Updated: Feb 2
When I asked Tawanda Gona to talk with Food & Convo, I knew of him as a comedian and cartoonist who was making waves with his comic series, stand-up sets, and podcast Tawanda's Live Request. When we finally sat down, I asked how he would describe what he does, to which he replied:
"I'm a standup comic? I don't even know what that is anymore during quarantine. I guess I'd say I'm an artist!"
An ever-evolving creative, the Boston-raised, Brooklyn-based Tawanda Gona understands that his passion originates from the sense of joy and purpose creating provides him, while allowing him to turn thoughts and ideas into palatable concepts for others to enjoy. But where does the sense of comedy originate from?
As a child, Gona found himself in awe of comedic legend (and Mandela effect MVP) Sinbad. Sinbad's 1990 special Brain Damaged showed a young Gona that it was easy to capture an audience if you were funny, and from that moment he was in love with comedy. After chatting about his favorite Sinbad film (First Kid, though we both agreed Houseguest was a better movie) and the movie trope of the fast talking black conman that white people fall in love with, we discussed his shift from stand-up comic to comic artist during the pandemic.
"The biggest problem of 2020 was that we (one of the best things about us as people) we underestimated our ability to adjust to situations. We often learn to embrace our new reality and forget the old one. Like in adjusting to standup was tough because I usually get assurance from the crowd's response to the joke, so when that wasn't possible in the same way, I started reading and building Gundam models; just finding new ways to adjust creatively."
Eventually that creative adjustment lead to Tawanda purchasing an iPad, which he used to watch John Wick 3 (amongst other films). Once that finished, he purchased an apple pencil, downloaded the Comic Draw App, and began to draw daily, sometimes for 6 hours, until he developed the framework for his comic. He also realized that without standup comedy he could write jokes for the comic version of himself say.
"As a comic you're told to always have a pilot ready, so I took some ideas I had for pilots and turned them into cartoons. My Justice League comic started when I developed the idea for a pilot where superheroes go to therapy cuz like Batman must feel horrible after beating up all those poor people."
Talks of comic book characters lead to my favorite question of the conversation: What's the best black superhero movie of all time? Personally I went with Meteor Man and was immediately roasted:
"Bro how you going to say Meteor Man when there are so many better movies? Pootie Tang, Black Dynamite, The Last Dragon, Shaft...I mean if I had to name my top 5 it would be Black Dynamite, Dolemite, BlankMan (a better batman story than Chris Nolan or that creepy dude [Tim Burton] ever did), Blade, and Foxy Brown. Our black superheroes were always based in reality, like its just a movie about a black person overcoming the odds. Shit, Pursuit of Happyness is a superhero movie"
When asked about his relationship with food, Gona has been actively choosing a healthier lifestyle while exploring the impacts food can have on his physical and mental wellness.
“I’m discovering more about food; For most of my life, I treated it as fuel but now I view it as something that can change my mood. I'm also learning what foods I can eat that will make me feel better...like if I'm in a bad mood? I’ll eat dried mango to pick myself up! I've been eating vegan and vegetarian meals to feel cleaner" Gona says.
When asked if there was any particular reason for his shift towards clean eating, Gona jokes "When I a kid I was chubby, and in Zimbabwe a chubby kid is a spectacle so I can't go back to that."
Speed round with Tawanda Gona
Che: What’s the last good meal you ate, and where was it from?
Tawanda Gona: I made a vegetable stir-fry with vegan sausages over quinoa. I'm not even a vegan and I did that shit!
Che: Who is someone that inspires you right now
Tawanda Gona: My friend Sam Jay; I’m holding her lighter right now, so for sure her.
Che: If you woke up tomorrow and a fictional character was YOUR therapist , who would you want?
Tawanda Gona: Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes
Che: If you could organize a comedy show with your ideal lineup, who is on the bill?
Tawanda Gona: Mike Tyson, Steve Smith from American Dad, Dennis Rodman, Lil Boosie, but don't ask him anything abut children or queer personalities, and Sauce Walka. Sauce Walka has to be on it; he has a tattoo of the pink power ranger and does hadoukens in videos, and he will shoot the shit out of you. If there was a rap anime Sauce Walka would be the villain, like he’s every white dad’s nightmare; but shout to Sauce Walka. Mike Tyson closes the show.
Che: What's your favorite cartoon or comic?
Tawanda Gona: My favorite cartoons are The Simpsons, Lucas Bros. Moving Company, King of the Hill, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Harley Quinn, Archer, Futurama and American Dad. My favorite comic right now is Archie vs. Predator; Archie vs. Predator perfectly combines the worlds of Archie and Predator, like its a black comedy but Predator is out there pulling out spines. Also Archie has black characters that talk black!
Che: Any exciting events or projects?
Tawanda Gona: I'm going to make my pilot into a comic book this year - that’s a goal I have. I'm going to have a live episode of the podcast. I'm going to make more prints of my comic available on the website. I also have a movie at a film festival premiering online in in the first quarter of 2021.