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.