Washington, D.C. native Donnell Rawlings once did a favor for another comic, Neal Brennan. Brennan returned the favor when he hired Rawlings for his new project, “Chappelle’s Show,” a Dave Chappelle-led sketch show that became a huge hit in the mid-2000s. Rawlings is excited to return to Buffalo for a full weekend of shows at Helium Comedy Club.
Question: What inspired you to get into the comedy business?
Answer: What inspired me was years ago when I got out of the United States Air Force, I was waiting to be a (Washington), D.C. police officer. During that period, I was working as a security guard for a grocery chain called Safeway. A lot of the employees there used to go to the comedy club for morale and camaraderie and everybody was like, "You should come to hang out." So I went, and out of nowhere, I started heckling the comedians. I started building a strong fan base of people who wanted me to heckle. The best way to shut a heckler up is to invite them on stage. So one (comic) did, I went on stage and I ripped it. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years. I wasn’t anything I planned. I had no idea I was going to be a professional stand-up comic.
Q: Now that you’re on the other side, what do you think of hecklers?
A: Oh, god, they’re the worst people in the world. I really realize how much of a (jerk) I was once I was in front of an audience and saw it was a tough job to try to manipulate people and try to make them feel good at one time. I don’t get hecklers too often, but when I do, my motto is to "seek and destroy" to kill their dreams.
Q: What was it like to be on “The Chappelle Show” when it blew up to be a phenomenon?
A: It was an overwhelming experience. Comedy Central didn’t know how big the show could get one day. In fact, Comedy Central wasn’t very supportive of all the creative things we wanted to do, but we knew we had something special. Coming to work everyday … was more like going to have fun and play. It was one of the best sets I’ve worked on. Dave trusted some of the leads on the show to bring their comedic genius to the scenes and the writing. It was just a really relaxed, chill, fun environment.
Q: I enjoy rewatching “Spider-Man 2” and I always smile when you come in with that one line you have.
A: It’s so funny. None of my black friends knew I was in the movie because they’re always late. All of my white friends? They love it. I had a lot of fun (on that set). Sam Raimi pulled me to the side and says, "This is Spider-Man." He shows me a stick, and there’s some green specks on the stick. I’m so stupid that I think Spider-Man is really going to be jumping across buildings (for me). He was like (Peter Parker) comes in here, he’s late with a pizza, blah blah blah, then he comes out. What would you say? I was so nervous I was like, “Whoa! He just stole that guy’s pizza!” Then all day Sam Raimi was walking around mimicking me going, “Whoa!” That was a really great time.
Who: Donnell Rawlings
Where: Helium Comedy Club, 30 Mississippi St.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 28, 7:30 and 10 p.m. Jan. 29-30