The last time that stand-up GOAT, Dave Chappelle, returned to Saturday Night Live as its host on November 12 – Chappelle’s third time hosting NBC’s SNL – he brought with him a welcome, but surprise guest considering his time away from the Chappelle Show series that made him a sensation: stand-up comedian Donnell Rawlings.
Along with being renowned for Chappelle Show characters in beloved sketches such as “Player Hater’s Ball” and “The Time Haters” (the latter of which Donnell reprised during Chappelle’s 2022 episode of Saturday Night Live), Rawlings performed as “Ashy Larry” and was responsible for the Chappelle Show’s weekly, post-show, outro’s shout-out: “I’m rich, biaaaaatch!”
Beyond all things Chappelle, however, Rawlings is a sketch comic master, a frank stand-up comedian and a podcaster (The Donnell Rawlings Show) with plenty of rants to go around.
Currently on tour in Australia as Dave Chappelle’s opening act, Rawlings returns to the U.S. with gigs at Baltimore’s Comedy Factory (March-24-26), Philadelphia’s Helium Comedy Club (April 6-8) and Boston’s Wilbur Theatre (April 14). The stand-up also renewed his role as “Alvin” in the currently-running second season of BMF/Black Mafia Family at Starz TV.
Rawlings and I spoke in 2022 after his name popped up on gossip sites in relationship to his friend and collaborator Chappelle. Rather than just let it go, and stay gossipy, Rawlings and I set the record straight before moving onto world peace, world destruction, comedy and Ashy Larry.
A.D. Amorosi: I was prepared to start this interview on the topic of making comedy while the world falls apart, when several gossip sites popped up with your supposed complaint about the money you were paid, or not properly paid, from Dave Chappelle. I know you guys are friends. Let’s fix this.
Donnell Rawlings: Cool, because I never said that, but lots of media outlets – they just like click bait. I never said that I didn’t get a proper pay day. I got the pay day that was fair for what we were doing at that level at that time. I would never bitch about that. That show gave me a platform to then go out and make a lot of money. Nobody on that show was getting paid anything crazy those first two seasons. It wasn’t until the third season when Dave got the check for the big money – which he probably never saw because he left – but it was never a situation for me to complain about the money. We each got $500 a sketch, to be on one of the finest comedy shows in history. You got to pick your fights. That one isn’t mine. I was happy to take that money, build a relationship with Dave and further my platform in stand-up comedy – that’s where I can make It so I get the big money. That’s the lesson: always position yourself for the next shot.
A.D. Amorosi: Like billiards.
Donnell Rawlings: Right. Here’s a story. Patrice O’Neal was on the Chappelle Show and he had a problem with the money. He didn’t want to do it anymore because he didn’t like the money. But look at what sketches like The Player Haters Ball did for the history of comedy. Look at all that stuff. You have to make your decisions based on the next move.
A.D. Amorosi: Making comedy period, in the last several years of Covid, of social justice issues, of the Ukraine fight: how do you maintain the funny?
Donnell Rawlings: Some of the best comedy comes from a dark place. Some of the best things a comedian can create can come from an argument with your spouse. It’s all based on emotion. When the world is going in the way it is, now, that is when a comedian is truly tested. This is where we stand up. This is where we fight. When things are at their roughest, who can rally and make people feel good about themselves. We’re like therapists. And it is as if we’re GETTING therapy because talking about all this helps us with our problems. We’re laughing with you. Were engaged with you. It takes real engagement to make the negative into a positive.
A.D. Amorosi: Anything bugging you, personally in particular? Anything dark you need to make light and maintain catharsis?
Donnell Rawlings: Many times, when people go through issues, they believe they are doing it alone. Part of show talks about me being an older dad, having my first kid later in life. I used to feel embarrassed to talk about that. Talking about it comedically helped stop that, because I’m not the only one. Being out there, doing your jokes and connecting with someone who can relate – that’s awesome. Someone is always going through what you’re going through.
A.D. Amorosi: What is your impression of the cancel culture that comedians face daily? Certainly, Chappelle has made working through and against that something of a cause. He seems to get away with whatever he says as he spits in the face of it all.
Donnell Rawlings: But that’s putting too much power in the hands of too few people. Take his last special. You get 100 people watching that, and maybe 2 people might be upset. Instead of focusing on the 98, the focus goes on those 2 people. Why? Cancel culture only exists for people that have a commitment, a moral obligation to a brand or something corporate. When you are your own boss, when you are not beholden to someone like Nike, and say I want to make money with or through you, you don’t have to worry about that. The most important people to me, then, are the people who are paying to come to my show, and spend money. The other people? I can’t concern myself with them. The only thing that cancel culture wants to do is stop you from making a living. They get off on hearing WalMart doesn’t want to work with a comic.
A.D. Amorosi: If you’re a comic, a pure stand-up, who doesn’t deal often with corporate film or television making, the pressure is off.
Donnell Rawlings: Real stand-up comedians who don’t worry about making movies, all we want to do is be able to put our name on a marquee, and make a living off of our God given talent. You can’t cancel someone like that. Being a mega-movie star isn’t everyone’s goal. I just want to go to work this weekend and provide for my family, and keep it moving. I don’t need Disney, even though they do some good stuff. I’m not saying screw that industry. I’m picking my battles. I just need my fans to come and continue to support me, and I’ll give them the best show that I can.