Tawanda Gona (@tawandus) is a stand-up comedian originally from Zimbabwe and now based in New York City. He has been featured in the Boston Globe and has performed at a bunch of comedy festivals, including Rogue Island, Laughing Skull, and Bridgetown. He hosts a monthly show in Brooklyn called Boyz in the Woods.
This week, Tawanda and I discussed Sinbad, scoring cheap Jordans in Memphis, and faking his own death.
This is a dumb math joke and I love it. My dad’s a statistics professor and he really wanted me to be good at math. I’m very okay at it, but I like using math in jokes about dumb shit. I hope my dad appreciates it.
What made you decide to pursue comedy?
When I was a little kid my uncle Itai (RIP) had Sinbad’s comedy album Brain Damaged. I used to laugh at this one sketch on the album where he played Mike Tyson as a substitute teacher. Since then I always wanted to get into it. When I was 15 I made the decision to really try because it was my passion. Plus I was an immigrant at the time and I thought since comics got paid under the table you didn’t need a work visa to do it.
Do you think that social media has changed the comedy scene IRL?
Social media definitely has changed comedy. It’s way easier to start a career now than it was before the internet. You have the opportunity to hear from so many different and diverse voices. While some of the comedy can be hella lazy/corny, there are some really, really talented people we wouldn’t have heard of without the internet. D.C. Young Fly, HaHa Davis, and Kayla Nicole Jones are all people I found on social media that I think are really really funny.
I like this tweet because one night it dawned on me that Jay-Z was rapping about anxiety. A lot of people credit Kid Cudi as a big influence on them (myself included) because he openly rapped about anxiety and depression. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve looked back and realized that ’90s rappers were doing the same thing; the difference is that they were all selling drugs. “Can I Live” is about how stressful it is to be a drug dealer, but I take it to mean how stressful it is to just exist.
In addition to doing stand-up, you review music albums, mostly rap and hip-hop. How did you get into that? Does your love of music inform your comedy at all?
I love music almost as much as I love stand-up. Rap especially. I see a lot of parallels between rap and stand-up. The album reviews came from this thing I do every year where I’d stop listening to rap for a whole month; I call it “No Rap November.” People would send me music and I’d write a few lines about what I thought, and I started writing about my favorite albums and things took off from there. Rap definitely had an effect on my stand-up. Even now, I made a playlist to properly answer these questions haha. Watching rappers grow and experiment with flows inspires me to think outside my comfort zone with jokes. I’ve written some of my best bits listening to Gucci Mane.
You’ve performed at quite a few comedy festivals. What has your favorite one been? Do you think that the current festival circuit is missing anything?
Hmm, honestly I like them all equally for different reasons. The Cleveland Comedy Festival was my first, so I’ll always appreciate it. The Bridgetown Comedy Festival was the biggest one, and I saw how far comedy can really go. I got some Jordans for super cheap when I did the Memphis Comedy Festival. I could go on, but I love them all. I think the merch at festivals could be better. A T-shirt is cool, but if they had custom sneakers? I’d be with that. We all want to go to Montreal, but if they had a JFL bottom gold grill? That shit would be flames.
I like this tweet because when I first got on Twitter I would use it to form jokes. This one didn’t get a lot of likes, but I know I can say this verbatim onstage, then tweak from there.
Be honest: How do you know so much about faking your own death?
Hahaha not too much — I mean I know where I’d go, how I’d cryptically tell I’m still alive, but beyond that … actually that’s probably more than the average person huh? But I swear it’s not on my mind that often. Although one time when I moved from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Boston, I spread a rumor that I got deported, which is kind of similar to faking your death. I actually forgot about it till one day years later someone from Wilmington hit me up on AIM and asked if I was still in America. That was pretty funny.
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