Donald Glover is an actor, comedian and auteur who makes “Atlanta” and starred in “Community.” Childish Gambino is a Grammy-winning musician who arrived on the scene as a rapper before exploring retro-funk.
Glover is hosting this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” with Childish Gambino as his musical guest.
Oh, also, Donald Glover is Childish Gambino, and Childish Gambino is Donald Glover.
SNL is no stranger to hosts who double as musical guests. Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Drake have all taken on the task, to name a few. But they’ve all taken the comedy and musical stage under the same guise — not an alter ego.
It has happened one other time, though: When Garth Brooks hosted the variety show with rocker Chris Gaines as his musical guest.
For anyone who doesn’t remember — or for the lucky few of you who never knew in the first place — the reign of Chris Gaines might be the strangest thing to ever happen in pop culture.
Let’s set the stage: It was 1999, and Brooks had ascended to the top of the musical food chain. He wasn’t simply a huge country artist; he was one of the biggest names in modern music. He headlined a concert featuring Billy Joel and Don McLean in Central Park, which was broadcast live on HBO. He had even hosted SNL and served as its musical guest the year before.
Wanting a new challenge, Brooks thought about rock-and-roll. And he thought about the film industry. Which sparked an idea: Brooks would create and star in a movie called “The Lamb,” about a fictional rock star named Chris Gaines, for whom he created a long backstory.
The movie never came to fruition, but Gaines sure did.
Brooks must have thought that ” ‘the only way I can become more successful is if I can become someone else and make them successful,’ ” Chris Stapleton once said. “Like, he was so successful, and still is, in that space, he can’t be any bigger than he is.”
Brooks donned some leather, grew out a soul patch, traded his Everyman charm for a brooding demeanor and became rocker Chris Gaines. As Gaines, Brooks released a real record produced by a real studio filled with 56 minutes and 23 seconds of real music.
It didn’t go well, to put it mildly.
“When Brooks’ new persona and his album was revealed to the public, they were unforgiving — they didn’t think that he was playing a role, they simply thought he’d lost his mind,” AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine later wrote.
By the time the “duo” appeared on SNL in November 1999, it was apparent that the Gaines experiment was a flop, albeit an interesting one.
The SNL writers certainly knew this, and they cleverly took the wind out of the Gaines experience through one of the few comics who could get away with it: Tracy Morgan.
In the sketch, Brooks is backstage, preparing for a costume change, when Morgan approaches him to tell him “great show so far, Garth.”
Morgan tells Brooks that he enjoyed the Central Park concert, but he wondered why the O’Jays weren’t invited as a guest. Then, things take a turn.
“I’m talking about the O’Jays, baby,” Morgan says. “They’re better than that guy you got this week.”
“You talking about Chris Gaines?” Brooks says, eyebrows raised in surprised.
“Yeah, that lame a– trick,” Morgan says, before ripping into Gaines. “I just think he’s bizarre. You’re a real dude, fixing your transmissions and everything, man. That dude is full of cake, man. He’s sweet like bear meat.”
Brooks stammers out a defense, but Morgan cuts him off and — things feel very outdated here — says that he heard Gaines “is batting both ways.”
Right then, Lorne Michaels walks up and puts his hands on Morgan’s shoulders and says, “Tracy, can I talk to you for a second?”
“One second,” Morgan shoots back, “I’m telling you, Chris Gaines is a weenie-beanie-bing-bong freak.”
Michaels keeps trying to pull Morgan away to no avail. Eventually, Morgan yells at his boss to “go get me a soda, b—-.”
Michaels walks away, and Morgan resumes his roast of Gaines — going for the jugular.
“He’s soft, man. The dude is chicken. And he’s fat, too.”
“What?! Fat?!” a shocked and sad Brooks whines back.
“He’s fat. You can see his gut through that outfit, man. If you were that big, they’d be calling you Girth Brooks,” Morgan spits back.
The punchline comes when Michaels returns with Morgan’s soda and Brooks walks off.
“Tracy, I hate to tell you this …” he begins.
“I know, I know,” Morgan cuts him off. “Garth is Chris Gaines. You really think I’m stupid, don’t you?”
“I mean, did you hear the album?” he adds.
Given that Glover’s Childish Gambino is generally beloved — he has been nominated for seven Grammys, winning one, after all — SNL is not likely to stage such a negative sketch Saturday.
But as history shows, the writers can have some fun with a musical alter ego. Maybe Childish Gambino will make the crossover to comedy.