlfriend. Every time I’m there I’m like, “Oh. This is awesome! Why did I break up with you?” You get used to a lot of things quicker just because you are busy. I don’t know if I’d want to come out here if I didn’t have a job because it can get lonely. There aren’t as many people out on the streets just moving around.
Everyone’s in their car, spread out. Exactly. Everyone’s in their cars and spread out. But, because I do have a job, and I’m fortunate enough to have that, I keep busy.
It sounds like you’re very busy, but in a great way. Yeah — in a good way.
Do you ever make it back to New York? Yeah. I’m actually in the car headed to LAX to fly there for the premiere right now. I’ve been back three times in the past three weeks.
You have the opportunity to… Go back and forth. It’s awesome.
Do you have any favorite spots in New York? Things that you have to go back to every time you return? There’s a place called Bon Jon Chicken. They have one in LA, but it’s not as good as the New York one. It’s really delicious. There’s also a place called Ruben’s, which is this empanada place on 7th St. and Ave A: the best food in the world. I go there every time I come back.
I’ll have to check it out. You will not be disappointed.
Cool. Any last words on Mystery Team? It’s a really great movie! I’m very proud of it. Please go see it. If you’re around our age and grew up watching ET and Back to the Future and if you also like poop, this is your movie.