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Ready For The Next Level

Donnell Rawlings' hit podcast and upcoming Netflix special have the former "Ashy Larry" poised to join stand-up comedy's elite.

by Chuck king
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WEST PALM BEACH – Like the creation of Rome, the formation of a diamond and Sunday gravy, a stand-up comedian’s rise to stardom often takes time.

Donnell Rawlings’ time is about to come.

Rawlings entertained audiences across the world over nearly three decades as a stand-up comic. But he’s yet to achieve the level of recognition afforded the likes of contemporaries Jim Gaffigan, Kevin Hart or friend and fellow Washington D.C. comic Dave Chappelle.

“I never thought there was a timeline,” Rawlings said of achieving success. “Every year, if you continue to try to get better and just work at your craft, it will come in due time.”

It’s not as though Rawlings hasn’t enjoyed successes over the past 27 years. He’s probably best known for his portrayal of Ashy Larry on “Chappelle’s Show.” Rawlings also has dozens of other television and movie credits in his portfolio.

At heart, however, Rawlings has always been a stand-up comic. He’s yet to receive the acclaim on a national scale that many within the industry believe he’s earned.

“I’ve been patient,” Rawlings said. “I’ve had some of my peers that have ran laps around me in regard to money, popularity and fame, but I’ve never got discouraged. I’ve always said, Your time will come. And your time is here.”

On several occasions – most recently right before the COVID pandemic effectively shut down the entertainment industry – Rawlings had been poised to finally break through and become recognized among comedy’s elite.

“I never got discouraged,” Rawlings said. “Things will open up. Stay true to yourself and always believe that eventually you will be recognized.”

The floodgates appear primed to open for Rawlings. His podcast, The Donnell Rawlings Show, continues its rapid growth. And later this month Netflix will debut Rawlings’ stand-up comedy special, “Donnell Rawlings: The King of Too Soon” – part of the Chappelle-produced Home Team series of stand-up comedy specials.

Such a show could make any comic a household name. But Rawlings insists he’s never chased fame.

“Some people are just like, Oh, I want to be famous. Oh, I want to be rich,” Rawlings said. “But not too many people who have those aspirations say to themselves, ‘I want to be good.’ I always knew that if I continue to be good that the money would come later. The accolades would come later, and I would be a happy person.”

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During a late-February phone call, Rawlings exudes joy and humor. Insightful comments about cancel culture, the state of comedy and performing in the state of Florida – which he will do later this week – are often punctuated with jokes.

He’s loose. He’s disarming. He’s confident. He’s fun.

“If you can understand that when you wake in the morning you are your own boss and whatever you put into it is what you get out of it, you’ll be happy,” Rawlings said. “I’ve felt my happiness in entertainment from the first day I did it up until this point. I’m not surprised at anything that’s happening with me right now. People are catching up to what I’ve been doing, for the most part, my entire career.”

That Rawlings is happy shouldn’t come as a surprise. While Rawlings’ “I’m rich biatch!” catch phrase is one of “Chappelle’s Show’s” most memorable lines, money isn’t his primary focus.

“The first thing you have to be able to do is be happy being broke,” Rawlings said of launching a stand-up comedy career. “If you can be happy being broke, everything else is a bonus. If you can understand that there are a small percentage of people that have found what their god-given talent was and they were able to do something to make money with it, you’ll be happy.”

Rawlings is looking forward to spreading that happiness in the Sunshine State – and it’s a good bet he’ll succeed. Beginning on Friday, Rawlings will perform four shows over two days at the Miami Improv. On Sunday he’ll head north for a 7 p.m. show at the Palm Beach Improv.

“When you come to my show you are going to get a mix of everything,” Rawlings said. “You are going to get a mix of things that make you think. There’s going to be some things that make you laugh hysterically. It’s going to be some things that may ruffle your feathers a little bit. But it’s the even balance of observation comedy and self-deprecating comedy. A lot of it is me talking about being a father at an older age – my relationship with my son. I think it’s a nice balance. I think that you can really enjoy my act from so many angles.”

While Miami and West Palm Beach audiences notoriously react differently to stand-up comedians and their jokes, Rawlings is confident he can capture both rooms.

“I don’t care what audience you put me in, I’ve been doing it long enough that I try to find the material that resonates with everybody. The only thing that changes is that if you go different places you learn something about the neighborhood, something particular to that town, some slang or something like that. But my comedy stays consistent whether I’m performing in Miami, whether I’m performing in England, Amsterdam, Africa, whatever. I think the better comics are ones that don’t have to adjust their comedy as much.”

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