My Favorite Things with Tony Gowell

They might not be raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but that doesn’t mean that we love them any less. Welcome back to My Favorite Things, the weekly column where we grab someone in speculative circles to gab about the greatest in geek. This week we sit down with actor and convention volunteer and enthusiast Tony Gowell. You may also recognize Tony from shows like The Vampire Diaries and The Walking Dead.

What does Tony love when he’s not shuffling around like a zombie or keeping various conventions running smoothly? Spoiler alert: new identities, snuggling with a favorite game console, and springtime festivals! Curious? Read on for more!

I’m always excited to have a platform like this to share some of my favorite things, and it’s a sure way to beat those awkward conversations with strangers in elevators. “Excuse me, ma’am? I couldn’t help but notice that really sharp lip liner, and wonder who might be YOUR favorite Drag Queen from RuPaul’s  Drag Race?” Or “Sir, does your wireless controller for the PS4 still hold a charge after a couple of years’ worth of use?” And my favorite, “You ready for some springtime festival action?”

From left: Latrice Royale, Phi Phi O’Hara, Jinkx Monsoon, Tony Gowell, wearing Bianca del Rio, Kim Chi, Ginger Minj, Bob the Drag Queen
Photo Credit : Just Toby

Every year, hundreds and hundreds of fans swarm Atlanta nightclubs to worship high-profile Queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race. From Bob the Drag Queen (Season 9 winner from our own backyard, Clayton County) to Trixie Mattel (my pick to win upcoming All-Stars Season 3), the versatility of their style of entertainment keeps audiences coming back for more. Season 6 winner, Bianca Del Rio, is a self-proclaimed insult comic. She’s also one of my absolute favorite Queens. Her global tours “Rolodex of Hate” and “Not Today Satan” sold out every one of the venues. That’s a huge accomplishment for any touring act. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both tours, here in Atlanta, and let me tell you…if Joan Rivers and Don Rickles had a baby, she would be that hateful creature! I’m not the only one that loves them, one begs the question, “Why do we love drag queens so much?”

Maybe it’s our latent desire to put on a new identity, hopefully demanding instant approval and respect, without showing our real selves to the world. I can imagine from the moment they step on a stage and begin to entertain us, the world shrinks to a pinpoint of spotlight delight. All with the knowledge that this brazen persona can be taken off and packed away at the end of the night, and we can go all back to our regular lives. But for those few short minutes under a spotlight, drag queens are their own personal superstar. I mean we are all guilty of lip-syncing and dancing while cleaning the house, why wouldn’t someone step on a stage to make a dollar for it?

Perhaps as an audience, we want to stand close to something great, in hopes that some of that fame glitter will wash over us and lift us out of our rote existence. With every ‘celebrity’ drag queen, or any famous person for that matter, there are a fleet of followers that squeal at the opportunity to carry the drag kit into the club. That there’s a perceived elite-ness to being part of the posse. Maybe it’s better seats, or a free cocktail coupon. Or, like Eve Harrington…these young upstarts are looking for their ‘in’ so they can be the next hottest fiercest dude in a dress…entertaining dozens on a stage riddled with holes and structural problems, too numerous to count. Who’s to blame for wanting a little bit of fame?

But is my obsession with drag queens deeper than that? Is it a tangible ‘celebrity’ that understands my day to day struggle in my community? Being a larger than life drag superstar often makes that happen, and we share that responsibility. For me, I’m invested in the comedy and entertainment that can fill a room. A great drag queen, or drag king for that matter…can do just that. For a couple of hours, the real world doesn’t matter. We all get to sit together as a community, and admire that something in all of us that is in front of the audience and lit up on a stage lip syncing for her….no, that’s not right…lip syncing for OUR lives. And our lives are what we HAVE to celebrate. There’s enough ugly in the world, and a little eye lash glue and a rhinestone are all we really need to make the world of drag queens, everyone’s favorite kind of thing.

But maybe sitting in a show bar watching drag queens is not your favorite escape from reality. Perhaps it’s the awesome that is found in the gaming world? Often a much needed break from reality, maybe you too love getting to be the hero in a game and blowing up a few villains along the way. It’s definitely one of my favorite things, and I bet there’s a game or two you can say that about for yourself. A way to entertain ourselves, and water cooler gossip the latest and hottest consoles and games, I’m like many people and always looking for the next best game.

There was a time between my teens and early adulthood where I didn’t play games. Anything after Super Nintendo & Nintendo 64 just wasn’t of interest to me, and there were new shiny baubles that drew my attention. Then, in 1993 my brother introduced me to a PC game called MYST. I was blown away by the look of the game and the extremely different approach to game playing, and I wanted more. Yes, I’m really that old.

What quickly followed were other big titles that were genre pieces that I had always enjoyed in film and television — Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within, Phantasmagoria, The Dig, and King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride. All games that had elements of horror, fantasy, or the supernatural, and were definitely in my wheelhouse of interest.

These games were obviously very different than your traditional console games of the time, and they helped lead me into believing that computers were our future and were truly meant to stay. It was 1993 after all, how many of you actually owned a computer back then?

Flash forward to 1997, and my husband and I are in college together, and we hear all about the hype of this Playstation device.

Final Fantasy VII anyone? It was ‘game on’ from there. Of course the first PS, led to the PS2, and then the Nintendo Gamecube, etc, etc.

Now, welcome to all that is PS4 and PS VR. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, there’s another competing console called an Xbox. Bully for them, it’s called the ONE…even though it’s their 3rd machine, if you don’t count the versions of the 360 that had different memory capacities. What marketing genius thought that was clever?? Either way, I’m not remotely interested. Some of you may be supporters of Xbox or even the PC, and I respect that…it’s just not my favorite way to play games.

With the PS4, I’m able to play a lot of older console games through their PSNow rental cloud streaming service. It’s like a Netflix of older and new video game titles (600+) that you can rent for twenty dollars a month. A total bargain if you’re looking to play an older title that you missed out on the first time around, or maybe never owned the PS3 and had to miss out on some of their great catalog titles. Never again do you have to miss out on the old games, or lug around those clumsy discs!

The pace of changes in technology can be overwhelming, but nothing quite feels more comfortable than a controller in your hand. So if it’s action adventure you crave, or spooky moody survival horror titles, or even a good old-fashioned Grand Theft Auto tank drop to run over people, you owe it to yourself to revisit an old (or new!!) console game and see what you’ve been missing. It’ll be one of your favorite things, I promise. And when indoor couch-snuggles with your game controllers gives way to spring temperatures, maybe you’ll be game to visit some of my favorite Atlanta festivals!!

Because after gross January weather, and once we’ve cried our way through Valentine’s Day, we will immediately drink our way through St Patrick’s many flavorful pints. Which is always something to look forward to, don’t get me wrong. And Easter on April Fool’s Day will create meme comedy heard around the Facebook universe. It will soon be time to put the plants back outside and gear up for some of my favorite quirky and cool activities in Atlanta…that you may or may not know about.

In celebration of the yellow fog of pollen, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival dominates Piedmont Park each year. It’s always FREE, and heralds the true arrival of Spring in Atlanta. Its 82nd appearance will be over the April 13th weekend. What’s not so free is access to the VIP barbecue and brews event tent held each year at the Main Stage. But having access to a bathroom at these kinds of food and beverage events is always a plus when you get to middle age. Trust me!

Kicking off 8 weekends beginning on the same April 13th weekend is the Georgia Renaissance Festival. They’re celebrating 33(!!!) years of jousting and royal antics for fans, and as always…BOGO first weekend. So, $24 gets you and a guest in. If not able to go until later in the season, the Royal Experience for 2 is $68 and gets 2 people in with food and drinks. Not a bad way to spend a full day with friends and family outside, especially if weather is shifty one weekend…the chances are great a good spring weekend will come along.

Rounding out the month, one of my favorites sets up in Inman Park on April 27. The Inman Park Festival is also a FREE event, except for the Tour of Homes at $20 per adult. With arts and crafts on full dazzling display, you’re in for a real treat. They have food trucks everywhere, which is always a fat kid staple. Hush, I’m proud to be a fat kid. I love food.

Seriously, I don’t go do anything unless food is there. I’m always on the fence if alcohol isn’t available, but food is a must! Hell, there’s even a parade at 2PM on the Saturday of the event, so count me in. Who doesn’t love a parade??

I’m going to love all outdoor things during fair weather (cause damn it, if it doesn’t get hot here fast) in Atlanta, and you should too! Just watch out for the raping tree sperm, because we all know pregnant fellas in summer make for awkward swimsuit choices…and that is definitely not my favorite thing. Until next time!!

Tony Gowell is an Atlanta personality, having written for dozens of issues of David magazine and having been with various American conventions for over 18 years. His quick wit and charming disposition is evident when he emcees, judges, or moderates panels for any celebrity that needs delicate handling. He has been a former casting assistant for various agencies in Atlanta, but is also a local actor for film, television, commercials, and website tutorials.

He has worked on Rectify, Devious Maids, Killers, Due Date, The Internship, Life as We Know It, The Blind Side, Single Ladies, Necessary Roughness, Catching Fire, Drop Dead Diva, Franklin & Bash, Hall Pass, and The Vampire Diaries. With the meteoric popularity of all things undead, it’s important to mention his work on the hit film Zombieland and AMC’s The Walking Dead.

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