You know him as Ashy Larry from Chappelle’s Show. You know he’s “rich, bitch!” But Donnell Rawlings is also a brash, in-your-face comedian on the live circuit. He will bring his free-form brand of conversational humor to The Improv this weekend, from Thursday until Sunday
LEO: Where did you start doing stand-up?
Donnell Rawlings: I started in the Washington, D.C. area. I would go to open-mics and heckle the comedians; the owner, trying to get me to shut up, challenged me to go onstage. I haven’t looked back since then. It was a dare from me bein’ an asshole. I’m an asshole turned comic.
LEO: Do you remember the first joke you ever wrote?
DR: I don’t. I remember writing the first thirty minutes of what I considered to be material and, as soon as I got onstage, everything drew a blank. So I went on messin’ with the audience. It was mostly freestyle, me pickin’ on people.
LEO: You sound like you sort of stumbled into comedy. Was there anyone that inspired you to do it?
DR: Nah. I never thought about doing stand-up comedy. I was more of a fan of comedy, but I never thought I would do it. The people I looked up to, as far as sense of humor, growing up, was my mom. We grew up with nothin’ — and in a situation like that, somebody has to crack a joke every once in a while.
LEO: Is that the mindset you took to the Air Force? Making people laugh in dire situations?
DR: That wasn’t the half of it, because I wasn’t going to college and I didn’t wanna be a bum — so I took the next best thing. That’s like college for black people, it’s like their version of a state junior college.
LEO: Do you prefer stand-up where you’re by yourself, or ensemble work like “Chappelle’s Show”?
DR: No, I like me. I like working by myself because I’m responsible for what happens. If you work with two many people, you can always blame someone else. In stand-up it’s just you and your opponent, and your opponent is the audience.
LEO: Do you prefer doing some of the dramatic roles you’ve done, or the comedic work?
DR: I like the comedy because it pays the bills. If I was working as a dramatic actor, I’d be broke as shit! (laughs) I’m more in control with comedy, because I know what I’m doing.
LEO: Did you all know “Chappelle’s Show” was going to be as special as it was?
DR: I think at the time Dave (Chappelle) and (producer) Neil (Brennan) were a lot more humble than I was. I was going through my Tupac phase of comedy, where it was like “Joke Life”. They were nervous because they had been through the process before, where something is made one way and ends up another. But I was like, “Yo, this shit is going to be the shit!” My prediction was correct.
LEO: Is there any chance that that cast might do something all together in the future?
DR: Is there a chance Bernie Madhoff will get out of prison? I don’t know … you never know, I wouldn’t rule anything out. Just the way the show ended, it would be nice if there could be some kind of special show with the original cast — to do one last episode. Or maybe an episode to close out what happened … something to answer the questions the fans ask.
$20; Times vary