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Books & Lit

Zanta Returns

Posted by Tim / January 11, 2010

ZantaWhere did Zanta go? Toronto's favourite shirtless wonder hasn't been seen on the streets of this city for ages. In 2007 Zanta (David Zancai) retired to Brampton after running into trouble with local authorities and spending time both in the Don Jail and the West Detention Centre. He was described as "probably a public nuisance" by Adam Vaughan and was banned from Taste of The Danforth, Yonge-Dundas Square and the Santa Claus Parade.

According to a National Post article printed in 2007 Zanta had aspirations for running for Mayor of Toronto in the coming municipal election. But so far, despite a flurry of activity from other contenders, Zanta has yet to officially throw his hat in the ring.
Zanta ComicBut one man, Jason Kieffer, doesn't want us to forget about the Yes! Yes! Yes! man. Kieffer is currently working on a 50 page comic book about Zanta expected to be completed later this year. And in December Kieffer published both a Zanta comic (see above) in the latest issue of Taddle Creek as well as a caricature (see below) in his new book called the Rabble of Downtown Toronto currently available at the Beguiling or online.zanta ComicFor long time readers of this site, the drawings in the Rabble of Downtown Toronto might look familiar. Back in 2007 Kieffer was a contributor to blogTO (see his posts here) when he first started sketching hobos, vagrants, bums and the alternatively marginalized. In this new book Zanta is merely one of 40 such recognizable individuals. For a sample of other caricatures check out this PDF posted on Kieffer's web site.

I met up with Kieffer last week over coffee at one of his regular hangouts. He showed me his in progress manuscript for the 50 page comic but admitted to not knowing much about what Zanta has been up to lately. One thing's for certain though - It would make a nice photo-op to have both of them signing copies of Kieffer's comic when it's finally published.


Is Zanta back in Toronto?
Zanta's plea to the Chief of Police
Zanta Says Merry Xmas

And, for your viewing pleasure, the Zanta documentary:

Top photo by Albee on Flickr



jamesmallon / January 11, 2010 at 09:32 am
God knows our city needs a little excitement, and he seems to have caused nobody harm, but he's a bit much. I'm a 6' guy, but Zanta's size and antics have made me uneasy. How does a petite woman feel, someone elderly or disabled? Somebody unaware of this 'character' when confronted by him?

I defend the idea of freedom of expression, but there is a saying that 'freedom of expression' does not include the right to yell 'fire!' in a crowded theatre. The man doesn't need to be thrown in a jail, but I do think he needs to be given a choice of self-control in public, or more rigorous mental-health care. Some of my own relatives have been nuisances because of their condition (bi-polar). It is not 'entertainment', or 'local colour'; it's somebody who needs help. Getting help to people who can't/won't understand they need help is a great difficulty.
Geoboy / January 11, 2010 at 09:50 am
I worked as a tour guide in Toronto for 6 summers and saw him almost daily. He was always friendly and entertaining to visitors. Once people understood what he was all about, they would talk to him and encourage his antics. I'm all for more memorable and unique people around the city. Welcome back Zanta, YES YES YES!!!
MillerOut / January 11, 2010 at 09:58 am
Yes encourage these mentally unstable crack pots to terrorize pedestrians and tourists going about their day. Theres nothing to admire or glamorize about this drugged out psycho ward escapee. Theres enough garbage on our streets lets not make a folk hero out of one.
He is nothing but a criminal with serious mental issues. I am hoping he never returns to this city.
RBeezy / January 11, 2010 at 10:05 am
Has anyone ever thought that Zanta's public antics is the only thing keeping him from going completely over the brink?

I've never encountered him but I know I wouldn't be afraid of him. someone needs to offer him the chance to harness all of his energy and obvious goodwill.
Bobby replying to a comment from MillerOut / January 11, 2010 at 10:07 am
What if one day you crack and you have a serious mental breakdown - should you be banished from the city? I know one cannot teach empathy but mental illness can happen to anyone - even you MillerOut. So stop using words like psycho until you have been educated on such matters, as i find it very offensive due to my line of work.
AV / January 11, 2010 at 10:08 am

Always welcome in my neighbourhood Zanta!!!
Jarek replying to a comment from MillerOut / January 11, 2010 at 10:25 am
Just wondering which laws he's broken?
YSDN / January 11, 2010 at 10:36 am
YSDN Represent!!!
Mal / January 11, 2010 at 10:41 am

Total / January 11, 2010 at 10:53 am
Trust me; "Zanta" has not been off the scene. He is regularly on the 58 Malton bus going from Mississauga to Toronto, just not in full Zanta gear (shirt on, no hat). His "antics" have gone from borderline tolerable (amusing/harmless) to downright rude and offensive. He frequently rants about women needing to "get home to their man" - that in his "Kingdom" women will not be allowed to wear skirts and dress "sexy" and references girls dressing like whores. So as harmless as the Zanta character may have seemed, he seems to be moving away from that...
alon99 / January 11, 2010 at 10:54 am
I've been on a subway train when Zanta has charged through, shirtless and yelling. I'm a grown man, and I still felt intimidated by him. You don't know that he's "harmless" he just comes off like a crazy homeless guy. If he wants to be a street performer, there are proper venues for that. I'd also recommend stepping up the quality of the show.
jinxx008 / January 11, 2010 at 10:59 am
YES YES YES! RRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrr........

Moi / January 11, 2010 at 11:10 am
hehehehehehehe AWESOME!!!
Eric26 / January 11, 2010 at 11:15 am
He needs to be helped, not encouraged to 'perform' for us. It seems that only 50% of people are entertained by him anyway. I just don't think that people with mental problems are meant to be entertainment for locals and tourists.
Darcy McGee / January 11, 2010 at 11:21 am
> but there is a saying that 'freedom of expression' does not
> include the right to yell 'fire!'

That's not a saying, it's a case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States:

Of course Canada isn't the United States and free speech here has been subjected to substantially more limitations than it has there.
CORRY / January 11, 2010 at 11:38 am
He was doing a show on not to long ago.People got really sick of him I can see why.He needs help buy our mental health system.
ed lee / January 11, 2010 at 12:35 pm
when i first moved to TO, zanta scared the hell out me and, despite the comments here, wouldn't want him anywhere near my family - routine or not. he needs help, not encouragement.
Andrew / January 11, 2010 at 12:41 pm
I remember seeing him on Kenny vs. Spenny and remembering what a weirdo he was, and this was on an episode that featured a disco dancing woman in a wheelchair, a russian guitar-playing little person, and a man who rubbed cream cheese on his face and pretended to be an alien.

Simba / January 11, 2010 at 12:49 pm
As much as some locals may find him amusing (I don't), tourists are probably even more freaked out. When I travel to London or NY and run into these street type folks, im not amused as much as I am scared that they maybe carrying a knife or going to do something really stupid.

Im sure tourists aren't saying "gee, look honey.... a half-naked man in minus 13 degree weather charging at us in a santa suit- quick take out the camera!"...its going to be quick hide the wallet and run.

Jamie / January 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm
What's with the photoshopped depth of field? Why have parts of that bus shelter (the ad) been unblurred?
geh / January 11, 2010 at 01:03 pm
Embrace your shirtless pushup Übermensch! Yes! Yes! Yes!!111!!!
sn / January 11, 2010 at 01:51 pm
great photo of the shirtless wonder!
jack / January 11, 2010 at 01:52 pm
only straight men find him intimidating..
thickslab / January 11, 2010 at 01:58 pm
Zanta is an asshole who doesn't deserve the publicity you're giving him.
torontoite replying to a comment from MillerOut / January 11, 2010 at 01:59 pm
you need to chill out and get the hell off your high horse. sure, you may not find zanta's antics entertaining, but apart from startling some pedestrians and bewildered tourists, what wrong has he done? i also don't enjoy your tone regarding people who may or may not have mental instability. it's definitely not something to demonize people for. i think YOU should get yourself out of the city: we really don't want intolerant people giving people a bad image of toronto (see how the patronizing tone is really irritating?)
jen / January 11, 2010 at 03:46 pm
I heard he was a construction worker who had a very serious accident one day...a head injury...and he was never the same afterwards. He was married with a kid I think...and now he's Zanta.
Kate / January 11, 2010 at 05:25 pm
My experience with Zanta is similar to Total. Crossing at Yonge and carlton a few years ago he circled around me barking and flexing while he did. I was new to the city and pretty freaked out. I'm not so sure I'd describe him as harmless. Barking and yelling at women (at anyone) like that isn't cool.
Adrian / January 11, 2010 at 05:33 pm
You people are sad, grow some tougher skin if you can't handle life in a big city like Toronto.

Zanta IS harmless, he would never touch or hurt anyone.

He should be allowed back, banning someone from public spaces is just absurd.
jameson / January 11, 2010 at 06:31 pm
why does life in a big city have to revolve around mentally disturbed individuals...if only we had an adequate social system to give care and treatment for persons such as Zanta

and jason keiffer draws exactly like joe matt, and even hangs out at rocket fuel. they must know each otherrr, i wonder if he makes porn mix tapes as well, mann comics are awesome
baristar / January 11, 2010 at 08:06 pm
I used to work at starbucks around bloor and avenue and had the chance to see zanta's real personality one winter. The starbucks I worked at was always busy, and during the santa clause parade it was an absolute mad house. During the peak of the insanity (store packed, cash lines to the door, drink lines to the cashier..), zanta walks in wearing a coat, disregards everyone in line and walks right up to the counter. He starts snapping his fingers for attention. "Can you watch my coat for me?" zanta asks. Of course, during more normal circumstances, it's already not company policy to be responsible for any lost or stolen items. This is pretty universal wherever you go, especially during this exceptionally busy part of the year, and this is what we told zanta. zanta responds with "Come on, I'll give you a quarter"

The publicity this guy gets goes straight to his head.
CHardy / January 11, 2010 at 08:23 pm
Zanta is irritating, but he should not have been banned from downtown. The idea that anyone, no matter how annoying, can be banned from public spaces is troubling.

I just wish people would stop encouraging him. I'm sure a mentally unstable muscleman is hilariously novel to U of T frosh from Newmarket, but for the rest of us, it's just a grim reminder of the fact that mentally ill people often cannot receive (or do not want) the care they need.
ezra / January 11, 2010 at 08:29 pm
These comics are pretty horrible, and a pretty blatant ripp off of Joe Matt.
mike / January 11, 2010 at 08:42 pm
The guy ran screaming through the reference library when I was there. Yeah, what a hoot, he's a grown man who acts like a little bitch teenager. God knows Toronto needs more people like this. Fucking desperate.
drizzydrake replying to a comment from jinxx008 / January 11, 2010 at 09:03 pm
MillerOut / January 11, 2010 at 11:43 pm
Yes encourage these mentally unstable crack pots to terrorize pedestrians and tourists going about their day. Theres nothing to admire or glamorize about this drugged out psycho ward escapee. Theres enough garbage on our streets lets not make a folk hero out of one.
He is nothing but a criminal with serious mental issues. I am hoping he never returns to this city.
Meera / January 12, 2010 at 04:06 am
I'm pretty sickened by all the people here suggesting that Zanta get 'help' by being involuntarily locked up in a psychiatric facility. It's 2010, these monstrous institutions should no longer even exist (they certainly 'help' no one), and your preference to remain undisturbed by any novelty during your daily commute does not outweigh another person's right to freedom and self-determination, regardless of what medicalizing labels you wish to apply.
Anon replying to a comment from Kate / January 12, 2010 at 04:49 am
"My experience with Zanta is similar to Total. Crossing at Yonge and carlton a few years ago he circled around me barking and flexing while he did."

I've only seen Zanta a couple of times, but one of those times I saw him lunge at a young woman while growling, clearly (and reasonably) scaring the hell out of her. It doesn't really seem to be a secret that he does this kind of stuff which makes it interesting that folks like Jason Kieffer don't find it worthy of a mention.
Mike replying to a comment from jamesmallon / January 12, 2010 at 07:46 am
I agree with James, the guy seems harmless enough, but I used to take the same bus home that he did (I believe he was living at Scarlett & Eglington) and he would often sit next to young women, including 13-17 year olds and strike up conversations with them. While some might believe he's harmless, a guy like that who is obviously mentally disturbed and also obviously quite physically fit would definitely be frightening to young girls, and other commuters as well. People have the right to be safe and to feel safe, and not to be harassed on public transit.

I think people like Meera and Adrian in the comments here need to realize that your "freedom of expression and self-determination" are not more important than the safety and well-being of others. Zanta does not have the right to distress and threaten people, even if that's not his intention (I think it is, he's an attention-whore)

You might think it's "novel" to watch someone else get harassed, but you might not be so amused when someone 3 times your size and obviously unstable corners you and strikes up a conversation or starts making strange noises.
Mike replying to a comment from Jarek / January 12, 2010 at 07:48 am
As to what laws he's broken, pretty much everything in the Safe Streets Act I would imagine.
Gabe / January 12, 2010 at 08:35 am
This guys awesome!!! A local hero!!!!
babygiraffe / January 12, 2010 at 09:21 am
a hero...really? are you sure?
Snowman / January 12, 2010 at 10:22 am
Based on what I've read he's not mentally troubled at all...but rather this is a character. He was a construction worker, fell and got injured, and then became a fitness buff through his rehab (hence the physique). While he does add life to the streets, I agree that the behaviours are strange and intimidating. Perhaps if he changed his act to a more passive guy doing push-ups and other physical feats he might be more openly accepted.
Gabe replying to a comment from babygiraffe / January 12, 2010 at 12:07 pm
Yep a hero!!! Just because he doesn't fit into your mold doesn't mean shyte.

Maybe your a hero to someone babygiraffe, I'm not gonna knock it...
Kim / January 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm
I had the displeasure of running into this guy in several different venues (the subway, outside First Canadian Place, around Yonge & Bloor) and he was loud, obnoxious and threatening and I didn't find that anyone looked particularly amused by his stupid antics. I also once saw him having a completely normal volume, rational conversation with another homeless guy about turf, so I suspect most of it is his schtick.
keven replying to a comment from Mike / January 12, 2010 at 01:29 pm
You consider it "threatening" when a stranger talks to you in public?
Kate / January 12, 2010 at 02:09 pm
I hate this guy.

We had him kicked out of a 100m radius of my former workplace (downtown) for causing daily, day-long public disturbances.

Just when I thought I was rid of him, we shared a subway ride together. He violently sprung into an impromptu handstand and blew out the power during morning rush hour, and everyone had to evacuate the train.

Then he started taking the 41 and 89 buses near my home in High Park. I'm frankly thrilled that I haven't seen him around lately.

Fk this guy.
Zartan / January 12, 2010 at 02:20 pm
Zanta's a twat and anybody who thinks he adds something of value to the city is even more worthless than he is.
Mike replying to a comment from keven / January 12, 2010 at 03:58 pm
Even if all he was doing was talking to people, there are plenty of instances where a simple conversation could be considered threatening, but if you knew anything about this situation or bothered to read these comments, you would know that he's not just trying to have discussions with his fellow citizens
keven replying to a comment from Mike / January 12, 2010 at 04:13 pm
I knew everything about this situation and I've read all the comments, thanks :)

If you find a simple conversation with a stranger threatening, perhaps you should seek mental help? Just a thought. Figured I'd throw that out there to ya.
chenyip / January 12, 2010 at 09:11 pm
Dude breaks his back, loses his job, loses custody of his daughter and has an emotional break down. Cut the guy some slack. He's doing push-ups in a fucking santa hat, not raping new-borns with a spiked dildo or something. In fact I find him more tolerable than 90% of the tempeh eating douchebags inhabiting Queen West in their stupid pre-fabbed condos.
Mike replying to a comment from keven / January 12, 2010 at 10:17 pm
If you knew anything about this situation you wouldn't be calling this a 'simple conversation with a stranger'

I usually don't have "simple conversations" by screaming, yelling profanity, barking, getting in people's faces, and blocking them from leaving the bus. And if I did, I don't think I would do it to strangers, and even then, not to young girls, old women, highschool kids, etc.

If you can't tell the difference between a simple conversation and an obviously mentally disturbed man harassing vulnerable people on their bus ride home, perhaps you should seek mental help? Let me throw that back at ya.

Mike replying to a comment from chenyip / January 12, 2010 at 10:19 pm
Whoa, someone's got some anger issues
srsly / January 12, 2010 at 11:00 pm
hey, remember when blogTO cowardly fired JK for writing these comics? good times.
jameson / March 1, 2010 at 07:25 am
any press is good press right?
a replying to a comment from MillerOut / March 15, 2011 at 07:23 pm

As a woman who has run into him several times in the past, I found him extremely polite. A little over-enthusaiatic, but a good laugh and very polite. More polite than most 'normal' people on the streets of Toronto, if I may be so bold ; P
Gridlock / August 16, 2012 at 02:03 am
Got a question, got a video of a guy spinning in a human-sized ring on a concrete surface.
YOUTUBE[ Win/Luck Compilation of 2011 Part 4 ||RWV™ ]
2:07 to 2:20 - Guy has a Santa hat, muscular chest, shorts like Zanta. It actually is rather entertaining. Is it Zanta?
Since when is Zanta entertaining rather than some pest that says 4-phrases and does pushups?
Brent Dmitruk / October 13, 2012 at 09:39 pm
I think he was unsuccessful because of his violent nature. If he was entertaining without freaking people out, getting in their way and loitering in the TTC, I think he would have been a successful character. He blew the chance to leave a big positive impression on Toronto.
jesko / June 7, 2013 at 09:25 am
It´s just so bad to give somebody like that medication ... Why do you have to shut him off? He was a polite guy who was just entertaining. And what now? Sitting on a couch at his mother´s ... Great job society
jesko replying to a comment from Zartan / June 7, 2013 at 09:26 am
you´re a fucking twat ... I think you need to have some fun!
Jimmy / December 6, 2013 at 03:01 am
OMG this is terrible his own mother who was never around suddenly wants to be around her son and finds some doctor that says he is a mental case and he has to take pills now and live with his mother a grown man like that?

Plus whatever happened to the ripped muscular guy who would do hundreds of push up all over Toronto?

Everyone should blame his Mother cause now she is probably collecting money from his so called disabilty and now the guy is fat and living at home with his mother and David is probably poor now cause of it.
Eye-Roll / December 28, 2013 at 02:41 pm
Leave it to idiots to reduce "Zanta" to your daily dose of shits and giggles, rather than what the situation is: fallout of a fluctuating pattern of treated and untreated illness.

The demonization of his mother and his girlfriend is all the more idiotic, considering we already have it on record that he has a history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and even have him on film saying he hates taking his medication and then making incoherent/deeply unsettling ramblings.

It should occur to people that it's possible his girlfriend might have left him and took their daughter because of dangerous or deeply disruptive behavioral consequences of his untreated disorders. Because stories like this are a dime a dozen.

If he has to live with his mother in order to reel in his behavior and treat his disorders, then it stands to reason that he might have had a hard time looking after his own daughter and/or maintaining a healthy connection with the kid's mother. Im sure that workplace head injury triggered all this.

For all this talk of his street behaviour being "harmless", you all know damn well this isnt behaviour conducive to manageable daily living, never mind parenting responsibilities. Maybe people would understand that if they got past their hang-up with the cheap "lulz" Zanta brings you.

Seriously: people with mood/mental disorders are not your "play-things".
David Zanta Zancai / February 17, 2014 at 11:59 am
user-pic its unbelieveable how fucked up so many people thinking im medically fucked up please send this video to everyone you know thanks
Dave Zanta Zancai / April 2, 2014 at 07:21 pm
Everyone Check out my website ! ! YES YES YES !
Tori / September 22, 2014 at 05:12 pm
I had no idea who this man was when I spent time in the area where he was set up at Dundas Square. Perhaps in the past he was an entertainer but he definitely has issues now that are controlling his behaviour. I saw a man with an obsession with his own importance. He got really angry swearing and angrily chasing at some younger women who live in the area and I was worried a brawl would break out. He may be charming if you agree with him but is a powder keg ready to go off if anyone shows him disrespect by walking on his posters, disagreeing with his view that he is "famous" or important. Some people who "know" him rile him up which seems to turn his personality pretty quickly.
Clemmie / October 17, 2014 at 10:05 am
Good post. I'm experiencing many of these issues as well..
Bernaette Whelly / December 18, 2014 at 08:41 am
I had a horrid experience with this man last night,I had left a bank, and he was outside, got up in my face, and at first was fairly aggressive with a sneer in his voice, but then became insulting and aggressive, and wouldn't let me pass...I had to go back into the bank, and he came into the bank, and started on the cashiers. It was VERY scary for everyone's only a matter of time until this very ill man hurts someone...I am 5'5" and fairly small..gotta say I was scared, I wasn't sure if he was going to hurt me or not...He needs help ASAP before he either hurts someone.
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