Actor, comedian, writer, and rapper Donald Glover is insanely and unfairly talented. A daring, subversive, puckish spirit runs through all of his work — whether riffing on racial stereotypes in his standup routine, writing for Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, spitting rhymes as Childish Gambino, performing whip-smart (and sometimes beyond-the-pale) skits with the Internet sketch group Derrick Comedy (their take on an immortal Thomas Jefferson is hilarious), modeling for The Gap, or acting in the very excellent sitcom Community as geeky ex-jock Troy Barnes, whose bromance with Danny Pudi’s Abed Nadir never fails to delight:
The character of Troy, it must be said, was originally written for a white actor until Glover made it his own — a rare reversal of the usual situation (with white actors given first dibs on minority roles) that the activists at Racebending.com should celebrate. Between that and his well-publicized campaign to audition for the role of Spider-Man* in the upcoming reboot, it’s clear that Glover doesn’t care much for racial or ethnic lines being drawn around what he chooses to do.
And he says as much in Bill Jensen’s enlightening article for the Village Voice:
[Glover raps] about alienation, trying to fit in, getting girls to like him. Nerdy emo with a fro. Name-dropping Greedo and Inspector Gadget one minute, then laying something like, “Whiskey-sippin’/Wanna drink the whole bottle/But these smart middle-class black kids need a role model” the next.
“So many black kids Tweeted me about that line,” says Glover. “This is the first time in history we are able to talk about alienation and nerd things. Black kids do like white stuff. Arcade Fire were at the top of iTunes — it ain’t all white people listening to them.” He represents a new archetype of entertainer — a black nerd who can like white stuff. Not a black nerd in the over-the-top Steve Urkel or Dwayne Wayne sense, but a regular black guy who likes the same stuff white people like — but just happens to be more talented than you.
The black middle-class kid is a real thing. Earlier that night [...] the conversation turns to race — who can say the N-word and who can’t. “He was voiced by a black dude,” he wonders out loud. “So is it OK for Darth Vader to say the N-word?” He quickly Tweets the question out to the world.
“During the whole Spider-Man thing, the only thing that ever hurt my feelings was this one comment. The guy said, ‘Look, I love you. I think you’re great. But let’s be honest: There are no black kids like Peter Parker,’ ” he says, shaking his head. “There are!”
And Glover will let us all in on a little secret: His first taste of rap wasn’t NWA. Or Run-D.M.C. Or even Eminem. No, his first taste of rap was guys like Fred Durst.
“They say there’s no place in hip-hop if you’re in the suburbs,” he says. “Kanye is a suburban kid. The struggle is finding your place.”
Indeed. I look forward to seeing how Glover continues to challenge people’s assumptions and push the envelope of identity. And now that Community’s been renewed for a third season, I eagerly await more Troy-Abed goodness to come.
*Update 8/3/11: Apparently, Glover’s Twitter campaign was a significant inspiration for the look and ethnicity of Miles Morales, the new black/Hispanic Spider-Man.
(Photo via Billboard)