First things first: Donnell Rawlings is not Dave Chappelle's keeper. He's made lots of TV and movie appearances outside of Comedy Central's massive but short-lived hit, “Chappelle's Show,” on everything from “The Wire” to “Spider-Man 2.” But, on the other hand, he is actually ashy. A few lessons we took away from our interview with Rawlings, the man who will headline two big shows at Tacoma's Grit City Comedy Club on New Year's Eve.
TW: There's almost no way around it, so we'll get the inevitable “Chappelle's Show” questions out of the way.
Rawlings: Oh my god! I just had another interview where they at least gave me a five-minute window before they popped the question. … Other people, they're nice enough to wine and dine me. You just went straight to it. [Does growly, Doctor Claw voice.] “This is how it's gonna be. Shut up!” [Laughs.] You just said, “I'm a bully. Let's get right into it. Where the hell is Dave Chappelle?”
TW: Like I said, I just wanna get 'em out of the way.
Rawlings: No, I know it. But you could make me feel better. What you just did was have sex with me with no foreplay. Not to say I don't like it. But … can I get dinner? [Laughs.]
TW: OK, OK, I'll change it up. Katt Williams made headlines up here recently. From comedian to comedian, what advice would you give that guy?
Rawlings: My advice would be you can't keep smacking white people without thinking justice will be served. [Laughs.] You can't smack two white people in one week. You KNOW that you're gonna have an FBI probe, IRS audit and everything. You can't do it.
TW: What's going on with that guy, though?
Rawlings: You never can really comment on what's going through a guy's head. But I will say that people don't know how it feels for a joke not to work. When it just doesn't work, man, you go to a mode that you can't explain. Tracy Morgan went through (that) mode. What's the guy from “Seinfeld.” Richards?
TW: Michael Richards. Kramer.
Rawlings: Michael Richards went through it. Now Katt Williams is going through a joke not working. So my advice to anybody that goes to a Katt Williams show is make sure you laugh at everything he says. Then you don't have to worry about it.
TW: Have you had a moment like that, a meltdown?
Rawlings: Oh yeah, I'm glad mine happened early in my career, before Twitter and Facebook. My career would be over if you could capture one of my moments. Some comics, you push them into a corner and the only (defense) they have is to throw a fit. I'm not like that. I like to have fun. But at the same time, don't push my buttons.
TW: Right, right.
Rawlings: Because there was a guy, it was years ago. A reporter called me, right. This was when Dave Chappelle first left the show. The first questions they asked was, “What's up with Dave Chappelle?” And I stabbed him. [Cracks up. We're pretty sure he's kidding.]
TW: Well, it's a good thing we're long distance, because I have to go into “Chappelle's Show.” I had a chance to talk to Charlie Murphy a couple of years ago about the Rick James thing. I wonder how often do people just run up to you and yell, “I'm rich, beeeyotch”?
Rawlings: Every other day. I mean, it's weird because we haven't been on air for almost seven years. It's just one of those things (I hear) wherever I go. It's so hard to be recognized for anything in this business that I'm still flattered and honored that people still recognize me from that show. I don't mind it, you know.
TW: I was looking up some old interview clips on YouTube, and I found one where you demonstrated you are, indeed, ashy.
Rawlings: Oh, yeah. ... I'm always trying to think of different ways to max the character out. I remembered when I was younger I would shoot dice late at night. And the way my mother would know is my knees would be ashy. When they came up to me with the character, I wanted him to be so ashy that I could write how much people owed me on the side of my legs.
TW: Have you or your agent thought of endorsing Jergens or something?
Rawlings: I came close to getting some deals with some cosmetic lines, but then they don't really get it. They don't understand how embedded that character is into pop culture. But, oh yeah, I've talked to a couple of people about coming up with my own lotion line. If anyone can endorse or validate a product like lotion (it's) Ashy Larry. That's just like Rick Ross endorsing some ribs or some barbecue sauce. You believe it.
TW: I'd buy Jergens from Ashy Larry.
Rawlings: Exactly. So when it comes out you'll be the first person I sell it to, alright?
TW: I'll pick some up. But last thing on “Chappelle's Show.” It looks like you're still answering questions about whether or not Dave is crazy …
Rawlings: That goes with the territory. If I can exploit the fact that I was on “Chappelle's Show” and sell more tickets, I'm gonna take advantage of it. And same thing, if you want to ask me questions I can't be selective. I gotta talk about it. For me, there was nothing ever negative about my relationship with Dave. It was all good. When he quit, my first thought was about his well being and how he was doing. But I was never angry, because the only thing it did was help my career out.
TW: Do you have other projects that happened before or since “Chappelle's Show” that you thought might blow up in the same way?
Rawlings: I'm currently working with MTV2 on “Hip-Hop Squares” and “Guy Code,” which are two of the top programs on MTV2. I'm out there, but you just can't compete with “Chappelle's Show.”
TW: What kind of stuff are you riffing on in your routine?
Rawlings: What you can expect is the dude you fell in love with from “The Wire,” that you fell in love with from “Chappelle's Show” and then you want to marry once you see him live. … I see life and I report it as I see it with a comedic twist, and I'm always doing something different.
Donnell Rawlings in concert
Grit City Comedy Club
445 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma
(253) 961-4262 or http://www.gritcitycomedy.com