"I'm rich, biatch!"
Even if fans of the triumphant Chappelle's Show don't remember that particular skit, they surely remember the jubilant exclamation from the show's closing credits. For those that don't know, the phrase was uttered by comedian Donnell Rawlings. An integral part of the show, Rawlings participated in some of the most memorable comedy sketches in recent history and brought the character of Ashy Larry to life.
At the peak of the show's popularity, a frustrated Dave Chappelle retreated to Africa, stopping production of his show's much-anticipated third season. Rawlings and Charlie Murphy were tapped to host The Lost Episodes as producers used their newfound popularity to drive the show in Chappelle's absence.
Though he's chiefly a comedian, Rawlings has also worked on critically-acclaimed dramas. He appeared on David Simon's Emmy award-winning miniseries The Corner, and his performance led to work on arguably the best show ever made: The Wire. Also, the world will never forget his hilariously random appearance in Spider-Man 2.
On Monday, the D.C.-area native will return home for an April Fools' Day Comedy Show at the Howard Theatre. Prior to the show, we talked to Rawlings about Chappelle's Show's 10th anniversary, the origin of Ashy Larry, and inappropriate wedding behavior.
Interview by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)
I actually met you at your cousin’s wedding last year. The groom is my best friend; I was the best man who was clearly too young and irresponsible for the job. Do you remember me?
Yeah, you had that long-ass speech.
Yeah, that was me. I know you were born in D.C. but grew up in Alexandria, VA, and went into the Air Force after high school. Did you always plan on getting into comedy?
No, not really. I used to go to open mics and someone challenged me to go on stage and that was it.
Who are your comedic influences?
I always liked Eddie Murphy. Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby—I was a fan of comedy, but never thought I’d do it. George Carlin was one of my favorites, Louie Anderson…
You’re best known for your work on Chappelle’s Show, and it’s crazy that it’s been ten years since the show premiered. I know you and Dave are both from D.C., but how’d you get hooked up with him and Neal Brennan?
I knew Dave from D.C., but Neal Brennan was working for In Living Color years ago and they were looking for people and I went on an audition and didn’t get it, but he always thought I was funny. He and Dave had written a couple of movies together but they weren’t being greenlit; he wanted to direct, so he called my manager and said that if he had anything else poppin’ he would let me know. Chappelle’s Show came along and that’s when he called me.
We were in production for the third season. Nobody could’ve seen what was going to happen, with Dave leaving the show and going to Africa. That was definitely a shock to everybody.
Who came up with the Ashy Larry character? Was that you, or was it something they wrote?
The character already existed; he was just "Larry" and I wanted to do something physically that made him funny on sight, so I told them I wanted to be ashy enough where I could write how much money people owe me, so he went from “Larry” to “Ashy” and was born.
Do you get tired of people calling you “Ashy Larry” in public?
No, but I do get tired of being ashy without people calling me ashy.
Of the many famous Chappelle’s Show skits, which one was your favorite to film or be a part of?
One of my favorite skits—I mean I was only in it for like two seconds—is the Wayne Brady skit. It had a drama base, but funny punch lines and twists. Taking Wayne Brady outside of the perception you had of him and make him a gangster, that was super crazy.
When Dave left the show and went to Africa, you had to carry the torch for The Lost Episodes. Did you see that as being a turning point in your career?
No, I don’t think it was a turning point, but it was definitely closure on that show, because for me and Charlie to be the hosts on that show, it was obvious that it wasn’t coming back. We weren’t super-excited because it was a tough act, to follow Dave; that was his baby. But, at the same time, nobody heard from Dave; we didn’t know what his thoughts were on the whole thing. So we had to make a move that we thought was going to benefit us and be respectful to the show.
Did you think Season 3 was going to happen at any point?
We were in production. Nobody could’ve seen what was going to happen, with Dave leaving the show and going to Africa. That was definitely a shock to everybody.
How did you feel when production finally shut down?
I felt—I mean, shit we were on tour. We were talking about making money, so I felt like it was a hiatus for us to be able to make shows to get some money on the road. At the end of the day, the show created a platform for us to showcase what we'd been doing for years. It was one of those things where, unfortunately, it didn't come back, but at the same time it was a good look.
You’ve done work on a number of serious programs too; you were on The Corner and The Wire. How’d you land those roles?
I landed The Corner through an audition that I did in New York, and because of my relationship—it was the same producers and writers—they really liked working with me, so they called me up to be on The Wire and I landed it.
Was it hard to avoid laughing whenever Isiah Whitlock, Jr. let one of those “sheeeeeiiiitt’s” rip while playing Clay Davis?
Nah, it wasn’t tough. When you’ve been doing it for a while, it’s hard to stop laughing after [the director] said cut, but you have to be professional. You can’t be blowin’ shots. You gotta be professional and wait until they say cut, and then you bust out laughing. But it was a good experience.
You were also Chelsea Lately for a while. Was Chelsea Handler fun to work with?
Yeah, she’s cool; she’s definitely professional. I didn’t get to do too many jokes with her; she’s about her business, but when you work with her, you definitely have to have a quick wit. If you go in on Chelsea, that’s a quick way to get destroyed. But that was another good experience because I had just moved to Cali and that was one of the first things I did when I moved out here. It was a pleasure working with her.
Have you ever had someone in the crowd try to go in on you while you were doing stand-up?
Yeah, earlier in my career when I wasn’t really established and didn’t have enough experience to deal with it. But it never ended well for the person who started.
I’ve seen people come at comedians before and it never ends well.
Yeah, some people can do that , but I don’t think I’m the one to do that to.
You’re on MTV2’s Guy Code now. How’d you get involved?
The producers liked my performance on Chappelle’s Show so they called me in for an audition and I nailed it and landed on Guy Code.
Let’s talk about your April Fools’ Day show in D.C. What should folks expect?
LOL, LOL, LOL; SMH; a couple of WTFs and a couple of TIITFs…and a couple of #deads.
What made you want to do a show back home and why on April Fools’ Day?
Because they had a check for me on April Fools’ Day [laughs].
Have you been to the new Howard Theatre yet?
Yeah, I performed there about a year ago.
Did you ever get a chance to go to the old one? I know it’s been closed for a—
I ain’t answerin’ that question; you ain’t gonna get my age!
That was slick. You were like, “You ever been to the old Howard Theatre?”
It was an eyesore for so long, but they did a great job renovating it.
Yeah, it had to come back. They couldn’t tear it down because it’s a historical landmark so they had to build it up and that’s a great thing. I had a good time when I was there last.
I believe it. I’m looking forward to this upcoming show.
Whatever you do, don’t drink and don’t get on the mic, son. You’re the only person I wanted to give the “Wrap it up!” sign like I was at a damn comedy club.
Interview by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)