Through roles on two critically-acclaimed HBO series (“The Corner” and “The Wire”) and of course, his integral and unforgettable contributions to the still-celebrated “Chappelle’s Show,” Donnell Rawlings has earned his spot on the list of funnymen who have found success by flexing both their comedic and dramatic acting chops.
One Funny Father: Donnell Rawlings by LaShawn Williams
But while Rawlings himself is undoubtedly proud of those successes, he wants the world to know those accomplishments are now secondary to his new role as father to his baby boy, Austen. To celebrate Father’s Day, Comedy Hype spoke with the D.C.-born comedian about being a new and first-time dad, how being a father has affected his approach to comedy and the most important thing fathers can give their children.
CH: You became a new dad at an age where many would consider to be “later in life. How does fatherhood feel?
DR: My friends let me know that I’m an “old” new dad but I feel like I’m a “used” dad—like a new and used combo. I asked one of my friends what school was his son about to go to and he said “Howard University” and then he asked me what school was my son about to go to, and I said, “preschool!” So there is an age difference but like an old timer told me once, “It’s better to be late to the party than to not be invited at all.” But I’m enjoying every minute of it.
CH: Being a dad of certain age, have you gotten any kidding from your boys? Have they passed on any words of wisdom to you?
The number one thing all my friends told me was to not expect sex; even Snoop Dogg told me, “Aww man, you’d better get used to being by yourself because it’s over for about a year and a half!” But a lot of people haven’t really given me any advice except to say how beautiful an experience it is.
CH: Did you ever want to be a dad?
DR: I was settled to the point where I wasn’t gonna have kids. I was happy with my career and my nieces and my nephews. But I feel like I was blessed; when people say that you have to experience [parenthood] to really know how it feels, that’s 100% true. For years, I had only been working just for myself or for a relationship I was in, but now I have somebody who shows me unconditional love and I have to work 100% for them now. It’s a different perspective and a different challenge but it’s also a rewarding challenge.
CH: When it comes to becoming a parent, the perception is that typically, men prefer a son as their first born. Is there any truth to that?
DR: That’s just a “man thing,” but at the end of the day, you want to have a healthy baby. For me, being an older dad—and I don’t even know how many more bullets I have in my chamber—I was hoping for that “bullseye”; to have a boy and then to have him later in life, to me, that’s just a double bullseye. One of my friends has 6 daughters and I know he loves the first three, but those next three, I know he’s like, “You know what, we need a gender change here—I can’t take it!” But with the way things are now, you can have a boy, and then later in life he can become a girl! Let me have a boy at least for the first half of our lives and then later on, it could be a girl! But for now, I like my little man!
CH: One look at your social media shows that your son is an inspiration for some of your humor; however, not all comedians incorporate their kids into their routine. What are your thoughts?
DR: I think it’s a level of maturity. Some guys don’t want to let go of the past of being a ladies’ man or being desirable so they don’t talk about their kids but then again, that could also be a shield for some of these ‘thots’ out here! Actually, nothing is gonna shield a thot but when she looks at your Instagram and sees that the first four pages are pictures of your kids, she’s gonna think twice!
CH: Well, I guess pictures of your kids all over social media could indeed be a “thot deterrent,” so to speak…
DR: I told myself, “Donnell, you’re not gonna be that dude who constantly posts pictures every day!” And I try not to but I’m just so excited and so proud of him that I want people to feel my happiness and my joy. I also want to give some of these dudes out here some incentive to not just be a dad or the man who planted the seed, but to be a father, be proud of it, embrace it and let the world know that this is the number one thing in your life. And a lot of guys don’t [want to] do that.
CH: Does being a father affect your [approach to] comedy in any way?
DR: Having a baby is just a different level of maturity that just has to be instilled in you. I’ve found that there is certain subject matter I don’t feel comfortable talking about anymore because I’d rather spend that time talking about him. I’ve got about 15-20 minutes in my set right now that’s about the whole process of finding out that I was having a baby and the sonogram pictures and the delivery and things like that. F0r me, it’s just another source of comedy. You can alienate your fans when you talk about some subjects but I realized that talking about the love of family makes your comedy become relatable to everybody. When I’m on stage and start talking about my kid, I see the entire room light up because they connect and relate to that. You can do relatable, family-friendly comedy and still keep your “edge.”
CH: Although this is a long way off, but do you want your son to follow in your comedic footsteps?
People ask me all the time if I’m gonna want him to be a comedian. I think I have the only profession where people second guess and ask if you want your kid to pursue it. If I were a brain surgeon, the first thing people would say is, “He’s gonna be a brain surgeon just like his dad!” With comedy though, people don’t really respect it until you get to the point where you’re making money off it. Now I’m not gonna force him into being a comedian but whatever profession he chooses, he’s gonna have to be funny at it. Whatever he does, he’s gonna have to put some humor in it. I couldn’t see it any other way.
CH: How or in what ways does he make you laugh?
DR: I wake up early every morning and then I’ll wait for him to wake up. He looks around and you can tell he’s trying to focus. He’ll then look at my face and smile and then says “Ha!” He does that and I love it and then we laugh for about 10 minutes after that.
CH: Awww! How cute!
DR: Okay—you just said “Awww!” I never thought I’d understand “Awwww!” like I do now. Every time somebody looks at his picture, they say “Awww!” Let me explain something: The last time I said, “Awwww!” was about five years ago. It was at the end of a party at a club and two girls said, “Donnell, we wanna take you home and do some nasty stuff to you!” And I looked at both of them and said, “Awwww!” [Laughs]
CH: This year marks your first official Father’s Day; what was this time last year like for you?
DR: Last year, I was cooking and celebrating with my two dogs. That was Father’s Day for me.
CH: While it seems things are kind of turning around, Father’s Day is still a long way from receiving the same fanfare that Mother’s Day does. Will it ever catch up?
DR: It’ll never catch up.
CH: Do men actually care that Father’s Day still doesn’t get the same kind of love?
DR: Well deadbeat dads don’t care. Deadbeats don’t care because they already know who they are. Father’s Day [fanfare] will get there in due time but in order to diminish this, it’s probably gonna take the same amount of time as the Civil Rights movement took—it’s a hard fight! There are so many guys out there who continue those bad stereotypes but then there are good dads out there, too. There are guys who care about being in a relationship with the mother of their children or who accept that relationships sometimes don’t work out but still want to be a part of their kids’ lives. And for some women out there, their interpretation of a “good dad” is all wrong. It’s all about money to them. I know good dads who don’t have a pot to piss in but then I know men who are well off financially who are horrible dads. The most important thing about being a good dad is sharing your time. You can fool a kid with money for so long, but as time goes on, they won’t have any stories to tell about you. You gotta give your kids stories—and memories.
CH: Your son is still very young but soon, Father’s Day gifts for you will be crayon or finger-paint drawings. Something tells me you’re really looking forward to that…
DR: I’m so excited for all of that! I’m gonna be excited for things like his science projects and all that! I’m telling you now, I’m going to be that dad who tries to build a rocket in our backyard! His friends at school are gonna be like, “Yo, tell your dad to chill, man!” But I’m looking forward to all that and more…
LaShawn Williams is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago, Illinois. She is an arts and entertainment enthusiast who has a serious thing for stand-up comedy, music and dance. Follow her on Twitter: @MsWilliamsWorld.