Rawle D. Lewis: From Getting Booed Off Stage
To Being A Worldwide Comedy Sensation!
By Samantha Davidson
Last week I got the pleasure of going to the pilot presentation of Camille Solari’s “A Bag Of Crazy” at The Upright Citizens Brigade theatre in Hollywood. The thirty minute performance featured Elvis Winterbottom, Kelly Meyersfield, Paul Morrissey, Brian Vermeire, Rawle D. Lewis, and of course Solari who also wrote and produced the piece. The pilot presentation was three scenes, each with Solari with a fake baby bump. Each scene served as its own piece with one common thread….a pregnant Solari going on three separate dates with three separate men in Los Angeles. Dating can be very hard in LA, especially for a pregnant comedian. These three scenes posed the question, “Is it all of the men that are crazy in LA or is it just Camille?”
A few months back I interviewed Solari after her weekly show at The Comedy Store. Getting an inside look at the world of comedy, and what it took Solari to get to where she is today, was a truly inspiring experience. This time around I had the opportunity to do a one on one interview with Rawle D. Lewis who played one of Solari’s three potential suitors in the presentation. Lewis played “the player” role in the presentation and he was hilarious. After sitting down with Lewis, I learned that he was much more than a funny guy that can play a convincing “player.” As a matter of fact, he might just be one of the most interesting and honest comedians I have had the honor of meeting.
Lewis, who is originally from New Jersey but moved to Los Angeles in high school, did his first stand-up set at the age of seventeen. He described himself as being a “pretty shy guy in high school,” and he wanted to change that. A friend told him that he was really funny and had this “shy/dry thing going on,” and suggested he try stand-up. Once Lewis finally got up the nerve to write a set, he entered a competition and ended up doing really well. He was picked as one of the best comedians to perform in this specific competition, which entitled him to 10 minutes of stage time for the show. Lewis only had five minutes of material, and was on such a high from his newfound success, he made a mistake that many comedians make and just “winged it” for the last five minutes of his set. However, there is something to be said about “winging it” on stage, it is not always a bad thing and can sometimes even help a set by creating authentic material on the spot; although that is not always the case, especially for a new comedian who is still figuring out his style.
Unfortunately for Lewis, the second half of his 10-minute set in which he “winged it” totally tanked. He described it as “a strange Jekyll and Hyde thing” where one character did extremely well and totally connected with the audience, while the second bombed. The audience even started to boo him, which literally put him into such a shock that he couldn’t move and needed to be escorted off stage…yikes. Every comedian’s worst nightmare!!
After the show, Lewis just wanted to crawl in a hole and die…he was totally mortified. However, after the show, he was given some wise words of wisdom from one of the most legendary comedians of our time, who just so happened to be the host of the show. D.L. Hughley came up to Lewis and said, “Hey, I know you want to quit right now, but don’t quit, you are really funny.” While Lewis was flattered by the advice, he still tormented himself after his big public flop. He even said that when he got home after the show, he literally laid on the side of his bed curled up in a fetal position and didn’t go back to stand-up for another two years!
During those two years, Lewis decided to give acting a try and was quite successful. Acting seemed easier to him at the time, less personal, which in turn would give him another layer of protection from potential humiliation. When you are acting you can always blame it on the script, and if people do not identify with your character, it’s nothing personal because you are not playing yourself. When he was 19 years old he starred in one of the most legendary comedies of all time, Cool Runnings. In addition to a plethora of television roles and other film roles, Lewis also produced, wrote, and acted in his own film titled Bulletheads. However after he did Cool Runnings, he realized that his real passion was to make people feel good watching him, which brought him full circle back to stand-up. Also, he realized how difficult and convoluted the movie making process is. He literally had Lionsgate tell him that they liked his film (Bulletheads), but it had no stars in it so they didn’t want to take it on. It was a year and a half of his life for nothing. That is when he decided he wanted to do stand-up again. It might be terrifying, but at least it is straight forward; jokes, stage…it is a straight line.
Before Lewis jumped back on the stand-up bandwagon, he watched a lot of comedians perform before he felt comfortable enough to give it another shot. After much reflection, Lewis almost wished that he had started off bombing because starting off so strong gave him a false sense of security. As it turns out, D.L Hughley was right; Lewis was really funny and eventually ended up being a super successful comedian, which leads us to where he is today.
Today, Lewis travels all over the world for about three months of the year. He will go to Guatemala for four days, then maybe the next month Sweden for five, then perhaps to London the next month. He is literally living a comedians dream, spreading his humor and stories all over the globe. He also explained how the international comedy circuit has grown dramatically because of the Internet. The Internet has made comedy very global, which has really helped him build his brand and audience.
Now that Lewis is a worldwide stand-up success, he truly understands this crazy world of stand-up comedy, and how to be successful doing it. After all of the trials and tribulations he went through, Lewis can say with confidence that stand-up is by far is favorite art form. Lewis still does a great deal of commercials (which definitely helps pay the bills), writes, and still acts in addition to stand-up. Even now, Lewis considers himself a “stand-up groupie,” even with newer comedians still finding their way like he once did. Lewis’ story is the perfect example of how working in the entertainment industry, specifically comedy, is full of ups and downs. However the true moral to the story here is to never let anyone or anything bring you down and stop you from doing what you love. If Lewis didn’t have the courage to give stand-up another shot over two years after being booed off stage, he would not be where he is today.