EXCLUSIVE: How Channeling ‘Crazy Ideas’ Earned Stephen Glover an Emmy Nom for ‘Atlanta’
By Elliott Smith
Stephen Glover was certain that Atlanta was going to be an acquired taste, and as a first-time screenwriter, he was fine with letting the show, created by his brother and star Donald Glover, find its voice in its first season.
“We really thought it was going to be a show that people wouldn’t get,” Glover tells ET with a laugh. “Like, ‘This is kind of out there, but it’s something I might like.’ But I think it turned out that people actually wanted something like that, something kind of weird. The response up front has been crazy.”
Not only was Atlanta a runaway hit during its 10-episode run on FX, it was also a critical darling, earning near-unanimous raves from critics and five Primetime Emmy nominations. Now, as the 69th ceremony hosted by Stephen Colbert approaches, Glover finds himself navigating new waters as a first-time Emmy nominee for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.
“My reaction [to the nomination] was weird -- I didn’t really have one,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ But everyone else freaked out. I got a million emails and calls. It took a while to settle in for me. It’s been a really crazy year, two years, just in terms of the success of the show. It’s been more than I expected and could have hoped for.”
Glover’s nominated episode, “Streets on Lock,” picks up immediately after the pilot, as Earn (Donald) and Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) deal with the aftermath of a parking lot shooting. While Paper Boi has street cred throughout Atlanta after being released, Earn remains in jail and encounters a panoply of memorable characters who allow the episode to address issues like homophobia, transphobia, mental illness and police brutality with a mix of humor and pathos. “Those scenes resonated with me because they’re funny but because they’re also very true,” Glover says. “It’s a reality that’s kind of dark, but that’s how it really is.”
The clash of heightened surrealism and stark reality became a hallmark of the episodes that Glover penned -- for example, Justin Bieber being black in “Nobody Beats the Biebs” -- and of the show as a whole, an approach that felt natural in the writers’ room.
“We have a lot of crazy ideas to start off with,” Glover says. “We talk about all sorts of things and we all have a crazy sense of humor. We find humor in a lot of wild things, but we always tried to make sure we didn’t make it too much of crazy for just being crazy. We tried to keep it grounded. For instance, it’d be funny if you saw a cop that was a robot. It’s crazy, but if everyone treats it regular, it’s not crazy anymore.”
Atlanta’s writing room was unique in that it was composed entirely of black writers, nearly all of whom were gaining their first TV experience on the show.
“It was organic. We would meet at the house and talk about different things -- things we wanted to see. We weren’t used to the typical structure and that worked to our advantage,” Glover says. “We did a lot of things that are nontraditional. We had Donald there, and he said, ‘Here are the rules, and now that you know the rules, we can break them.’ Nothing seemed too out of bounds.”
Like his brother Donald, who performs as Childish Gambino, Glover has roots in the music industry, having released four mixtapes as Steve G. Lover III. He provided the raps for the self-titled song by Paper Boi, and weaves his industry experiences throughout the show. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy things over the last couple of years,” he says. “I’ve seen how people treat [Donald], me and our friends, and that gives you a really crazy perspective. Living in Atlanta most of our life, a super-black city with a specific flavor, and then moving to L.A. definitely gave all of us a unique perspective.”
With season two of Atlanta on hold until 2018, the brothers are working on an animated Deadpool series for FXX, which Glover says will have “some ideas that are too crazy for Atlanta. It will be a good time.”
He also promises the writers are hard at work trying to up their game for Atlanta season two. “I would say that we’re trying to exceed season one. We’re trying to make sure people get a real sense of what life in Atlanta is like,” Glover says. “We get to see Atlanta through the eyes of stuff like Love & Hip Hop or the movie ATL or crunk music, but there aren’t a whole lot of things that really capture that flavor of the South or Atlanta. I think with season two, we’re really going to give people what life is like in Atlanta.”