Donald Glover – A Comedian to Take Seriously

27 Jan

Nerds in American society are associated with the out of style, strange, and ostracized individuals who fail to conform to the standards of the popular crowd. Many of these nerds fail to be recognized by others despite success, as they are incapable of obtaining respect due to behaviors that are found out of the ordinary. Growing up in the heart of the traditionally racist Deep South, a young African-American was faced with a life of misplacement and obscurity as a result of his “nerdy” behaviors. It is these simple downfalls that propelled Donald Glover to the power he know holds and works to develop. The young comedian embodies a past that is unlike most of the entertainment profession. Rather than face an economically deprived childhood, Glover was able to live a suburban life that did not require an extra effort to lead to a safe future. However, it was his wish to escape from the normality of this life that led the young comedian to exert a higher effort and establish himself as a figure of popular modern culture. Donald Glover uses his comedic talents to obtain success despite his eccentric and abnormal tendencies. Stand up is not the only avenue of success for Glover as he applies his many talented assets in order to achieve greatness. Writing, acting, and even rapping serve as the pedestal that works to deliver Donald Glover’s comedic message. As a result, the comedian, artist, actor, all collaborate to define the laughs we all seek through his multiple facets of comedy. While many would write him off for becoming a pop culture icon, Glover ‘s work can teach us something about pop culture and why in some cases it deserves further analysis.

Glover’s ability to establish a connection with his fan base began from his early days as a writer for the nationally televised 30 Rock. Behind closed doors, the young comedian’s potential was continuing to grow and he was able to receive help from entertainment giants Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. However, it wasn’t until Glover walked away from the show that he began establishing his own style and purpose for comedic work. Employing the use of the Internet, Donald established an online sketch comedy show and rekindled his childhood love of music creating a band under the name “Childish Gambino.” By opening these avenues of entertainment for himself, Glover became recognized by major media outlets. His acting career was continued on the NBC comedyCommunity and he grew as a popular face to many throughout the country. However, Comedy Central opened the door for him to reveal his talents through stand up and his work on stage worked as the avenue for Glover to deliver his message to a wide and captivated audience.

Recent trends of comedy reveal that comics resort two three methods in order to achieve laughs and supply a message. The superiority, incongruity, and release theories all apply to many works of Donald Glover. It is his emphasis on the superiority in jokes that leads to his largest impact on the audience. His work is based on putting others, including himself, down for the benefit of the crowd leading to a high success rate. One of the main targets for Glover was one of his own weaknesses, which was the inability to be popular or fit in. Donald Glover attacks those who can be considered “nerds” and he as well as other entertainment stars fit into this stereotype. During his comedy central special, Glover states, If you like strange, specific stuff — that’s a nerd. Kanye West is a black nerd. He likes strange, specific stuff. If you go up to Kanye West and say, ‘Hey, what are your favorite things?’ He’ll be like, ‘Robots and teddy bears.’ That’s a nerd.” It is clear through the joke that Glover’s play on the definition of a nerd is enough to insight laughs as he is segregating the obsessions of those who are considered outsiders. His play on the idea of a “black nerd” allows the audience to feel superior not on a basis of race, but on a basis of acceptance. African-Americans attempting to be nerdy is not socially common as the more normal association for black culture is to follow the lead of athletes or rappers. In response, Donald Glover’s music and stand up routine are effective in playing off this and earns laughs from his attack on those who are different. Ironically, the entertainer himself embodies the exact qualities of his “black nerd” allowing him to communicate his comedy by playing off his own weaknesses. Glover’s message effectively alienates others, including himself, in order to promote laughter as a result of imperfections.

Glover utilizes past and modern culture to construct his comedic insults leading his audiences to fall in line with the bullying approach taken by many comedians. Disregarding his own personal feelings or the emotions of those the jokes are aimed at, Donald is effective in distributing criticism to appeal to his crowd. Attacking not only actual entertainers, but also fictional characters is the approach Glover employs throughout his acts. The jokes are pointed in the direction of the “Uncle Tom” view of African-Americans as if he is almost celebrating the unruly behavior of the common thug or rapper. However, Glover is putting the “black nerd” in the spotlight by pointing out their downfalls. Through refusing to offend or emulate the “cool” black culture, Donald is able to put the actions of an unknown side of African- American culture to the forefront.  Insulting the likes of a famous African-American Sitcom figure Steve Urkel is one of the many techniques the comedian uses to both poke fun at and spotlight “black nerds.” Glover jokes “Urkel was retarded, let’s be honest. No, he was. If there was a kid named Steve Urkel who went to your school — dressed like Steve Urkel, eating cheese all the time, always asking this girl named Laura to marry him — you’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, Steve. His brother hit him in the head with a brick when he was five. Very sad situation at the Urkel house.”  Once again Donald Glover relates to the crowd through establishing a connection in the fact that this famous symbol from the past was clearly a misfit with complete imperfection. A majority of the reason Glover attains his laughs is found in his ability to highlight the obvious and, sometimes, hidden defects of those in society. Through this play on others failures, the comedian is able to obtain power over the audience and keep them on edge as they gain a false sense of superiority over those insulted during the act.

The irony found behind the comedic style of Donald Glover is palpable.  The comedian’s main focus and intent through his work as an entertainer is to promote the idea of being a “nerd” over fitting into stereotypes. Despite his ability to continuously put down others in his act, it is the simple fact that he, a black nerd, has taken over the spotlight that contributes to Glover’s purpose as a performer. His collaboration as an actor, writer, musician, and comedian have worked to prove that refusing to assimilate to fit in with others can lead to high levels of success. Rather than continue to force himself to mesh with the black stereotype or establish a strong connection the popular kids, Glover provides evidence that success does not hinge on the opinions of others. Its this belief that has lead Glover into a business that requires him to constantly face the opinions of others.

Glover’s work allows us to conclude that, through utilizing the superiority complex to point out imperfections; you can effectively build the confidence of your audience and deliver a deeper message. His message being that no matter the societal pressures and circumstances of life, one should never surrender the right to being themselves. This message is something one might not expect from a pop culture icon, but it is this that requires us to take people like Donald Glover seriously. Glover is just one of many artists that give pop culture its value and shows that a much more extensive analysis of pop culture might lead to unexpected depths.


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