By Cameron Lee
July 13, 2023
Donnell Rawlings is committed to his craft. While on the phone with the comedy veteran and Chappelle’s Show alum, he was getting ready to make some fried rice and enjoy a few drinks at his home in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Rawlings is a larger-than-life personality who exudes comedy and gives you a sense of comfort and familiarity, especially for those who grew up with the characters he portrayed.
Rawlings will headline multiple shows at The Comedy Zone this weekend, a place he has grown familiar with even prior to his rise as a comedian and actor on Chappelle’s Show.
“When I was starting in DC, Charlotte was one of those spots where that’s your first out-of-town gig. I had a good receptive audience there…I always have a connection with the Carolinas, because for the most part, everybody from New York or Brooklyn, or whatever, their roots go back to North Carolina somehow,” said Rawlings.
The last time he was in Charlotte, he shot a special for Netflix at The Fillmore. This weekend’s shows will be far more intimate, bringing Rawlings back to his stand-up roots. The last time I caught one of his sets was in Columbia, South Carolina opening for Chappelle, where he stole the show with a bit about how he used to imitate Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish in the ‘90s to get women. Rawlings went right into a story about how he recently met Rucker at one of Chappelle’s famous “Cornfield Shows” in Ohio.
“I’m fanboyed out! Darius Rucker, you don’t hear anything about him, he’s like a country dude, nobody even heard Darius Rucker ever curse,” said Rawlings. “We were in the green room, and I was like, ‘What’s up? I’m a fan.’ And this is what Darius Rucker said, “You better be funny, n**ga.”
Later that night, he and Rucker were in the back of a pick-up truck smoking a joint together. Rucker ended up in the middle of a cornfield performing an intimate show for around 40 people.
Many may not know Rawlings was also in the Air Force and stationed in South Korea when he was just 17 years old. When I told him I was Korean, he abruptly started cursing me out in the language, and we shared laughs about the stern temperament of typical Korean fathers. Rawlings possesses the keen observation of many elite comedians and recalls his time in the military many years ago.
“On my days off…I would go with my friends to their hometowns. I would go to the country,” Rawlings said. “They don’t have problems with nobody, but they have a problem with disrespect. And one thing about their [Korean] culture, understanding what we don’t as Americans, they respect the elderly.”
As an admirer of Rawlings’ comedy and an interviewer, I will admit, it was difficult to steer our 30-minute conversation, mainly because he had me laughing incessantly throughout the call. Rawlings was adamant about focusing on his stand-up and the upcoming shows, and less about more serious and over-debated topics such as cancel culture and even his own acting career, which has seen him on the popular television series BMF (Black Mafia Family) and the HBO series, Winning Time.
“I don’t care about being an actor, I don’t care about being a movie star, the only thing I care about is people who spend money to come see me do a show, and I’m gonna be the best,” he said. “I just want to come in and make people laugh and have a good time.”
The late comedian Sam Kinison once said “stand-up comedy is an art form and it dies unless you expand it.” For Rawlings, he is perpetually expanding his craft and is at his best on stage making people laugh. He even expanded his comedy into his salutations, ending our conversation by yelling his famous line, “I’m rich, biatch!,” after giving up-and-coming comedians a little advice.
“A lot of people want to be rich and famous before they are good. And I say, ‘just be good.’ Be undeniably good. And anything you want from this will happen.”
Donnell Rawlings performs at The Comedy Zone in Charlotte this weekend July 15-16.