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Donald Glover made a rare appearance at the 2023 Writers Guild Awards in New York on Sunday night where he used some of his time onstage, presenting Atlanta executive producer Paul Simms with an honorary award, to joke about Community co-star Chevy Chase using the N-word.
The Atlanta writer-actor, whose upcoming series Swarm hits Amazon’s Prime Video later this month, recalled how the award Simms is receiving was named after former Saturday Night Live writer Herb Sargent, who came up with the Chevy Chase-hosted “Weekend Update.”
“Chevy Chase once called Herb one of the funniest writers working in television,” Glover said onstage at the WGA Awards. “Chevy Chase once called me. You know what? This is about Paul.”
Later, when Glover recalled hearing about Simms after working on Girls, he was more explicit about what happened with Chase.
“I was on the set of Girls after filming a sex scene for like eight hours, which they cut down to two minutes. I’ve never seen any of the rest of that footage,” Glover recalled. “I asked Lena [Dunham], ‘Hey, what made you decide to work with Paul [Simms, an executive producer on the HBO hit]?’ And she goes ‘Honestly, this N— lets me do whatever I want.’ And I remember thinking two things. One, Lena is using the N-word extremely liberally. Who does she think she is, Chevy Chase? And two, that’s the kind of producer I want.”
Glover was joking about Dunham. But his quip about Chase seemed more consistent with reports about Chase’s behavior.
In 2012, a source told The Hollywood Reporter that Chase “apologized immediately” to his Community colleagues for using the N-word on set as he expressed frustrations with his character. He reportedly used the slur in questioning the dialogue in a scene with Glover and Yvette Nicole Brown, but the source told THR the slur was not directed at them.
In a 2018 interview with the New Yorker, it was reported that Chase would try to disrupt Glover’s scenes and “make racial cracks between takes.”
“Chevy was the first to realize how immensely gifted Donald was, and the way he expressed his jealousy was to try to throw Donald off,” Community creator Dan Harmon said in the New Yorker piece.
“I remember apologizing to Donald after a particularly rough night of Chevy’s non-PC verbiage, and Donald said, ‘I don’t even worry about it.’”
“I just saw Chevy as fighting time — a true artist has to be OK with his reign being over,” Glover said of Chase. “I can’t help him if he’s thrashing in the water. But I know there’s a human in there somewhere — he’s almost too human.” To the magazine, Chase said, “I am saddened to hear that Donald perceived me in that light.”
At the Writers Guild Awards, Glover praised Simms’ “calm, zen-like” management style, comparing it to that of former NBA coach Phil Jackson.
“He never freaked out about the script,” Glover said of Simms. “He never tried to push his version of the show on us. He wanted what we wanted. Anytime he gave us a joke it’d be one of the funniest ones of the season. He always reminded us it’s just a show. If you don’t live your life, you’ll have nothing to write about.”
After teasing Simms for stealing one of “the Black talents” he worked with on Atlanta, Stefani Robinson, for What We Do in the Shadows, Glover quipped that the show is “about something Paul knows very well: Sucking the life out of younger people to survive.”
Turning serious, he added, “I love Paul. He’s really like a comedy dad. He never pressed me to do anything with the show. He was always there to listen and he made things better just by being around.”
During his acceptance speech, Simms shed some light on the experience of working with Glover on Atlanta. Specifically, he said he fielded calls from concerned FX executives about a risque scene in an Atlanta script involving Mickey Mouse. Simms said he called Glover, who told him, “We just put that in there to mess with them. It doesn’t have to be Mickey Mouse. It could be Donald Duck.”
Simms also let the Shadows team write some of his speech, reading what they penned — while Simms was out of the office and that they placed in a sealed envelope.
Predicting it would “go great,” Simms only got a few words into the first entry, “My darling, Beth,” before he realized what he’d gotten himself into, muttering “Jesus.”
“You are my cozy bunny and my cutie patootie,” Simms continued reading. “My whole body tingles when we kiss. Your womanly touch … You make me want to boogie boogie.”
Other memorable quotes from the Shadows team included the following: “Herb Sargent, more like Herb suck it. Paul Simms bows to no man.” “Hail caesar, no croutons,” “now that I’ve become a man, please congregate in the center of the room and lift me high in a chair” and “my work is ultimately a meditation on grief.”
Speaking to THR on the red carpet before the WGA Awards, Simms said, “This award really means something because the people who won it before are all people that I admire.”
And he seemed particularly touched that Glover was presenting him with it.
“Atlanta was one of the best shows I ever worked on and a great experience, so it really touched me that he flew all the way out here from L.A. to present the award,” Simms said.
10:48 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify Glover’s comments about Chase.
5:10 a.m.: This story has been updated to clarify that Glover’s remark about Dunham was a joke.
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