Writer, actor and comedian Donnell Rawlings made his mark on the comedy world as a cast member on the late Dave Chappelle show, and became a viewer favorite and rising star whether a background player or portraying his character Ashy Larry.
And now Philadelphia audiences can enjoy his standup comedy at Helium Comedy Club, 2031 Sansom St., May 24–26.
Rawlings said he got his chance on the Chappelle show thanks to Dave’s friend Neil Brennan, one of the show’s co-writers, who noticed an audition Rawlings had done.
“I told him if he was ever in a situation, to throw me a bone. He did, and that’s how I got on the show,” Rawlings said. “It was the perfect platform for me and gave people the ability to see the kind of characters I could do. It also allowed me to contribute to the writing staff.”
Originally from Washington, D.C., Rawlings explained that he was not necessarily the class clown, but rather the person who loved being the center of attention by telling jokes.
“I was always a small kid, so the neighborhood bullies would come around me. But I think they became more afraid of my verbal attacks, so my mouth helped keep me from being bullied,” he said.
And it was that mouth that eventually led to a career for Rawlings. “I used to work for a grocery store and was invited to a comedy club one night by a couple of the people I worked with. I enjoyed the club and kept going, and I would often heckle the comedian on the stage. One night, the club owner became so annoyed with me, that he told me to get up on the stage if I thought I could do any better,” Rawlings recalled.
And although the stares from the audience made him nervous, he did manage to get through a set and eventually make comedy his career, one that’s lasted for 14 years so far.
Over the years, professional comics he admired include Martin Lawrence, Louie Anderson and the late Richard Pryor. But Rawlings said the person who had the most influence on him was probably his own mother.
“We didn’t have much money, but she managed to bring humor into everything we did,” Rawlings said. “And her sense of humor left a lasting impression on me.”
And that comedic streak continued to grow. As an actor, Rawlings has been featured in TV shows including “The Wire,” “Law & Order” and “Third Watch.” In films, he’s been seen in “Legacy,” “Car Babes” and “Fifty Pills.” He also created the website Bootlegcomedy.com.
Today, Rawlings says, he comes alive on stage. “In fact, when I have an argument with my girlfriend, the first thing I want to do is get on stage. I feel comfortable there and in control of what I do. For me, it’s like therapy.”
Additionally, he says, for the most part, comedy has been very easy for him for several reason. “I’ve never compared myself to anybody else. I’m me, and that’s just fine. Whatever happens to me will happen in due time. Also, I’m accustomed to not having much money, so I’ve learned to live on a shoestring budget. I know I’m the bomb, so the only thing I need to learn is how to make it so that other people will see me the same way.”
His future, he concludes, is just to stay focused and to continue making people laugh. “I challenge myself to be creative and to do something that others don’t do. I do observational humor, like how people’s personalities change when they get a smart phone. And the humor is all around me. All I have to do is turn on CNN, or walk the streets, or just go meet people. Comedy is all there, so I’m never at a loss for material.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 496-9001.
Michael Winslow is an actor and comedian who can make you believe a barking dog is coming after you, a jet plane is flying low overhead, or someone is scraping chalk on a chalk board.
But all those sounds – and many, many more – are actually just Winslow, often billed as the “Man of 10,000 Sound Effects” for his ability to make realistic sound effects using only his voice. And Winslow will be taking that voice, and many of those sounds, to the stage at the Helium Comedy Club on Sansom St. May 10-12.
Today, even years later, Winslow is probably best known for his role as Sgt. Larvelle “Motor Mouth” Jones in the “Police Academy” series of movies and TV shows. He also appeared in “Spaceballs” and “Gremlins.”
Born in Spokane, Wash., Winslow says he learned early on that he could make sounds to amuse himself and others.
“At the time, I didn’t call it a talent,” he says. “It was just something that used to get me in all kinds of mischief and situations. But then I managed to take it further.”
For instance, he continues, “Sometimes I could use my sounds to keep the bigger kids away from hurting me. They always wanted to hear the sounds, and then you had the other kids who didn’t want to hear them. So I ended up using it as part of the tools to amuse most of the big boys.”
Not sure what it was, Winslow nevertheless says he knew his voices had a strong effect on people, and so he learned how to use them to his advantage.
One of those “advantages” was clowning around in a little country bar in California that Burt Reynolds made famous in some of his movies. “It was a pretty prestigious little bar so I used to go in there and horse around. One day a talent scout for the ‘Gong Show’ heard me and asked if I wanted to audition for the show. And I certainly did,” says Winslow.
Appearing on the “Gong Show” was his first television appearance, and Winslow managed to squeeze in spot-on-sound-alikes of Benji, the movie dog, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”
With the proceeds from his “Gong Show’” winnings, Winslow was able to buy a car, and sleep in it when he wasn’t performing at Venice Beach trying to make some money. But that appearance on the “Gong Show” eventually led to many others, including guest shots on other shows, and eventually films.
As if fate had somehow stepped into his life, Winslow managed to snag a spot opening for Cont Basie. He remembers, “It was a strange, once-in-a-lifetime thing that happens every once in a while. I got a chance to do two shows with Count Basie. It was towards the end of that wonderful career of his, and I got the chance to actually be a part of it. And the producer and director of ‘Police Academy,’ who were big jazz fans, happened to se the show and asked me to appear in their picture.”
It was early spring and filming for “Academy” started in late summer. And it’s gone so well since, that Winslow says “Police Academy 8” is in the works and due out next year.
Next on Winslow’s agenda is taking suggestions from Bill Cosby, who urged Winslow to take his sounds and use them to tell classic children’s stories. And that’s just what he’s planning to do.
But does he feel the least bit pigeonholed as an entertainer because of his vocal ability? “Not in the least,” he answers quickly. “I’ll take any role that comes along, but I do know that an open door is much more lucrative than a closed door. So my voice allows me to work, which is far better than having no work at all. And it allows me to go anywhere on the planet and perform for audiences worldwide. So I do see that as much more of a plus than any kind of negative.”
For times and ticket information, call the Helium Comedy Club (215) 496-9001.
Born in North Carolina but raised primarily in New York, writer, comedian and actor Jerry Brooks, better known professionally as J.B. Smoove, is probably recognized for his recurring role as Leon on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
But, says the hard-working Smoove, who will be appearing at the Helium Comedy Club on Sansom Street tonight and tomorrow night, “In the beginning, I was willing to do everything and anything I could to get experience and to learn my craft.”
With training that began every Friday night during workshops at the Uptown Comedy Club in Harlem, Smoove got to perform and try out his skills every Sunday night on the club’s stage.
“That was my training ground,” he says, “the place where I got to develop my own style of humor. And after that, I kept as busy as I could so my resume would look good once people began to notice me. That way they’d be able to see how much I’d done.”
And indeed he did, from having recurrent roles on MTV, as well as featured guest spots on
“The Chris Rock Show” and “Premium Blend,” and following up with much, much more. By this time he had moved out to Los Angeles.
“I worked at Showtime at the Apollo, Comedy Central, BET. I did a lot of commercials and as many movies as I could get hired to do. I did a lot of cool things and feel blessed to have done all those cool things and met so many cool people,” he says.
After three years on the West Coast, he decided to move back to New York and was hired as a writer on Saturday Night Live, although he also had bit roles in sketches, including playing Jimmy “J.J.” Walker in a parody of the 1970s sitcom “Good Times.“ He was also a recipient of the 2007 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy/Variety Series.
“The first time I went to ‘SNL’ it was with the idea of becoming a cast member, but I didn’t make it. But I did manage to get hired as a writer,” Smoove says,. “I was able to appear in some sketches as well as do warm ups for the show. I also got to do a lot of work for Conan O’Brien’s show too. Again, I was trying to learn as much as possible.”
Smoove says he also learned a lot growing up, describing himself as the life of the party guy.
“Doing standup was not m original goal. I was always a fan of standup comedy and a fan of guys like Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Bill Cosby and others.”
But his humor took a turn when he was in a college edition of The Dating Game. He remembers that out of the three bachelors chosen for the potential date, his answers were so funny that he ended up winning the game.
“But I was so excited about everybody laughing at my answers and thinking I was so funny, that I never even took the girl out,” Smoove says. “But what did come out of that was my decision to try to make my living from standup.”
Today, his break-out role on HBO’s ”Curb Your Enthusiasm” has firmly planted him as one of the best comedic actors around. And, he insists, he’s enjoying every minute of it.
“The best part of my career is just being able to share myself with my family and be able to do things I couldn’t have done before. You know, I don’t mind being a B level actor for the rest of my life it that’s what it takes to still be able to go places and do things without being mobbed.
“I just want to enjoy myself and not worry about cameras on me all the time,” he concludes. “To be truthful, I’m in no rush to get to be an A list actor. I just want to enjoy myself. Years from now I hope to have a few major films under my belt, become a big time director, relax and travel with my wife, and just enjoy life.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 496-9001.
“I used to think if I worked hard, really hard, I could afford some of the things I thought I wanted. But what I found out was what I wanted was far more wonderful than all the material things in the world. It’s serving and helping others,” said comedian, film and television actor Tommy Davidson, set to take the stage at the Helium Comedy Club on Sansom St. Aug. 9–11.
“I found that things that were important to me were things like going on tour to Afghanistan during the holidays last year or helping the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in their youth programs,” said Davidson. “I feel like it’s a way of giving back. I get to do a lot of things other people don’t get to do, so helping them with their struggles in life helps to balance things out.”
After high school graduation, Davidson enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia, but soon dropped out, preferring, instead, to go into a different direction by making people laugh.
He started his career as a stand-up comedian in the mid-1980s in Washington, D.C. As one of the cutting edge, young stand-ups, he was spotted by major concert promoters who booked him as the opening act for A-list touring acts including Patti LaBelle, Kenny G and Luther Vandross.
It wasn’t long before Davidson came to Hollywood and was performing at a number of clubs, including the Comedy Act Theatre, where he met Robert Townsend. This led to his first national television appearance with a starring role in “Partners in Crime,” and was his ultimate conduit to Keenan Ivory Wayans. That meeting led to him auditioning for and ultimately joining the talented cast of the primetime variety show of its day, “In Living Color.” He, Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans made TV history with their originality.
On the show, Davidson played various characters, including his impersonations of Sammy Davis Jr., Stevie Wonder and Sugar Ray Leonard among others.
“One of my favorite impersonations was Sammy Davis, but I really liked doing them all,” Davidson admits. “Some of them are easier then others, but once I get at least one piece of the person down and start doing them, it all starts falling right into place.”
To Davidson, “In Living Color” was a masterpiece, “and I was in the right place at the right time and ran into the right person. For the show, they matched a bunch of special people who were also great like me and put us all together on one show,” he said.
His visibility on that show led to three Showtime specials: “On Strength of New York,” “Illin’ in Philly” and “Takin’ it to DC.” Other projects followed, like Disney’s animated series “The Proud Family,” and as a host on FOX’s “The NFL Show.”
More recently, Davidson played the role of Cream Corn in “Black Dynamite,” and has finished production on a full-length feature titled “Black Scabbith.”
With many other credits on his résumé, Davidson continues to do stand-up because he enjoys it.
“My performances are vibrant and energetic,” he said. “Usually my show is different every night, because I just do whatever comes into my mind. I do impressions, talk about my life, growing up. I talk about topical issues, what’s going on right now. I do music, too, and singing impressions.”
For the future, Davidson said he’d like to have his own television show, his own music albums and continue his film career.
“There are several things in the fire, but nothing I can talk about right now,” he said. “I’ll talk about them when the time comes.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 496-9001.