Comedic actor Donnell Rawlings, 54, is scheduled to perform his first stand-up special later this year on Netflix and will be performing at the Addison Improv this weekend on September 15 and 16 in Dallas to demonstrate why best friend and comedy icon Dave Chappelle calls him one of the greatest comedians of all time. According to Rawlings, this is an honor well deserved.
“It’s deserving, and it’s honest,” Rawlings said. “We are both honest. He’s one of the dopest dudes. I’m one of the dopest dudes. We don’t have no problem complimenting each other or giving each other praises. We tell each other all the time. When we work together, we bring out the best in each other. When I perform, it makes him work at the top of his game. When he performs, it makes me work at the top of my game. The only thing it does is strengthen a bond, a friendship. It makes us better comedians.”
A five-show weekend at the Addison Improv in 2022 garnered rave reviews for Rawlings, and he looks forward to returning there as, in the past, the comedy club has inspired him to create his best work.
“The Improv is one of the best places to perform,” Rawlings said. “When you’re getting ready to do a special, you’re getting ready to do a huge tour. It’s something to be said about telling jokes for an intimate audience of 200 to 300 face-to-face. It’s a good time. I like all the platforms I perform on, but it’s something special about the Comedy Club vibe. That’s where it all starts.”
Among Rawlings’ favorite venues is Addison Improv, which has built a dedicated fanbase in Texas over the years.
“It’s [Texas] been good to me. It’s good people there, man. It’s really good people in Texas. I really enjoy the audience. They’ve been following me for years. Every time I do Addison, every time I do Arlington, every time I do Houston, it’s like I get people that’s come up to me, like, ‘Man, I’ve been coming to your show for the last 10 years.’ The ultimate compliment I’ve gotten out of Texas is that this guy was like, ‘I done seen you 10 years in a row, and every time I see you, you flip it, and you got some new stuff. You working on being better.’ I appreciate that,” he adds.
From Alexandria, Virginia, Rawlings’ uncensored, blaring and opinionated comedy has kept him performing stand-up alongside today’s comedic legends in front of sold-out crowds worldwide for 30 years. Every time he hits the stage, he delivers an off-the-top-of-his-head performance.
“I just talk,” Rawlings said. “Just go up there and let it go. I don’t tell them everything, but I tell them a lot. Pretty much, you come to my show. You’ll know a lot about me after you’re finished watching.”
Stand-up got him to Hollywood, but his unforgettable acting made him a star. Rawlings is best known for his memorable characters “Ashy Larry” from The Chappelle Show, “Day-Day” from The Wire and “Alvin” from BMF. He elevated his stand-up career between roles with various television performances on major networks such as Comedy Central, HBO and Netflix. His resume includes radio host, pop culture expert, writer and podcaster.
This weekend’s shows build excitement for Rawlings’ upcoming Netflix special, which will be executive-produced by Dave Chappelle and be part of a deal with the streaming giant that includes four produced specials of the legend’s choosing. Rawlings joins an elite club of comedians with Netflix specials, including Kevin Hart, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. Having grown up in comedy with the legends, he’s eager for his turn in the spotlight because it’s been a long time coming:
“I’m excited about it. It’s safe to say it’s overdue. I’m definitely deserving of it. I feel like I am at the top of my game right now, and I feel like it was inevitable that this was going to happen, but things got to line up at the right time. The platform that you want has to like you. You got to get the right producers. In my case, Dave is producing this, so that’s a friendship of over 30 years. Not just throwing a buddy a bone, but just giving somebody a shot that’s deserving of it. There’s a lot of people specials, and there’s nothing special about them anymore. You can see people that just clock in, you can watch some performance. They said, ‘No, all right. They did that for the money. They had to do an hour. They got their check.’ I want to send a message that I’m one of the best to do it. It’s no sense in talking about it. It’s being about it. Hopefully, all of that and the way I feel will translate, and I’ll have a special that people are watching and continue to watch for years down the road.”
Comedy is one of the few art forms where an individual’s prowess improves with age. Rawlings attributed his best stand-up work to his experiences.
“I’ve been good from the first time I touched the mic,” he said. “More experience and I’m not saying being cocky. I’m just the truth: the more experiences you get, the older you get, you have more to talk about. You have more stories, you have more crash and burns, you have more life. Yeah, it is great when you have more experiences to draw from to deliver your type of comedy.”
Fatherhood is enjoyable in Rawlings’ comedy because raising his 8-year-old son Austen has given him some of his best memories.
“Being a dad and trying to do the best for Austen is the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s the best feeling in the world, knowing that there’s something… You got different types of love, but unconditional love is the best. It’s the best feeling. I encourage you, people, to follow me on Instagram. They see that I do a lot of posting with me doing stuff with my son, but I just want to give people an idea of what is important, and what’s important is making everlasting memories. I tell my friends that all the time, make those memories,” Rawlings said regarding being a dad.
Longevity is rare in comedy. Up-and-coming comedians examine Rawlings’ 30-year career, aspiring to achieve similar success. His key to success is consistently going all out on stage.
“It’s simple. Go hard, go home. Put it on the stage, and always tell people to be consistent. Rip. Rip to the point where people can’t deny you not know, “Okay, last week, it was okay,” blah, blah. Be consistent where you make yourself undeniable. Everything you want out of this, you would get by being consistent and being funny,” Rawlings detailed.
As the comic is preparing material for a stand-up special, audiences can get a feel for what the special might be like by coming to the show. On Friday and Saturday, Rawlings doesn’t promise you will get a preview of what you’ll see on the special, but he can promise you a good time.
“Just come to the show. You might be the first to see it or the last to see it. Again, the special was something that was going to happen. I’m excited about that, doing New York. More importantly, I’m excited about performing for this audience in Texas and having a good time.”