Special to South Florida Times

NBA Hall-of-Famer Alonzo Mourning hosted the third installment of Zo’s Winter Groove (ZWG), an annual part of his ongoing efforts to help improve the lives of Miami’s disenfranchised youth.

The former Heat superstar and his wife, Tracy Wilson-Mourning, use the weekend to raise money for their network of not- for-profits, led by the Mourning Family Foundation (MFF).

Their flagship ZWG is a multi-day event that includes a youth summit, sports clinic, fun and fitness day, golf tournament and comedy show that makes it possible to enrich the lives of underserved populations. Through ZWG and the former Zo’s Summer Groove, they have raised $25 million over the last two decades.

On Jan. 15 at downtown Miami’s J.W. Marriott Marquis, comic relief was the prescription for fans looking to laugh after somber post-election months. The show’s bill included stand-up acts Meshelle, London Brown and headliner Gary Owen.

In an exclusive interview with the South Florida Times, Owen discussed going from his ‘ne’er-do-well’ beginnings in Ohio to attaining international stardom.

He said he has always been a funny dude and his passion for comedy is long- standing. Owen recalls feeling undaunted by the pressure in high school to take college aptitude tests.

“I remember my junior year in high school and everybody was talking about taking the SAT and the ACT, and I was like, ‘I don’t need that I’m going to be a stand-up. In my mind I was like I don’t need all of this.’”

With no viable platform to pursue this passion he turned to the Navy to move beyond life in the trailer park he grew up in. While in San Diego he said he would look through phone books in search of comedy clubs to hone his craft.

Unable to land mainstream stages, his foray into the industry came through black comedy quarters.

“A couple of black guys I was stationed with were like, ‘Yo, you can get on stage here, here and here. In the black comedy clubs I could get on stage three or four times a week; I didn’t care where it was as long as I was on stage.’” For Owen, his opportunities know no color lines.

“You don’t pick your audience, they pick you. As a comic you just want to resonate with some segment of the population. It just so happens that mine is black people, but a lot of that is because they’ve been exposed to the television shows that I’ve been on … and a lot of the movies I’ve been in have had lead black actors. It’s just an opportunity that I’ve taken advantage of,” he said.

He credits his life experiences as motivation for his routines.

“Ninety percent of my act is premised from real-life situations. It’s my life on ADHD on steroids; I’m just amping it up a little bit to make it funnier than what it really is,” he mused.

Owen said he is living his life’s purpose. He advises others interested in chasing their passions, “Don’t have a Plan B. If you really want to do something you have to be all-in. If you have a Plan B you’re telling yourself I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

Owen is determined to make it. Unsure if his BET sitcom, The Gary Owen Show, will return for a second season, his fans can anticipate his upcoming Showtime special, I Got My Associates, later this year.