Donovan Goliath Stands up for Creativity
Known for his talent as a comedian, Donovan Goliath is also a leading creative voice in South Africa. Having left his career as an Art Director, Donovan found comedy, going on to start Goliath & Goliath. Having recently opened another comedy club in Braamfontein, we linked up with him to chat about his obsession with Wu-Tang, starting a rap group, his love for comedy and sneakers.
How did you get into Comedy?
I never wanted to become a comedian. This has never really been a dream – I’ve always been a creative kid. I used to draw and I did religious oil paintings that I eventually sold to Churches – my Catholic priest would commission me to do paintings for rural churches that funded my tertiary education, which took a lot of pressure off my Dad – I didn’t need to ask him for money. I studied Art and Design. I worked as an Art Director, in advertising for six years. My first encounter with comedy, I remember going to watch a guy perform one day and I was so taken aback by the story telling. He was sharing stories about his life and I thought to myself that I could do this – as an Art Director in an agency I was coming up with ideas and humorous ads, but using actors and characters to play out the narrative. I’ve always been an expressive kid, in the middle of the dance circle – I enjoyed the attention of people laughing at me and me entertaining. The first time I watched a live stand-up comedy show was when I first moved to Johannesburg and it drew me in. I was on stage and the response was great, so I did it again and again, until I started getting my own gigs. I think people loved the idea of me being only the second Coloured comedian, who spoke Xhosa and that became a talking point – Ever since I started, it’s been growing and I’ve been committed to developing my craft.
Tell us about your first experience getting up on stage?
Firstly it took about two months to get a booking and it took me two months to write a five-minute set. During that time I started hanging out and observing club gigs, trying to prepare myself, because everything is new to me. I don’t think you can really describe that moment – you know DJ Fresh did stand-up comedy at one of our clubs and he had the prefect description for what it feels like when you’re on stage. He says it’s like having open-heart surgery, but you’re awake while it’s happening. So when you’re on that stage, you’ve committed and there’s no where to go – you’re secretly hoping that the next joke you got lined up it going to work, you know, because the audience is sitting there and waiting for you to make it happen. On stage is one thing, I think it’s the five minutes before you go on stage and the MC calls your name – I’ll tell you the worst thing is when the MC hypes up the crowd and I’m hyped to get out there – next thing you know he calls out a fan for not clapping and the energy drops. And I’m just like ‘NO’, because I have to psyche myself up again. I’ve always wanted to shoot a series about comics back stage, because everyone has their own rituals. My thing is always gangster rap on full blast to get me charged up, but it’s tough back stage – a lot of comics I know, have to go make a pit-stop on the toilet before going on stage. It’s just another kind of nerve – it’s not your garden-variety nerves. You’re putting yourself out there and it’s the most vulnerable version of yourself. You’re exposed and there’s nowhere that you’re going. Comics are the bravest people I know just because you’re the most exposed and everything is immediate – once you throw out a joke that reaction needs to come back now. There’s not time for it to simmer and give the audience five minutes to assess this thing – a touch is a move there.
Not a lot of people know about your background as an Art Director in advertising. How was that experience?
So I studied Art & Design and it was actually my Matric teacher who introduced me to the idea of Graphic Design, but I couldn’t just study Graphic Design, because there were too many students and the available spots were limited, so I had to work really hard – my first year of studies was never about parties. I spent real time in the library, researching and trying to figure this thing out - drawing and really trying to understand my craft. I was always a visual kid and I consume in a visual way. I took part in this master class where I spoke about the influences in my life and the one thing that inspired me was actually the Wu-tang logo. I fell in love with visual communication and this logo – I was fascinated by the design of the logo because it was meant to represent a Bee in flight and a ‘W’. This blew my mind – how can you communicate something so simple visually and it becomes this iconic symbol, that even today it still pulls me. Our company colours (Goliath and Goliath) were inspired by my obsession with the Wu-tang logo. Getting into advertising was strange, because I’ve never written a CV in my entire life – I was still in my fourth year of my studies and took a chance, sending my portfolio to Network BBDO in Johannesburg. The Creative Director called me and we spoke. I shared with him my love for storytelling and my background – he tells me he’ll call me back tomorrow. He calls the next day and asks me if I want a job – so he sent me a contract and three months later I started working at Network BBDO. I remember driving up to Joburg and I arrived on my first day, to go to work – it was mad. I met Mike Schalit who was the founding partner and a huge inspiration for me. I remember being at Design Indaba and feeling inspired by his ideas and philosophy to creativity – he was a guy I always wanted to work for and I was lucky enough to work for his agency. I’ve been fortunate to work in advertising, because it’s given me the ability to pitch and sell ideas. Advertising absolutely shaped me, it’s taken me overseas to Cannes and that exposed me to the world, opening up my eyes to the level creativity in our own country – it’s really been the best training I’ve received.
Creativity is a really a big part of your life and not just your work – how has creativity shaped how you approach stand-up and tell stories?
It’s been such an important part of who I am. My style is very observational. I talk about really simple things – I mean I have ten-minute joke about Chappies, you know. When I write, I try to encapsulate a lot of details, because I want you there with me. I add in a lot of drama and theatre in order to make sure the audience is with me in that scenario – making sure the stories I tell are full. I think that’s where creativity comes from, for me. I enjoy seeing scenarios play out in my head and taking people on that journey with me.
You recently opened up a comedy club in Braamfontein? Tell us why Braamfontein and what makes the area so special?
I think a part from being a creative hub, for creative people, there’s a new energy in Braam – it’s becoming a new hot post for tourists and drawing people out of their suburbs. There’s a completely differently feeling here, from the tall buildings, to the cars, the structure of the space and it’s a feeling that a lot of people crave for. You have people living in suburbs locked up behind their high walls and security alarms. What makes this space so special is the community aspect in Braam. The businesses seem to almost operate together – you find a lot of collaboration happening and there’s constantly something new happening, where people are coming to together to leverage resources to do cool stuff. You know, we opened up a comedy club in Melrose Arch and Braam is our latest venue – we really wanted a new energy and cater to people. If you come to a show you’ll notice we took a lot of stuff out and left the basics. We’ve got a beautiful stage, some lights, sound and basic chairs. This venue is all about the comedy. We’ve taken inspiration from the New York underground basement feel and tried to make comedy accessible to everyone. We’re planning on taking the Goliath and Goliath brand to Durban and Cape Town, so we want to grow comedy and show-up in the right places.
You’re also the host of the show Real Goboza? How did you secure that?
So the show has been running for a long time and everyone has hosted the show – Trevor Noah, Pearl Thusi, and of course Phat Joe. So I took over from Phat Joe and the way it happened was crazy – was invited to this event and they asked to interview me, so I did, but then I saw Anathi and I asked them if I could interview him, because I wanted to drop some hard bars on the kid. I grabbed the microphone and I started this interview, chatting etc. Next thing you know we dropping bars and a crowd starts to form. I respectfully let the interviewer know that I’m taking over and I started interviewing people. So they apparently get all this footage of me and SABC gives me a call and they asked if I could fill in for Phat Joe. Next thing you know its been a month and people on Twitter are showing me love – wanting me to continue working on the show, asking to please hire me. At the time I didn’t take it too seriously because I was really nervous and I didn’t think people would respond positively, especially taking over from Phat Joe. People were really positive about and I was offered the job permanently – basically my interview takeover was my audition tape and that’s how I landed the job. I really enjoy it and it feels like home. The writers I work with are comedians so it’s been easy for me to make the transition. I throw my own stuff in, it’s fun, I’m exposed to people who idolized as a kid and it’s been a great outlet for my own creativity.
How do you stay inspired and motivated?
Its tough, I try to find time to draw as much as I can, I immerse myself in interesting content. It’s tough, because I’m always on the road and working on a lot of projects so its’ difficult to find a balance. I try to be as intentional as possible with the content I consume – I always try to teach. I always try to learn as much as possible that keeps my inspired. I do a lot of master classes - I recently did a talk at Creative Mornings and I was blown away by the response. I try to draw a lot of inspiration from the people around me, sharing stories and I try to embrace the season that I find myself in.
What sneakers are on your rotation at the moment and do you remember your first pair? Can you tell us about that feeling?
Let me start by saying that I don’t think there is no such thing as having too many sneakers. I have a lot, but I only started buying sneakers when I could afford them. My style is definitely the OG classics, like the pair of Burgundy Gazelles I have right now. I was in a rap group in Mthata called ‘Outbreak’ and we had a friend who was also a rapper – I remember his cousin would travel overseas and bring back ‘Vibe’ or the ‘Source’ Magazine. And these were old copies and I remember constantly going through the pages and I fell in love with B-Boy culture and it was the first time I saw a pair of Gazelles. During that time I became a big fan of the Adidas Superstars, Stan Smiths in all the basic colourways – only the essentials you know? The one pair of sneakers that go back to my childhood and I really want to own is a pair of North Star Excitements. The thing that blew my mind was that they came with a two sets of laces that you pushed through and I had a green pair. They were high-tops and I felt like a King with them on my feet. I also remember my first pair of LA Gear Lights – they were black on black with a red sole and the two lights on the side. I will never forget the first time I wore those. We had a school dance and we were meant to dress up formally, but I was like “hell no”! I got these shoes today; I’m going to rock them! I actually arrived to the dance late because I knew it would be dark enough and I would be able to get in undetected. Once I started earning cash and building up my wardrobe I started to buy sneakers I couldn’t get back home – I remember buying a pair of off-white Superstars which I still have to this day which I love to death. I try to stay away from the hyped-up sneakers and I really stick to what I like – I try to go for timeless, not trendy. The sneakers on my radar right now are the new Staple Pigeon, Dunks only because I know if I have pull those out in ten years time it’s still going to look dope. My B-Boy and Hip Hop obsession really has dictated my taste in sneakers and I believe that sneakers are made to be worn and not just collected. I do this thing, where I quickly put on my freshest kicks just before I jump on stage, just to flex. Every pair of sneakers that I have has a story about what it is about them that I’m drawn to - as long as my kicks are versatile and comfortable. I noticed that people of colour in South Africa love sneakers more than anyone else. I think the sub-cultures that we’re attached to have influenced how we look to sneakers as status symbols in our communities. It’s become the most sought after item – almost like putting rims on your body. I look at the re-releases and back then a lot of people couldn’t afford to buy a pair, but now those same people don’t mind spending a bit more to own a pair sneakers – We’re now buying into a piece of our own history and nostalgia. I find it fascinating how far we’ve come and how big sneakers have become as a business – there’s something for everyone now.
What’s the future hold for you?
A part from growing comedy, I really want to start dabbling in my creative side again. For too long I’ve neglected that part of me and I would love to start making art again, shooting more, writing – moving back into an advertising space where I can conceptualise and write what I want to see – tell better stories. I really want to start mentoring young Creative’s – because I never had that. There are a lot of talented kids out there who don’t realize that they can turn their passions into an opportunity. If you have a Smartphone and some data, then you’re already winning. I think it’s all about how you apply that idea – I recognize that these kids have no one to look up to and they don’t see much of a future in this “creative thing”, because they’re looking for safety in a paycheck. I want to see young creative people thrive and succeed – I believe that we’re hear for each other, that’s it and I just want to be able to do my part to inspire. This got deep hey?
Donovan Goliath, thank you so much for taking the time to link-up with Sneaker LAB in Johannesburg.
Check out the Goliath & Goliath Comedy Club at www.goliathandgolaith.com or connect with Donovan Goliath on Instagram @donovangoliath.