Stand-up comedian Donnell Rawlings performing at Elkhart’s Five Star Dive Bar

Donnell Rawlings talks about heckling comedians, humor and his love for Paula Deen’s pot roast. He is performing May 14 in Elkhart.

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 5:08 p.m.

ELKHART — Comedy wasn’t always in the cards for stand-up star Donnell Rawlings, but he sure likes calling a bluff.

Rawlings started out in the audience badgering comedians on stage at local clubs in Washington, D.C., and not long after, he was making a name for himself in the world of comedy with appearances on “Chappelle’s Show” on Comedy Central, HBO’s “The Wire” and his latest project, “Guy Court” on MTV2.

Rawlings’ busy tour schedule is taking him to comedy clubs from coast to coast where he is trying out new material that he hopes to pitch to HBO for an hour long special. He will make a stop in Elkhart on May 14.

Rawlings performs at 8 p.m. at Five Star Dive Bar, 561 E. Jackson Blvd. Tickets are $20 at fivestardivebar.info. The show is for people 21 and older.

Here is an excerpt of Rawlings’ interview with The Elkhart Truth:

Elkhart Truth: Is it true that before you started doing stand-up you used to go to comedy clubs and heckle comedians?

Rawlings: “Yeah, that was the birth of my career. I was such a good heckler that people used to start coming to the comedy clubs just to hear me heckle. The club owner wanted me to shut up, and I thought it would kill me, but it only birthed me, and this is what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years.”

Elkhart Truth: So, how did you end up on stage for the first time as a comedian?

Rawlings: “It was a dare from the club. They wanted me to shut up, and they thought that if they put me on stage, I would get discouraged, but it was totally the opposite. It really fueled me to want to do it for the rest of my life.”

Elkhart Truth: You have done TV shows, movies and, obviously, stand-up comedy. Where are you most comfortable?

Rawlings: “I’m more comfortable on stage, and I’m more challenged when I act. On stage, that’s just my natural instinct to be able to come up with jokes. With stand-up, you get a natural response. You know if you’re doing well or not. With acting, you don’t know until the critics hit you.”

Elkhart Truth: A lot of people know you from your role as Ashy Larry on “Chappelle’s Show.” Was that a character you created?

Rawlings: “It was a combination. Dave Chappelle already had the character, and I was supposed to have underwear on and shooting dice.

I remember when I was younger, I used like to shoot dice. My mom would always know when I would shoot dice because I would come home, and my knees were real ashy and scratched up from being on the pavement all day. So when they came up with this character, I wanted to be so ashy that I could write how much money people owe me on the side of my leg.”

See Donnell Rawlings
  • When: 8 p.m. May 14
  • Where: Five Star Dive Bar, 561 E. Jackson Blvd., Elkhart
  • Tickets: $20 at fivestardivebar.info

Elkhart Truth: You talk about a lot of hot topics on stage, like politics and race, but is there anything that’s off limits? Is there anything you won’t talk about?

Rawlings: “I think it’s in the comedian’s mind to find humor in everything, in our brightest moments and in our darkest moments. I don’t want to be offensive, but I can be slightly insulting. There is a fine line between the two.

I try to be classy as much as possible, but if there’s something stirring inside me and I think it’s funny, I’m going to talk about it and see what the feedback is. Sometimes I do stuff and it’s like, oh my god, I shouldn’t have said that, but I think that’s what makes the best comics who they are, the ones that take chances.”

Elkhart Truth: Has there ever been a time when you were trying out a joke and it just didn’t go the way you were hoping?

Rawlings: “I remember when I was a younger comic, and there was a guy in the audience and he was obviously gay. At the time, I took the easy route and tried to attack him on his sexuality, but he embraced it. He wasn’t afraid of it, and when I was supposed to be making fun of him, this dude destroyed me.

He told me, ‘I’m more man than you’ll ever be and more woman than you’ll ever get.’ Once he told me, my show was over.

Years after that, that guy comes up to me, and says, ‘Do you remember me?’ I was like, ‘Do I? You almost ruined my career, dude.’ It made me realize that sometimes when you’re dealing with people, you can’t point out the obvious, especially when people are secure with themselves. You have to be a little more tactful. I had to calm down a little bit.”

Elkhart Truth: Were you funny when you were a kid or always making sarcastic comments to your teachers and parents?

Rawlings: “Growing up, I never thought I was funny enough to do stand-up, but I knew I was funny enough to have all my friends laughing. I loved comedy, but I had never thought about doing it, but once I went on stage for the first time, I knew this was my destiny.”

Elkhart Truth: What do you think you would be doing now if you didn’t start doing comedy and acting?

Rawlings: “I would probably be a blue collar worker somewhere. I didn’t go to college. I went into the military. I think I would have been a carpenter or an electrician or something in the vocational field because that’s where I really have fun.

If I wasn’t doing stand-up, I would probably be doing that, or because I was a police officer in the military, I would probably be a cop somewhere.

Sometimes, I don’t even believe I’m a stand-up comedian. I mean, how in the hell did this happen?”

Elkhart Truth: We covered a lot of ground, but is there anything we didn’t get to talk about?

Rawlings: “I know a lot of people in the black community are upset about the decline of Paula Deen. I think I’m one of the only black people that supports Paula Deen.

I understand she may have said something crazy, but at the same time, until you’ve had a Paula Deen pot roast or chicken potpie, you can’t judge her. Let’s bring Paula Deen back. I want those buttermilk biscuits.”

Follow Elkhart Truth reporter Angelle Barbazon on Twitter at @tweetangelle.

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