When you think about your best friends, they're not always nice to you. A lot of the time, they can be quite mean, yet we continue to hang out with them. In this way, comedian Donnell Rawlings is like one of your best friends, with the volume turned way up.
"The signature that I put on stuff is the guy that can be insulting without offending," said the stand-up comic and actor, who will play Comedy Off Broadway in Lexington this week. "I push the envelope without pushing it all the way."
Before he began pushing at his audiences, Rawlings was pushing the buttons of comedians. The Washington, D.C., native often stole the show from the stand-up comics as a hilarious heckler before grabbing the microphone.
He eventually got a big break on HBO's Def Comedy Jam, and Rawlings' later got a ton of exposure and new fans as one of the supporting cast members of Comedy Central's Chappelle's Show.
Comedian Dave Chappelle's iconic, often controversial sketch comedy show put Rawlings' talents on full display. With a loud, hard-edged delivery, lines like "I'm rich, be-yotch!" became instantly quotable, and characters like Ashy Larry, a dice player from the Brooklyn projects in need of a good moisturizer, were fan favorites.
Rawlings said it was his work ethic that landed him on Chappelle's Show, and he's gained something more from that experience outside of fame and fans.
"The coach is only going to put you in the game if you can score and benefit the team," Rawlings, 42, said. "It made me a better writer and a better actor."
Rawlings has since been attacking audiences on multiple fronts. He's appeared in serious dramas such as HBO's The Wire and two Law & Order franchises, Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent. He also has co-hosted two of New York radio station Power 105's most popular morning shows, Egypt and Ashy in the Morning and The Big Tigger Morning Show.
When he's not hitting the road doing stand-up, he offers his two cents' worth on shows like E!'s Chelsea Lately or sage advice on the rules of being a dude on MTV2's Guy Code.
"If I pop up, something funny's going to happen," he said.
Rawlings' twist on observational humor is evident in his 2010 Comedy Central stand-up special, From Ashy to Classy. Now, he's crafting a new set for an impending stand-up special on the road. He said he hoped this material would give audiences something his previous special failed to offer.
"I felt like it was a solid show, but you got to hear a guy tell jokes. You didn't get to hear about me," he said.
Rawlings offered a peek into his current act with some details that might seem surprising at first. The guy known for often playing street-hardened characters on Chappelle's Show describes himself as a "country/city boy" who enjoys cooking, fishing and occasionally jamming to Kenny Chesney.
Welcome to Lexington, Donnell. You might leave with a friend or two.
IF YOU GO
Opening acts: Joe Larson and Scott Wilson
When: 7:15 p.m. June 26, 27; 8 and 10:30 p.m. June 28, 29
Where: Comedy Off Broadway, The Mall at Lexington Green, 161 Lexington Green Cir.
Tickets: $5 June 26, $10 June 27, $16 June 28, $19 June 29. Available at (859) 271-5653 or Comedyoffbroadway.com.