Donnell Rawlings: From Heckler to Standup to Chappelle's Show

To this day, Donnell Rawlings is still widely recognized as a cast member of Chappelle's Show. "There's something about that show," he says. "It's some kind of ritual. Every seven or eight months, you feel like you've got to pop the DVD in, chill out, and reminisce. It's just incredible."

For Rawlings though, it's all part of the big picture. "I don't think anything is new," he says about developments in his career. "I think everything is a continuation of the direction you're trying to take your career."

[jump] Comedy as career came by accident for Rawlings. After serving in the U.S. military, he had his sights set on becoming a police officer in his native Washington, D.C. While working as a security guard for a grocery chain, he went to comedy clubs with his friends after work. After heckling a comic, he was dared to go onstage.

"They don't do that to encourage you," he laughs. "They do it to shut your ass up."

He went up at the next open mic. "I destroyed. I had all these things planned, but when I got up there I drew a blank, and just started messing with the crowd," he recalls. "When they gave me the light to wrap it up, I stopped and told the crowd, 'They want me to go.' The crowd said, 'No, no.'"

Eventually he moved into acting, even though it didn't come as naturally to him as standup comedy. "I think I'm a much better standup then I am an actor, because standup is what really drives me."


Rawlings tried taking acting lessons, but had a bad experience. "The only acting class I ever took was a commercial on camera acting class," he says. "It was [taught by a casting agent] who had tried to cast me in something before. I took this class, and then he just made me his punching bag. I was like, 'Wow, I thought this dude liked me.'"

It was a six-week class, but Rawlings left after two. "I didn't think he was treating me fair. It was weird, because I had booked two episodes of Law and Order when I took the class." With that gig secured, Rawlings felt he might be better off being self-taught. "So I read some books and watched a lot of movies. I just kept doing it until I got good at it."

Today, he approaches roles by trying to figure out who he knows or knew in real life that is closest to the character he is portraying. "I think some of the best comedic actors are the ones who get the role and then draw form their real life to make a connection with the character," he says. "That's what I do whenever I get an acting gig. Who do I know who is like this guy? I kind of do an impression of someone from my life."

He approaches standup similarly. "It's a combination," he says. "With the best comics, you have to go into what's happening in your world and what's happening in your life. That's what makes you a great comic. It's not too often I try to come up with a traditional setup/punchline joke."


Donnell Rawlings

The House of Comedy

Mall of America, 408 E. Broadway, Bloomington; 952-858-8558


18+; 21+ later shows

7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 9:45 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 9:30 p.m. Saturday