INTERVIEW: Donnell Rawlings, ‘Chappelle’s Show’ alum, working on Netflix special a second time

Donnell Rawlings will be at Mable House Amphitheatre with Earthquake on July 17, 2022. PAUL SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: Paul Smith Photography

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Donnell Rawlings will be at Mable House Amphitheatre with Earthquake on July 17, 2022. PAUL SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: Paul Smith Photography

Rawlings will be at Mable House Amphitheatre July 17 with Earthquake.

Veteran stand-up comic Donnell Rawlings late last year taped an hour-long special for Netflix with Dave Chappelle as the executive producer.

It was set for a May 17 release. But two weeks earlier, Chappelle called him. “I want to do it again,” he told Rawlings.

Rawlings, in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to promote his upcoming July 17 show at Mable House Amphitheatre with fellow comic Earthquake, said he protested at first, noting how the audience went nuts over his material.

But Chappelle told him that he could put Rawlings in front of any audience and destroy, “but that doesn’t necessarily make a great special.”

The problem: the often ribald Rawlings made a lot of COVID-19 jokes. “They wouldn’t stand the test of time,” Rawlings said. “It would have sounded stale. I had to go back to the drawing board. I trust Dave’s experience and judgment as a producer. He has the same passion doing my special as he does his own.”

Rawlings and Chappelle have been friends for decades and Rawlings was a regular on “Chappelle’s Show,” best known as the host and for creating characters like Ashy Larry.

Much of his newer material will pop up at Mable House in Mableton July 17. (Tickets are $49 to $80 at Ticketmaster.com).

And in the interim, he snagged a slot during the Netflix is a Joke Festival in late April/early May with Snoop Dogg’s “friends” set. The special came out on Netflix a few weeks ago and he snagged 10 minutes of airtime.

Rawlings said it was nice to see peers like Mike Epps, who shot the Starz show “Survivor’s Remorse” in Atlanta and Katt Williams, who was banned from his former residence of Hall County in 2016 for getting in trouble one too many times. But fraternizing wasn’t his aim while taping with Snoop.

“I wasn’t there to have fun,” he said. “I was on a mission to go up there and light it up. It’s a teaser and makes people want to see more of your work.”

He wasn’t even part of the original lineup Snoop Dogg put together. He texted Snoop directly. “I want in,” he texted Snoop. “I got you,” Snoop texted back with a “Black fist” emoji.

A man jumped on stage during a taping and tried to tackle Chappelle while the comic was on stage during the festival. Chappelle escaped unscathed while the dude got beat up by security and was hospitalized.

“Dave handled it well,” Rawlings said. “You have to turn lemons into lemonade. I fear for the safety of my friend and comedy in general. But we have to move on. I considered that an isolated incident.”

Not that he himself hasn’t been roundly heckled and occasionally jumped on stage in his early days. “I’ve thrown punches,” he said. “I was young and broke. I didn’t have to worry about corporate sponsors or the money I could lose.”

Rawlings, 53, was part of the same generation of Black comics who spent a lot of time at the Buckhead Uptown Comedy Corner (which is now located in Hapeville). His friend Earthquake, who is headlining the Mable House show, once had an ownership stake in that club.

“Earthquake is one of the funniest [expletives] out there,” Rawlings said. “We are from the DMV [the Washington D.C. area]. We don’t sugarcoat things. It was always a healthy competition that brought the best out of both of us.”

Rawlings said he never stops working on being funnier. “I don’t peak,” he proclaimed. “I’m never going to peak. I’m going to die first. I’ve been doing this 30 years. I feel I’m getting better and better. I’m killing it right now.”

And like almost every other comic out there, he has his own podcast called “The Donnell Rawlings Show.” “It’s a way to stay relevant and connect with your fan base,” he said. “But you don’t have to try hard to stay relevant if you’re funny.”

And as an older father with a six year old, he said he works with more purpose now. “For many years, I never was working for anything other than to make some family member or some chick happy,” he said. “Now with my son, nothing else matters. I’m now responsible for cultivating someone’s brain.”


IF YOU GO

Earthquake with Donnell Rawlings

7 p.m. Sunday, July 17. $49-$80, Mable House Amphitheatre, 5239 Floyd Road SW, Mableton. www.ticketmaster.com