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.
He made his mark writing for comics like Richard Pryor. He also wrote for “Good Times” and “Sanford and Son” in the ’70s. In the early 1980s, he developed signature characters for “In Living Color” including Homey the Clown.
His words are known by many. Still comedian, writer, social critic, television and film actor Paul Mooney has not become a household name himself.
But that makes no difference to Mooney, set to take the stage at the Helium Comedy Club on Sansom Street, May 2-5.
“I love what I do and I always knew I would end up doing it. And that’s all I really care about,” he said.
Born in Shreveport, La., and moving to Oakland, Calif., several years later, Mooney first became a ringmaster with the Gatti-Charles Circus. During his stint as ringmaster, he always found himself writing comedy and telling jokes, which later helped him land his first professional work as a writer for Pryor.
Mooney wrote some of Pryor’s routines for his appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” co-wrote his material for the “Live on the Sunset Strip, Bicentennial Nigger,” “Is It Something I Said” albums, as well as the film “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling.”
Mooney says writing for Pryor — as well as many other young comics including Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Eddie Murphy, Marsha Warfield and others — was easy once he got to know them.
“Once I got to know them, really know them, once I could really get into their heart and soul, it was easy to write for them because at that point I knew the essence of the person. And once that happens, I can write for people. Otherwise, I can’t,” he explains.
Among his other writing accomplishments, Mooney wrote for Redd Foxx’s “Sanford and Son,” acted in several cult classics including Which Way Is Up?,” “Bustin’ Loose,” “Hollywood Shuffle” and more.
He has appeared in sketches including Negrodamus, an African-American version of Nostradamus. As Negrodamus, Mooney once ad-libbed the “answers to life’s most unsolvable mysteries such as ‘Why do white people love Wayne Brady?’ (Answer: ‘Because Wayne Brady makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.’). Mooney had planned to reprise his role as Negrodamus in the third season of the “Chappelle’s Show” before it was cancelled.
Much of Mooney’s material is based on the subject of racism in the United States. which disturbs some audience members. But controversy has always accompanied Mooney and his comic material, and he doesn’t shy away from that fact.
“I do a lot of racial stuff because we live in America and my comedy is a reflection of my environment,” he said. “I think we’re blessed to live in a country with freedom of speech so I can speak my mind. We’re blessed to live in a place where I can make fun of things I see and not be taken out and shot.”
Long considered a living legend, Mooney explains that he can’t think of any of today’s young comics he would pay to see. He says, “I’ve worked with all the great minds from Richard Pryor to Flip Wilson to Redd Foxx to Moms Mabley. The only people left are Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory. After they go, it’s all over with. I’m truly the last of my kind.”
And his followers hope he’ll be around for a long, long time to come. As does the man of comedy himself. “I’ll never retire,” he said. “I’ll be performing as long as I can. I feel most alive when I’m on stage.”
For times and ticket information call (215) 496-9001.