“Armed only with self-deprecating wit and memories, Bennett reminds us that ordinary people lead extraordinary lives. ★★★★★” - The Sunday Mail (AUS)
“Bennett is the patron saint of storytelling. ★★★★★” – Broadway Baby (UK)
“Bennett is a joy to watch. This is bold, honest, engaging and different to a lot of standard comedy on offer. ★★★★★” – Fringe Guru (UK)
“Instantly likeable, Bennett is a deft storyteller with a frank, confessional style that blends pathos and humour to great effect. ★★★★½” – Uptown Magazine (CAN)
“Brilliant ★★★★½” - Rip it Up Magazine (AUS)
“A wonderful storyteller at the top of his game. ★★★★½” - The Plains Producer (AUS)
“Full of heart and packed with laughter, this is how storytelling should be done. ★★★★” – The Skinny (UK)
“An example of how much comedy can achieve in terms of depth and range, that it can be belly laugh funny and emotionally powerful. ★★★★” – Chortle (UK)
“The audience is spellbound, laughing, gasping, allowing their emotions to be played upon.” “Gut-wrenchingly good – Bennett is a master storyteller. ★★★★” – Time Out Magazine (AUS)
“Jon Bennett is such a warm and charismatic performer he turns one of the most puerile concepts into something quite special indeed. ★★★★” - Hairline Reviews (UK)
“It took me several minutes to regain my hearing after the show, not from Bennett’s delivery but from the level of laughter the packed crowd generated. ★★★★“ - The West Australian
“At the end of this hilarious and thoughtful hour, no one seems to want to leave the room. ★★★★” – Edmonton Journal (CAN)
“True brilliance ★★★★” – Vue Weekly (CAN)
“A great storyteller. ★★★★” - The Adelaide Advertiser (AUS)
“Jon Bennett sets the gold standard in storytelling. This show is powerful, brutally honest, and drenched in the rich humour of pathos. This is unlike any other show you’ll find at the festival. Get your hit of raw and real comedy. This is my pick of the festival so far.” – Heckler (AUS)
“Bennett’s skilful storytelling frequently adjusts the balance between nightmare and comedy – it’s a powerful, full-on performance that crosses plenty of lines.” – InDaily (CAN)
“Without doubt, amongst the best, absolute funniest storytelling I’ve ever heard.” - Db Magazine (AUS)
“An entrancing hour of compelling stories.” - Chortle (AUS)
“Bennett has a near-mystical ability to spin a yarn, bringing characters and places to vivid life.” – The Skinny, (UK)
“Part travelogue, part personal adventure, Bennett tells these stories engagingly, swinging nicely between the hilarious and the sublime.” – Fest Magazine (UK)
“One of the best storytellers you’re ever likely to see.” – Squirrel Comedy (AUS)
“The bad-travel stories of Bill Bryson, the familial weirdness of Augusten Burroughs, the sharp wit of David Sedaris and slides that range from the bizarre to the ridiculously hilarious.” – CBC Manitoba (CAN)
“Delightful and enthralling” – Australian Comedy Review
“Jon is smart, funny, engaging and talented.” – The Herald Sun (AUS)
“A refreshing change. Delightful stuff.” – Rip It Up Magazine (AUS)
“the indisputable fact that if your inner schoolboy needs a giggle, Jon Bennett is your messiah.” – UQ Events Arts & Entertainment (CAN)
“You see, the show is about more than Jon telling funny stories on stage. It is the beginning of a friendship in which you are his confidant. It is why after the show he invites you to have a beer with him, and why I feel comfortable calling him by his first name.”- Newshit Magazine (AUS)
“It needs to be seen to be believed”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is not your average run-of-the-mill comedy show.”
“Ever get the feeling you’re being played with by a prankster with Andy Kaufman sensibilities?”– RHUM Magazine (AUS)
“Bennett is a natural storyteller and will have you completely engrossed” – Montreal Mirror (CAN)
“Jon Bennett is compellingly watchable, and a comedic delight.” – Indyish.com (CAN)
“Has all the elements – high comedy, high drama and a dynamite delivery that not even a hyena and a ringing cellphone can derail.” – “Young Jon is not well. But what an imagination. He will leave audiences convulsing for the right reasons and will leave them still with sobering family insights for the right reasons as well.” – Bill Brownstein, The Montreal Gazette (CAN)
LATEST PRESS AND REVIEWS:
Death Has Many Faces
Fringe Guru: ★★★★★
Reviewed by Liam McKenna
For someone so diminutive, Jon Bennett is a storyteller of epic proportions. Best known for starting the trend of ‘pretending things are cocks’, Bennett has now gone from stand-up to fully-fledged comic raconteur in a short space of time. This year’s show covers, as the title might suggest, a full run-down of all the times Bennett’s dad has died.
Well, almost died. There are several instances, many of which involve ladders, some of which are genuinely shocking, and all of which are told with a warmth and a wry smile buried in sadness. For there is a great deal of sadness in this show.
With the help of a PowerPoint presentation, Bennett starts from the top, taking us through an eclectic childhood on a dusty Australian farm. His young life was dominated – in no uncertain terms – by his jack-of-all-trades father, and a young Jon contemplating his ‘serious’ dad’s disappointment in him. He has an instant appeal through his confident, fast-paced delivery, putting the audience at ease (important for what’s a pretty intimate gig.)
You feel you could sit there well beyond the allotted hour, listening to Bennett’s anecdotes. I’d go as far to say the material is near-perfect: hilarious and sad in equal measure. Amongst all the comedy there are breaks for more serious turns, where Bennett explains the difficulties growing up with a father who experiences physical pain frequently, but refuses out of principle to express a single swear word. It is captivating to watch, and all these little details (like his dad screaming ‘HELP’ from under a tractor in a barn) bring the stories to life.
You soon realise that Bennett is much more than just a comedian. He has the knack of conjuring up graphic – and in some cases wince-inducing – descriptions that really shock an audience into full attention. The images he evokes (his pregnant mum on the roof, his dad’s bleeding knees, a possum clinging to a plane – you need to see it) implant themselves in your mind and are certain to stay with you for some time.
Intertwined with all these stories of near-death experiences are tales from school: of Bennett trying to fit in, dealing with bullies (especially hard when that bully is related to you), and a series of tender poems about love and life. It all slots in perfectly and gives us a deeper insight into the background of this serious man who “doesn’t like jokes” – by which Bennett means any jokes at all.
The story ends on a hilarious and heart-wrenching twist. Bennett is a joy to watch. This is bold, honest, engaging and different to a lot of standard comedy on offer. More people should see this five-star show.
Jon Bennett: My Dad’s Deaths
This is the kind of gem that we’re all seeking at a festival. Jon Bennett is not a stand-up comic, and this is not a stand up show. What he gives us is stunning storytelling, amusingly illustrated with family snaps, short videos and screen grabs.
He’s got an excellent instrument, a warmly compelling voice, but it’s not actorish, he sounds natural and strong and you just want to watch him. He’s got an intriguing face – is he handsome, is he odd looking, or both by turns? But his main asset is stillness, the quality of centredness so that even when there’s a torrent of words pouring forth, or he’s dancing around in a pink rabbit jacket, it’s not frenetic; the still eye of the storm.
As a top cricketer seems to have extra time to make a shot, he has a quality of concentration and focus that would hold your attention even if the ceiling were falling in. He’s a natural orator; dad’s a teacher/minister, maybe there’s something in the genes?
My Dad’s Deaths is a narration of growing up in rural South Australia where the community is so small that dad is literally everything to the young Jon: father, teacher, bus driver, sports coach, minister and all. This more narrowly concerns Ray Bennett’s various apparent deaths – falling from ladders, choking on bubbles, pig-piss-induced illness and more. Each event is never less than a crisis, forcing Bennett Jr to examine the family relationships that staring down the barrel of bereavement throws into focus.
And every time his father ‘dies’, the reminder is that Jon has disappointed his dad (by swearing, by doing stand-up, by ditching a sensible job, a sensible house, being, gasp, vegetarian) and there is no sharper pain than the regret that you have not been a better child to your parent.
And the breathtaking thing is, he makes this delicate area very entertaining. It’s a universal subject as old as time, if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. It’s why some of the repeated phrases put me in mind of The Odyssey or other epic poetry, where the repetition provides a backbone to the whole piece. I realise I am going straight to Pseud’s Corner with these comparisons, but this show is an example of how much comedy can achieve in terms of depth and range, that it can be belly laugh funny and emotionally powerful, without cloying sentimentality.
The death incidents are punctuated with the found poetry of semi-literate Facebook-speak, which he doesn’t mock – that would be too easy. But he gives it new and vivid life by reading it as it appears, exaggerated spellings, acronyms and all. He is hypnotically engaging; you do really want to know what happens next all the way through and he’s got the skills to make the minutiae of family life hilarious.
Australian Jon Bennett was here last year talking about travelling round the world taking pictures of things and pretending they were cocks. This heady and academic show did pretty well, but one person it didn’t impress was his father. So Bennett has chosen to spend this year examining the relationship he has with his dad, and as the title suggests, it’s a little unorthodox
Bennett spins a compelling, ribald yarn, a tale of growing up with a stoic and emotionally distant father (who just happens to have nearly died more times than been healthy) – it’s affecting and emotional while also absolutely ridiculous. Some experimental modern bush poetry breaks up the monologue; a tribute to Aussie legend Banjo Patterson, and a social-media piece is a particular highlight. An ill-advised back flip attempt in a low ceilinged Fringe venue is both admirable and terrifying: for the front row at least.
Bennett masterfully manages the ebb and flow of his tale to maximum effect, and when the story takes a more sombre turn he has already succeeded in getting the audience heavily invested in its outcome. Full of heart and packed with laughter, this is how storytelling should be done at the Fringe.
The late hour and unbearable heat was not enough to deter the crowds gathering at the Katacombes last Wednesday night. The Zoofest show “Pretending Things Are A Cock” conjures up a few questions in mind like “Is this what I think it is?”, “How is this a thing?” and “Why?”.
Yes, it is what you think it is but it’s so much more. The Australian comedian, Jon Bennett, travelled the world for years taking pictures of himself pretending things are his cock. This show is a documentation of those travels and the stories he’s gathered along the way.
It’s a beautiful story, if you can call it that, about a man whose obsession has turned into a touching, insightful and hilarious look into his own life.
The hundreds of images of famous monuments (the Golden Gate Bridge, Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty), objects (door snakes, the Stanley Cup, thongs – the ones you wear on your feet) and people construed into playing the part of his cock are the building blocks of this amazing show.
It all begins, and perhaps explains the “why?”, at his childhood. Growing up in rural Australia in a family with a serious Pentecostal father and a dick-obsessed older brother. Jon bonds with the audience members who suffered at the hands of an older sibling, asking those who were the bullies of their families what they did to torment the younger ones. When a self-announced bully in the audience couldn’t come up with anything Jon said “the older ones never remember!”.
With this, he sets the tone for a rollercoaster of cringe-worthy moments, unbelievable stories and everlasting friendship that have the audience captivated in fits of laughter (the guy next to me choked on his beer at one point).
At the end of it all I felt like I had spent the evening with an old friend, recounting stories of his travels and leaving me dying to hear more.
Jon is a charismatic and engaging performer whose storytelling ability can capture the heart of any audience.
This is a must-see show so don’t miss the last three dates of “Pretending Things Are A Cock”.
Fire in the Meth Lab: A New Level of Comic Storytelling
Maybe it was the Australian accent, but I was consumed by Jon Bennett’s Fire in the Meth Lab from the get go. The first thing that caught my attention was the haphazard set, which consisted of an old arm chair, a board game, a coat rack, and other items that hinted at sentimentality and the past.
Slightly out of place in this compilation was an ironing board. The collection of chemicals and tubes that covered the top of the board did not bring to mind images of someone ironing shirts in the morning, but rather a more sinister memory.
In a few words, the show is about the addiction to meth that eventually lands Bennett’s brother in jail, but that synopsis doesn’t even come close to doing the show justice. What Bennett tells is not a story about a meth addiction, it’s an exploration of childhood memories, good and bad, and a search for the reason behind his brother’s troubles.
With such a dark theme, the rare sombre moment maintains the sincerity of the story—yet, impossible as it seems, the show is delivered in the form of a brilliantly interactive, unexpected and fun comedy.
At its core, Fire in the Meth Lab is a story about brothers, and Bennett delivered it with all the resentment, frustration, love and pride that comes with any honest depiction of family.
Fire in the Meth Lab / Until June 22 / Cabaret du Mile End (5240 Parc Ave.) / $10 (students) $12 (general)
Fire in the Meth Lab is fucking hilarious!
“Everyone just wants to do what they love in life. My brother was lucky, he got to make meth. He loved it so much he even brought it home with him…” starts versatile comedian Jon Bennett. Jon tells the story of his asshole brother Tim, who went to jail for burning down a biker gang’s meth lab and stealing all their meth. Not quite the usual recipe for a side-splitting hour of comedy but this guy is funny. Practically every little bit and story is laugh out loud funny!
Jon takes us through his relationship with his brother growing up. A sampling of stories include his brother pissing on a seal, his brother sticking his dick in Jon’s ear, them attending Jesus camp then receiving an impromptu exorcism… it goes on.
Putting acid in his parents’ drinks before church… Where his father was the minister! (Best sermon E-V-E-R!)
Jon goes through his brother’s various life addictions in an attempt to discover how to love his asshole of a brother and comes away from it with an unorthodox but nonetheless heartwarming tale.
I definitely recommend this show. Jon Bennett is a whirlwind of comedy! If you didn’t get a chance to see him at this year’s Fringe Festival, he will be performing Pretending Things Are A Cock as part of the Zoofest comedy festival in July. See their website for more details.
Review: (Montreal) Fire in The Meth Lab (Fringe)
When Bathrooms Explode
by Janis Kirshner
Heckler Review – Jon Bennett: Fire in the Meth Lab
There is tension in the room as you enter a makeshift meth lab, Jon Bennett seated in a tattered brown coach wrapped in yellow police tape, waiting for you.
In the next hour Jon drags you into the murky depths of his family’s history: awkward and shame-laden revelations of sexuality, bullying, drugs, an unhealthy obsession with Jason Donovan, all absurdly juxtaposed against the purity of Jon’s devout Pentecostal parents. Despite the extreme nature of events, we can all relate on some level to Jon’s childhood experiences.
This hobble down memory lane is not without purpose – Jon is here to try and understand his self-sabotaging older brother Tim’s addiction to meth. Jon builds a rich picture of his brother’s character, refusing to withhold the worst of Tim’s miscreant behaviour, but complicating things with details of Tim’s rare moments of benevolence.
There’s something dangerous about Jon’s comedy; he delivers an overdose of honesty that makes him vulnerable. You find yourself worried about the repercussions for Jon sharing this intimate story with you – how will Tim react?
Jon Bennett sets the gold standard in storytelling. This show is powerful, brutally honest, and drenched in the rich humour of pathos. This is unlike any other show you’ll find at the festival. Get your hit of raw and real comedy. This is my pick of the festival so far.
|Jon Bennett: Fire In The Meth Lab
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
He’s best known for a show called Pretending Things Are A Cock, but in this skilful slice of storytelling, Jon Bennett has most definitely matured.
Fire In The Meth Lab revolves around his relationship with his older brother, who tormented him as a child and ultimately span off the rails when he got involved with drugs. Any more on his criminal activities, Bennett asks us to keep within the four safe walls of the performance, but the title gives a tiny clue.
However, an alternative name for the show, he suggests, would have been How To Love An Asshole, as the captivating anecdotes he regales us with illustrate a relationship that goes nastier than sibling horseplay. Brother Tim was an irritant, a bully… and a full-on Jason Donovan fan.
A board game dedicated to the Eighties pop pin-up forms a recurring element – a one-joke idea that nonetheless retains its effect over repetition – while more structure comes from letters exchanged between brothers about the genesis of this show. They are PowerPointed on to a screen as they are read out – unnecessary, really, especially as viewers can finish the slide ahead of the audio, and the charismatic Bennett should have more faith in his enviable ability to hold a crowd without such visual crutches.
The questionable choices Tim made have lead to some great stories, encompassing Christian retreats, drunken brawls and a dread of doctors. Bennett plays some for laughs, some for drama, and backs some with insight into their contrasting personalities.
Although ultimately a cautionary tale – who could have known a meth addiction could have a downside? – Bennett also considers why his life hasn’t gone the same way. After all, he’s from the same ultra-religious upbringing and tried the odd substance, as he describes in an hilarious flashback. ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’
Whether it’s really a redemptive morality tale is probably a moot point; but this is an entrancing hour of compelling stories, placed in a wider context. It’s not a five-laughs-a-minute stand-up show; but a witty and frank demonstration of the storyteller’s art.
|Date of live review: Tuesday 16th Apr, ’13|
Review by Steve Bennett
The Herald Sun – Jon Bennett in Fire in the Meth Lab, at Tuxedo Cat until April 21
JAIL, Jason Donovan, bikie gangs, therapy and all the unsavoury memories of childhood come together in this addictive morality tale.
Bennett delivers at a rapid-fire rate with panache, relaying the story of his bullying brother Tim and their misspent youth – with the expected consequences for questionable decisions not always going to script.
From being told by his parents that knock-knock jokes were offensive to homeless people and the sight of Tim being exorcised at a Pentecostal church camp, Bennett extracts regular chortles from his captive audience.
And interspersed with funeral rites, dog play, vampire girlfriends and the Wonder Years via audio and video, Bennett’s trip down memory lane into the world of drugs does have a cautionary edge that is tactfully handled with understated humour.
Donovan fans will rejoice in the hero worship, with insights acquired from a little-known board game owned by Tim and excerpts from video clips. And those audience members chosen to belly buck will share in the timeless joy of brotherly love.
But the true moral of the story lies in the chance for redemption that awaits us all – long after the laughs subside.
The Sunday Mail (24 Feb 2013) – Jon Bennett: My Dad’s Deaths Review
Rating – *****
South Australian expat Jon Bennett’s completely engaging story about his relationship with his father is the type of show the Fringe was created for. Using slides and tongue-in-cheek asides, Bennett tells it like it is about a man he has admired and unsuccessfully avoided all of his life: his Dad. Armed only with self-deprecating wit and memories, Bennett reminds us that ordinary people lead extraordinary lives. It is a funny, moving account of father-son relationships that are often forged in hell but can make it to heaven.
dB Magazine – Jon Bennett: My Dad’s Deaths Review – Adelaide Fringe 2013
Yes, you read the show’s title right, ‘My Dad’s Deaths’, as in plural. And if life growing up for former South Australian country kid and now recognised worldwide collector of phallic-like images, Jon Bennett, wasn’t hard enough under a no-nonsense, yet extremely accident prone father and the town bully for a brother, then think again. It seems every time his father, Ray (“because that’s his name”) went anywhere near a ladder he’d fall off and literally die, or so Bennett would have us believe.
But that was only five out of countless other ways that Ray has ‘literally’ left this mortal coil. Despite Ray’s standing in the local community as the town’s school teacher, school bus driver, church minister as well as the football and tennis coach, nothing can save him from the ill fate of ladders, tractors, self started bushfires, heart attacks on trains and even his own son, Jon, who during a reluctant pig hunting trip, managed to shoot him. Time after time Ray has found himself laid up in a critical condition someplace only to barely scrape through and survive; once again, literally. Bennett’s recollection of such incidents is, without doubt, amongst the best, absolute funniest storytelling I’ve ever heard. Further propping up his relationship status with his father by adding how many times he has disappointed him by making less than conventional life and career choices, reciting the occasional Banjo Patterson piece of poetry along with snippets of angsty teen Facebook rants, and even taking us back to the local primary school talent show (hosted by Ray, who else?), where he demonstrates how not to break dance to Jove Bunny, Bennett never fails to capture his audience’s attention.
I literally had tears streaming out of my eyes, and not just because of the outright hilarity of his stories, but also die to the true sentiment and adoration, and sometimes concern Bennett shows towards his dad. Every Fringe Festival there’s at least one show I go to see more than once, and this year I think I’ve found it.
Words: Kasia Ozog
JON Bennett’s no-nonsense father has died many times. Well, more like has a knack of making his family think he’s died.
There have been so many “deaths”, that Bennett has created an entire show about his father. There was the shark attack, the time he choked on soda bubbles, and the time he was shot in the chest by Bennett.
The result is a funny, honest and heart-warming show about Bennett’s relationship with his conservative father growing up in rural South Australia.
The show offers an open and hilarious glimpse into Bennett’s upbringing and his father’s ways. He is likeable and a great storyteller.
Bennett also throws in some hilarious poetry – his dad had hoped he would be like Banjo Patterson.
For an hour Jon’s vivid descriptions transformed the Tuxedo Cat into a visual timeline of his family mishaps. He doesn’t limit himself to just storytelling either, mixing it up with brilliant poetry that covers topics from love to Facebook, and even some flamboyant dancing!
Bennett interacts with the crowd regularly and has a unique ability to jump between a poignant mood and comical chaos. This ability is used to create moments of Tarantino-like suspense where he has the audience on the edge of their seat one moment then suddenly laughing at the inglorious blunders his father endured the next. It’s a hilarious but heartfelt show that’s worth experiencing!
Final Word: Captivating.
Pretending Things Are a C*ck
Venue: Pleasance Courtyard
Yes, you read the title right… and no, there isn’t some profound double meaning to the title either – this is a one man show following Australian Jon Bennett traveling the world and taking lots of pictures of famous monuments, straddling them between his legs, and pretending things are his cock.
It is not big (the idea, we mean…) and it is not clever, but many of these pictures are wildly inventive and very funny indeed. The audience are falling about laughing throughout the hour as they are treated to a slide show like no other: The Golden Gate Bridge, The Leaning Tower of Pisa and even Edinburgh’s doggy icon, Greyfriar’s Bobby, will never be thought of in the same way again.
If it was just a slideshow things would wear thin fairly quickly but it is much more than that. It is a fascinating story about how one man once made a silly picture and how that grew into a full-on obsession that has given him fans from all over the world.
But really, this is a show all about Bennett and his travels around the world, and how they have shaped him as a person. Four years of traveling has given him some hilarious and thoroughly entertaining stories: from embarrassing childhood tales of bullying from his penis obsessed older brother, to awkward misunderstandings with Japanese tourists. Some of his comedy deviates from the central premise a little too much at times, but it is forgivable since they are so entertaining.
Jon Bennett is such a warm and charismatic performer he turns one of the most puerile concepts into something quite special indeed.
Pretending Things are a Cock – Chandra Mayor, CBC
Now for something completely different: let’s talk about penises. Aussie comedian Jon Bennett has been all around the world taking pictures posed with all kinds of objects at the groin. If every slide show made this good use of powerpoint, a lot more people would be paying attention during presentations, that’s for sure.These three hundred odd photos provide a jumping off point for a varied assortment of anecdotes from his global travels and upbringing.
Bennett makes you laugh -hard*. The best moments are truly wince-worthy incidents where the undercurrent to the laughter is sheer relief that none of this happened to you. To me the most tantalizing material were the stories about growing up in a restrictive family environment. Which leaves me sad that I didn’t manage to see My Dad’s Deaths in Montreal. It’s a fun and engaging show that piques my curiosity to see what else he can do.
*Not a pun. Perish the thought
Reviewed By: Cindy Murdoch – umfm
July 25 2012
Australian comic Jon Bennett brings this award nominated show to the Winnipeg Fringe, which he created after
compiling over 300 photos of pretend cocks over a four year period. Part stand-up comedy and part-photo exhibit, there is never a dull moment during this show. The photos themselves are of course very funny in that juvenile dick-joke sort of way. But it is the stories that Jon tells that accompany the photos that make the real comedy here. His stand-up routine flows seamlessly captivating the audience, like the greatest stories ever told late night over drinks at the local pub. The personal anecdotes and memories feel real, making each tale feel that much more luscious yet hilarious at the same time. A solid, well written, well performed comedy show; this one is a must see at this year’s Fringe.
Mining family drama for laughs
Jon Bennett knows plenty about the perils of stand-up comedy. The 32-year-old Aussie wit – not to be confused with the John Bennett played by Mark Wahlberg in Ted – has had to contend with his fair share of hecklers and howlers over the years. Those he can handle.
But Bennett had to deal with a whole new set of obstacles during the run of his one-man play My Dad’s Deaths at the Montreal Fringe fest, which wrapped last Sunday.
In one performance, a spectator let out gales of forced, uncontrolled laughter during the show’s most poignant and decidedly non-humorous moments. At another presentation, one apparently over-served patron made a mad, dramatic dash for the exit – and conceivably for the loo – in the midst of a highly sensitive portion of the play.
But worst of all was the fellow whose cellphone emitted the most annoying ringtone ever concocted and who successfully drowned out Bennett’s touching climax to his piece.
“The guy then said from his seat that he would just wait for the phone to ring out,” recalls Bennett. “That had to be a new low. What was he thinking? But one has to be on guard for anything during a live show.”
For the record, Bennett was heroic in overcoming the interference from the ringing cellphone as well as from the woman who laughed when there were no laughs. Mercifully, I missed the show where the young lady sprinted off in the middle of the show, terrifying both Bennett and members of the Petit Campus audience.
For those who missed him at the Fringe, or caught him and want more of him and less of the audience, Bennett will be headlining Wednesday night at the Comedy Hostel and will then move on to the Comedy Nest, Thursday to July 7. He will be serving up portions of his killer solo play My Dad’s Deaths as well as shtick from his stand-up routine and his poems: “All you need is love, except when you’re dying and you might need some medicine …”
Hopefully, Just for Laughs scouts will be in attendance. Bennett is one heck of a raconteur, delivering high comedy delicately melded with high drama.
It also turns out that Bennett’s solo play is aptly titled. His dad has had at least a dozen near-death experiences. He has fallen off ladders, been attacked by sharks, been overcome by bush fires, and has even choked on soda bubbles.
Oh, and his offspring Jon nearly killed him as the result of a shooting mishap while on a hunting expedition – an event that had originally been intended for some much-needed father-son bonding.
“I embellish some, but, yeah, I really did shoot him, by accident, of course, because I’m not an experienced hunter, and he really did almost die,” Bennett says. “That’s why I thought it would make such a good topic for the show. After talking to my mother, I discovered there were so many other near-death stories. It’s all just so insane.”
One of those stories entailed his dad pushing his pregnant mom on the roof of their abode to fix a leak during a tempest in the Outback. She got stuck and sprung a leak herself – and so Jon’s bro Tim came into being. As for his dad, he fell off the ladder and into an unconscious state for a spell, leading his mom to assume that he had passed.
While audiences have found these experiences uproariously funny, the feeling isn’t shared by the dad with a dozen lives. He doesn’t have much of a sense of humour, which son Jon attributes to his pig-farmer/minister/school bus-driver vocation. Then again, young Jon’s memories of life on the farm aren’t exactly laden with laughs, either. “Dust, rocks, sadness and pigs,” he explains in his show.
“Mercifully, my dad hasn’t seen the entire show,” says Bennett, in the midst of taking a brief whale-watching break with his girlfriend in Tadoussac. “Maybe I’ll surprise him and bring it to next year’s Adelaide Fringe festival.”
Regardless, Bennett’s pop couldn’t be any more appalled than the time his son toured the world on a most unorthodox photography expedition, wherein his son had pictures snapped of himself after placing himself in a certain position against some of the largest structures on the planet. This resulted in a one-man show – which played the 2010 Montreal Fringe – and a subsequent photo exhibition in Australia with a rather phallic theme, dubbed Pretending Things Are a C—k. Adolescent, maybe; but a hit nonetheless.
“I’m still doing that show on the Fringe circuit. I can’t shake it,” he says, pun perhaps intended.
Buoyed by the reaction to My Dad’s Deaths, Bennett is already at work on another family tragicomedy he hopes to present here next year. This one will focus on his dysfunctional and delinquent brother Tim.
And brother Jon need not worry about Tim getting upset with the play. That’s because Tim is behind bars.
“Tim was just this crazy little kid. Psychotic quite probably. He’s only in jail for a year this time. He blew up his own house in trying to build a meth lab.”
But here’s the kicker. Tim, who had never been to a doctor in his life, suffered serious third-degree burns to his legs in the explosion and had to go to the hospital. But while treating Tim at the hospital, doctors discovered cancer in his bowel and treated it successfully before it could spread.
“So technically, making a bad meth lab saved Tim’s life,” Bennett says. “The good news is that Tim’s cancer is in remission, but the bad news is that Tim is in jail again.”
And the better news for Bennett is that he could have another stage hit on his hands.
Jon Bennett headlines Wednesday at the Cabaret Playhouse, 5656 Parc Ave. Showtime: 8:30 p.m. Admission: $5. Call 514-276-0594. Bennett also performs Thursday and Friday at 8:30 p.m. and July 7 at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Ernie Butler’s Comedy Nest, 2313 Ste. Catherine St. W. Admission: $12, Thursday; $15, Friday and Saturday. Call 514-932-6378.
Jon Bennett: My Dad’s Deaths, www.indyish.com
Pushing forward to my second father-themed show, I headed to Petit Campus to see My Dad’s Deaths, by Australian funnyman Jon Bennett. This was the show I was most looking forward to at this year’s fest, based on the hilarious Pretending Things are a Cock, which Bennett put on a couple years back. Bennett’s performances have him standing at a microphone and telling stories that are backed up by projected slides. The interplay between the story and the visual elements adds layers of interesting dynamics to the whole experience. It’s a medium that allows for maximum audience engagement, and My Dad’s Deaths did not disappoint.
This was the story of his relationship to his conservative father, who has had about a dozen near-death experiences. The description of the near-death experiences are cartoonishly hilarious, as are the unique details of his personality and his character. Throughout the hour-long performance, Bennett attempts to come to terms with what seems like his father’s disappointment at his choice of career vocation. Father-son relationships are, of course, infinitely more complicated than that, and Bennett’s show comes off mostly as a celebration of his father’s eccentricities and idiosyncrasies. It’s a thoroughly human story, and a very funny one. Bennett punctuates these already funny stories with plenty of comic relief: poems, breakdancing, backflips, and Facebook status found poetry. Jon Bennett is compellingly watchable, and a comedic delight.
MY DAD’S DEATHS: BILL BROWNSTEIN, The Gazette
What’s worse than a heckler at a comedy show? How about a howler who laughs louder than any hyena, not just at the funny parts but at the non-humorous poignant ones, too?
Such was the fate that befell Aussie wit and raconteur Jon Bennett at a performance of his one-man Fringe piece, My Dad’s Deaths. And what had to be even more disheartening for Bennett was a cellphone, with possibly the most annoying ringtone ever created, going off as he launched into the bittersweet denouement of his play.
Bennett deserved better. My Dad’s Deaths has all the elements – high comedy, high drama and a dynamite delivery that not even a hyena and a ringing cellphone can derail.
Turns out Bennett’s dad has had numerous near-death experiences – some even precipitated by his offbeat offspring. He has fallen off ladders, been accidentally shot, at-tacked by sharks, overcome by bush fires and, yes, has choked on soda bubbles.
Bennett has an unconventional relationship with his dad, who also served as his bus driver, minister and football coach. His real vocation is pig farmer.
Unlike his son, Bennett’s pop is deadly serious. He doesn’t like jokes. “Not even knock-knock ones,” Bennett relates on stage. “He feels they are offensive to homeless people.”
Then again, Bennett’s upbringing wasn’t exactly laden with chuckles, either.
“Dust, rocks, sadness and pigs” is how he describes it.
Bennett’s dad had hoped his son would become a writer such as the former’s cultural hero, one Banjo Patterson, who wrote endless poems about horses and whose likeness appears on the Australian $10 note as a consequence.
The best Bennett could come up with in a poem was: “When I first had sex, I tried to put my (testicles) in – ” He followed that up with: “All you need is love, except when you’re dying and you might need some medicine – ” Bennett’s father was not amused.
He was even less amused when young Jon went around the world on a unique photography expedition, placing himself in a certain position against some of the largest structures on the planet. This foray resulted in a smash show and subsequent Australian photo exhibition called Pretending Things Are a C-k. Seriously.
Young Jon is not well. But what an imagination. He will leave audiences convulsing for the right reasons and will leave them still with sobering family insights for the right reasons as well.
And if there are any hyenas present, feel free to stifle or remove them from the room with whatever force is necessary.
Jon Bennett: My Dad’s Deaths, Time Out Magazine
The start of the show, as words project onto the wall, says it all: “This is not a standup show.” It’s not; it’s a story about Jon Bennett’s life, with the central arc being his relationship with his father, and growing up on a farm in SA. Sounds boring? It’s anything but.
Lively and enigmatic, Bennett is a master storyteller (this is the man who runs not one, but threestorytelling nights around the city, including the monthly Willow Tales). The audience is spellbound, laughing, gasping, allowing their emotions to be played upon. There’s even a hilarious bit of crowd participation that juxtaposes brawny men with Jon’s diminutive frame.
It’s a poignant show, as Bennett relates various ways his father has come near death (#1: Death on the Roof, kicks off the show), and ways he feels he’s disappointed him (Disappointment #19: not being like Banjo Patterson).
Not every gimmick is as strong – the Facebook status updates could have been trimmed down, and the video of his earlier standup went on slightly too long. Similarly, the room itself is not made for a show that has so much interaction with images, and even video clips, projected onto a side wall; some of the audience had to crane their necks to see.
But all in all, this is one gut-wrenchingly good show. From his poetry readings to his family photos, the mélange of happy and sad emotions the crowd experiences leaves everyone feeling massively content. This is one extremely fun hour of your life, and you’d be foolish not to see it before Bennett takes it on tour around the world.
If My Dad’s Deaths is anything to go by, Jon Bennett’s father has an uncanny knack for staying alive, and making his loved ones think he’s dead.
Bennett’s latest show is a funny and at times genuinely touching look at his relationship with his conservative, no-nonsense father and the times he had sincerely thought he’d lost him for good. And considering the man has apparently had a heart attack, fallen off a ladder five times and started three bushfires, it’s suffice to say Bennett has plenty of material to go with.
Bennett’s style is more storytelling than traditional stand up, and it’s an art form he’s mastered well. Best known for his tongue-in-cheek, internationally acclaimed show Pretending Things are a Cock, Bennett’s newest offering is a natural step into more mature and thoughtful comedy, and is a great platform to show off what he does best.
The show takes the audience through Bennett’s childhood growing up on a pig farm in rural South Australia, where his father was a hard man to avoid – he was Bennett’s school teacher, his football coach, his school’s bus driver and the local minister. Apparently also a deeply serious man, Bennett’s dad never swears – unless of course his son has just shot him in the chest, but you’ll have to see the show to hear the rest of that story.
Bennett also intersperses his show with hilarious poetry, brought on by the fact his dad wanted him to be like Banjo Patterson. Don’t expect any rhyming couplets or sweeping metaphors though – Bennett’s poetry style is more about graphic descriptions of birth and quoting status updates from one of the more culturally-challenged of his 1200+ Facebook friends. The result is very funny and makes for a good break between stories of his dad, well, dying.
Bennett is warm, engaging and very likeable. He is a master storyteller, and has the audience hanging on his every word. At times it’s easy to feel like you’re just hanging with a friend who happens to be telling you particularly entertaining stories about his life, such is Bennett’s natural charisma.
My Dad’s Deaths is an unaffectedly honest and entertaining show from a gifted local talent and one of the best storytellers you’re ever likely to see.
Review: Jon Bennett in My Dad’s Death‘s – Andrew Fenton, Herald Sun, April 05, 2012
IF YOU can find LOOP, in an alleyway and far too cool to bother having a sign, you’ll be ushered into a back room where a Banjo Patterson quote fills a video screen.
Ominously, this is followed by a disclaimer that the show isn’t really stand-up comedy and could get emotional. It turns out both are true, but the show is still very funny.
It’s a heartfelt exploration of the relationship between a slightly wayward son and his father, a stern, upright citizen without a sense of humour.
Bennett’s dad doesn’t swear either, instead exclaiming things like “Curses” and “I AM ANGRY”, except on the rare occasion when he is near-fatally shot by his supposedly vegetarian son.
Anecdotes about his father’s near brushes with death are interspersed with very funny poetry, read a la John Laws, and there are random readings from idiotic Facebook updates that make you despair for an entire generation.
Interestingly, Bennett screens video footage his father shot of him performing more traditional stand-up as a young man, and he comes across as surprisingly confident and professional.
However, he’s abandoned that style of comedy for a more personable and confessional storytelling approach which works very well.
Considering his last show featured Bennett travelling the word taking photos of himself pretending inanimate objects were his penis, this latest show would appear to be a great leap forward.
Despite a few technical glitches, overall it’s a very strong show.
Fringe Review: Pretending Things Are A Cock (4 Stars)
By Todd Babiak, edmontonjournal.com
August 17, 2011
In the entertainment business, they call it a “brand extension.” Take an idea and make it a book, a film, an interactive website, an art exhibition and, finally, a Fringe show.
The idea at the heart of Pretending Things are a Cock is, not surprisingly, pretending things are a cock: Jon Bennett has spent over four years travelling the world and posing with things: flagpoles, rainbows, the Statue of Liberty, cows, clouds, photographs, the Stanley Cup, objets d’art. He puts them where his penis ought to be and makes a scrunchy face. Sort of a “Damn, baby!” face.
This doesn’t sound like a one-man show. But at the end of this hilarious and thoughtful hour, no one seems to want to leave the room. There is something primal and human and beautiful, and really stupid, about his quest to make things into a cock that we all recognize in our hearts.
The fundamental question Bennett answers, or at least explores, is why? Why would anyone do this? Bennett takes us through his childhood in rural Australia and through more recent adventures that illuminate his heroic path. He is, luckily, an amiable and funny man with lovely timing and an air of self-deprecation. Despite what our parents told us, pretending is good.
Pretending Things Are A Cock
Michael Hingston, vueweekly.com
OK, hear me out. Jon Bennett has spent the last several years pretending various things are cocks, and he’s got the photos to prove it. Wild animals, historical monuments, the entirety of Machu Picchu—he’s got them all, and in all of the photographic evidence he’s making the exact same cool guy explodey-orgasm face. (Bennett has also made an entire book of these, apparently.) But the true brilliance of this slideshow presentation is how he takes a fairly one-note joke and weaves in a whole bunch of honest character study, courtesy of assorted family history and behind-the-cocks anecdotes. Put it this way: you’ll never play NBA Jam the same again.
Pretending Things Are A Cock – It’s not like you haven’t thought about doing it
By Marco Ruiz
“Let’s get cocking,” is the call a stranger trumpets from the doorway. What would normally draw stares of bewilderment or disgust anywhere else is instead met with rapture by those closest and subsequently a procession of bodies up the wooden staircase in anticipation of the show. However, the performance actually begins before you take your seat.
As you begin your ascension up the staircase at Tuxedo Cat, where Jon Bennett’s show takes place between Thursday 31st March and Sunday 10th April, before moving around the corner to Bertha Brown for the following Thursday, you encounter the first of what appear to be many- and I mean many- photos of Jon posing with the same scrunched-up face and hips-thrust-forward pose. And as you should be able to guess by the title of his show, Jon is pretending that anything and everything is his cock.
And we’re talking anything: tanks, flagpoles, monuments, animals (none of which I imagine were hurt or traumatised by this…), tourist destinations, statues and even family photos. What’s surprising is that by the time you reach the top of the stairs you are not just giggling like a schoolboy, you’re laughing hysterically and pointing out the next photo and its title to your friends (note: a few beers will help with this).
What you’ve missed among all the cocks – which is made known to you once you take your seat – is the answer to one of the simplest questions: why?
What on the surface appears to be a man fulfilling a childhood dream by lying before the Statue of Liberty so that it appears to be his erect penis is so much more. There are no secrets here.
In the space of fifty minutes you meet Jon’s family, learn how religion influenced his upbringing (his father was a minister), and hear his most embarrassing moments. By the end you come to know all the details of his ‘idiosyncratic world.’
This is done through a slideshow of various ‘cock’ poses that just so happens to be an incredibly entertaining way of recounting how he became fascinated with cocks. And no, it’s not just because he is a guy.
I could go into detail, but that would be unfair to both him and you. You see, the show is about more than Jon telling funny stories on stage. It is the beginning of a friendship in which you are his confidant. It is why after the show he invites you to have a beer with him, and why I feel comfortable calling him by his first name.
There are times when you begin to wonder if what he is saying is actually true. This is because Jon uses tired jokes for a quick, cheap laugh between stories. For example, ‘The Boomerang Cock’ represents his father because it doesn’t return, (I thought boomerangs did return? Well, sometimes), a story he later tells us is not true. Nevertheless, the guts it takes for him to tell some of his stories quickly ropes you back in. As does the sense that what he’s saying is so utterly outrageous nobody would ever think to invent it. All else is then forgotten.
What we should do now is thank Jon’s brother Tim. Go and see the show and you’ll understand why, and more than agree.
RHUM Loves Pretending Things Are a Cock: Still Cocking After All This Year @ MICF 2011
Written by Anthony McCormack
If you’re a newcomer to Jon Bennett and his Pretend Cock show, you may feel like you’re coming in late or you’ve missed the beginning. The reason is simple – this show is actually Part Two. Part One, which you’ll pick up on very quickly, is the Pretending Things Are a Cock phenomenon itself.
It grew out of a Facebook group where Jon regularly posted pictures of himself using all sorts of everyday items as pretend cocks. When you first walk into the venue you’ll see Jon’s pretend cock pictures adorning the walls, celebrated like works of art. In all of them Jon is pulling what he refers to as his ‘cock face’, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Then the man himself comes on stage and does something remarkable. He spends the next hour convincing you he’s not the kind of person who would take photos of himself pretending things are a cock. This is despite the gallery you’ve just walked through, the coffee table book on offer, and the original Facebook group where this all came from in the first place. Ever get the feeling you’re being played with by a prankster with Andy Kaufman sensibilities?
Ladies and gentlemen, this is not your average run-of-the-mill comedy show.
The emphasis here is on storytelling. Jon Bennett is a storyteller and his ‘cocks’ are the springboards for his stories. He openly sifts through the formative regions of his life searching for reasons why any man, let alone himself, would feel the need to play with pretend cocks. The stories he tells are sincere and at times embarrassingly honest. You may be expecting him to go for easy, cheap laughs, but the pleasant surprise of this show is that even in the most scatological of setups, the laughs come from really emotional places.
It needs to be seen to be believed how much maturity and warmth a comic can pull out of a slideshow where he’s constantly pulling cock-faces.
2010 Vancouver Fringe Festival
Brave is Funny
Jon Bennett is an Australian comedian with a serious talent for storytelling. His show outlines the reasons for which he has become obsessed with photographing himself at certain angles which make landmarks, everyday objects and even people appear as though they are his erect phallus.
Three things I liked:
1. The cock travel itinerary! His favourite ‘cock’, as Mr. Bennett explains it, is Machu Picchu Cock, but his open-toed footwear has taken him around the world and you really feel there is no place his cock hasn’t been. I would love to sit in a pub with this guy, drink pitchers of beer and listen to him tell travel stories.
2. The tragi-comedy! Anyone who can make an audience howl with laughter and then switch to a dark, sad moment without losing the essence of humour and humility is truly talented. Bennett has such insight into the human spirit and he uses his tool very, very wisely.
3. His balls. I know nothing about the size of Bennett’s physical genitalia, but figuratively, he’s got balls the size of his favourite mountain cock. The personal stories about his highly-religious parents and his penis-obsessed brother made us all laugh because we could hardly imagine admitting to half the shit he shares. I couldn’t get enough of his actual childhood journal, titled ‘Jon’s Comedy’, from which he read proudly about masturbation and well, mostly just masturbation. When I stepped outside the theatre, I was stopped by some Fringe representatives who asked for my photo, my name and my one word review. I stammered, trying to think of some witty cock connotation, but all I could say was, “Brave. It was very…brave.”
PRETENDING THINGS ARE A COCK
Talk about a Fringe wank! Australian Jon Bennett is obsessed with pretending that things are his cock—everything from common household items to world-famous landmarks—and he’s turned his extensive photographic record of his phallic exploits into one of the most immature and ridiculous Fringe shows I’ve ever seen. I liked it. At 60 minutes, this scatological slide show wears a tadger thin—it would be better at a tighter and snappier 45 minutes—but this doesn’t change the indisputable fact that if your inner schoolboy needs a giggle, Jon Bennett is your messiah.
Pretending Things are a Cock
Performance Dates 9, 12, 14, 15, 18, & 19 (6 shows) September at Revue Stage
Performer Jon Bennett
You may be wondering what would possess a young man to create a slideshow featuring photos of himself posing with phallic looking monuments and objects taken on trips around the globe, ranging from a giant cactus to the Hollywood sign. Apparently the answer is “If you grew up in a small town where your father was also your minister and your school teacher, you’d want to rebel a bit too.” Some photos were quite clever and well done, while others were the juvenile sort you would expect to find in most young men’s college photo albums. Juvenile or not, the audience loved it. There was even a cheer of Canadian pride when Bennett revealed a photo of his “CN Tower cock.” Bennett’s commentary is what makes the show special, more so than the photos themselves. He uses the photos as a tool of describing how he came to take the photo, his relationships with his friends and family, and the odd situations in which he found himself in the days surrounding the photos. He has developed quite the fan following over the years (his Facebook site has over 10,000 fans, not to mention his sold out shows around the world) while doing his best to keep the photos a secret from his mother. This show will not appeal to everyone, but is worth seeing if only to find out the story behind Jon’s missing thong (the sandal, not the underwear!).
© 2010 Cassie Silva
Rainbow Cock by Jon Bennett
2010 Montreal Fringe Festival
Pretending Things Are a Cock
Aussie funnyman Jon Bennett has a deeply rooted fascination with dicks. Yet it’s not actual male genitalia that gets him going. Three years ago, Bennett realized he much preferred taking pictures at angles where objects, landmarks and even people seem to sprout out of his trousers like erect schlongs. Using a slideshow of his greatest shots—prickly cactus cock, Olympic Stadium cock and asthma-inhaler cock among the standouts—he narrates his penile journey from infancy to adulthood. Thankfully, the schtick doesn’t wear thin—Bennett is a natural storyteller and will have you completely engrossed by the end of his tale about a lost flip-flop in Machu Picchu. (Mission Santa-Cruz, 60 Rachel W)
PRETENDING THINGS ARE A COCK WITH JON BENNETT
2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival
This could possibly be the most ambitious project of the festival. For the better part of the last couple of years, Jon Bennett has travelled the world, posing for photographs that utilised all manner of phallic objects. This has resulted in a website, a facebook page where fans submit their own ‘cocks’, an exhibition, a coffee table book (available for sale from Jon) and this art/standup hybrid. It has become a worldwide phenomenon!
The first ten or fifteen minutes was time for the punters to enter the gallery and peruse the art at their leisure. The works were exactly as you would expect; Jon with all manner of objects projecting from his groinal region and an intense expression on his face. Each photo was accompanied by a title describing the object being used, my personal favorite being ‘Paper, Scissors, Cock’. It was all rather puerile and silly but a cellist playing in the background gave the event a tongue in cheek classy tone. After being handed an instructional pamphlet we were encouraged to make use of the various objects provided to create our own ‘cocks’.
Jon conducted a gallery tour of sorts by pointing out various photos and giving us some background to their creation, reciting some hilarious travel tales. Despite not being prepared enough to point out where exactly they were located in the room, this presentation was delightful and enthralling.
Moving into the theatre area of the venue, the performance became a type of storytelling show with Jon seated in a small armchair on the stage. He used individual photos from the collection as a launching point for various tales. He didn’t go into technical details about the photos but more their importance to his life and experiences. In this instance, he told us a fair bit about his family and upbringing; pondering how he became obsessed with penises. There were also tales involving a couple of people he met and befriended on his travels. These tended to veer into drug stories but were very well told so as to appeal to all. Jon promised he would have different tales each time so multiple visits may be worthwhile.
On the surface this show appeared to be merely reliant on the most base of concepts, but Jon had successfully used this silly obsession as a basis for some much deeper comedy. His brilliant tales of relationships and male sexuality revealed plenty of warmth and insight into Jon as a person. This was a unique event that is worth checking out.
Colin Flaherty – The Groggy Squirrel
STORYTELLING WITH JON BENNETT
2010 Adelaide Fringe Festival
Michael Coghlan – Rip It Up Magazine
More a sit-down than a stand-up comic, Jon Bennett declares that he has no jokes and that he will indeed just tell stories – true stories. Like that wonderful SBS program, Front Up, this show is testament to the fact that all our lives are full of stories that are worth telling, and that can make us laugh and cry. The knack is in the choosing of the detail to share and the timing and weight of events, and Jon Bennett has this knack in spades. A refreshing change to see someone not needing to perform or create an act, but rather just rely on their authentic experience of life to entertain others. Delightful stuff.
Final Word: Relaxed.
Russell Emmerson – The Advertiser
IT’S not so much a show title as a description. The disarmingly relaxed Jon Bennett spends 45 minutes telling people stories from his life.
This night it was family tales: one penis-fixated brother, one drug-addled brother, a decaying pet cow and the shooting of a karate friend. (Not all in one story, but instructive nonetheless).
Bennett’s intro has been tested on circuit before, but it’s a smooth affable patter that is easy to settle into. So when he sits down in his armchair to talk about his family (or whatever it will be when you visit there are three versions), it’s okay to settle back and enjoy the chat. You won’t suffer stitches from laughing, but you will be so comfortable laughing, you probably won’t notice.
Sugar, until March 14
* * * 1/2
The Peak – Vancouver
Vol. 136, Issue 1
September 07, 2010
Fringe Festival: Don’t get cocky
By Kelly Thoreson
What started as an ironic gag of dicking around between roommates has transformed into an internet phenomenon, a book, and now a stage performance. However, despite the obvious title, Pretending Things Are A Cock’s Jon Bennett hopes that the show will be more than a bunch of crude jokes. “It’s actually stories, and I would like to think that it goes a bit deeper than just dick jokes.” Pausing, he adds, “Although there will be some dick jokes — dick-based jokes.”
The Fringe Festival’s presentation of Pretending Things Are a Cock displays the photos of Jon Bennett — self-proclaimed “comedic artist” — all around the world modelling with anything from the Statue of Liberty, to Machu Picchu, to Jesus, and pretending that they are . . . well, cocks. (Surprisingly, even Bennett gets sheepish when saying the word.) The show is about more than just the photos, however — it’s also about the stories behind them. For instance, the Japanese family who inadvertently took their own phallic photos next to the Statue of Liberty, the ordeal that Bennett went through freeloading off of a tour group in Peru, the Jesus theme park he discovered, or how his “cock” was blocked in Argentina after being nearly arrested. Another aspect of the show is also explaining what happened to Bennett as a child that would cause him to choose this career path: “I’ve got three older brothers, and a dad. So I say that I have been surrounded by cocks my whole life. My brother was obsessed with his. So it’s all about this crazy brother of mine who put his cock in my ear when I was a little kid, and things like that.”
The cock craze unzipped when Bennett’s roommate created a web site to share and commemorate the various cock photos they had taken around the house, also known as Series One. That then grew into a Facebook fan page (which boasts nearly 11,000 fans, a number to be cocky about) where friends and followers could also post their own cock photos -— which Bennett truly enjoys. But if you plan on contributing, he warns that, “you’ve got to do the face — and you’ve got to name [the photo]. That’s the way it works. We’re cock purists, you know.”
Those that are truly cock-eyed are honoured with the title Cock of the Week, or even Cock of the Year. And it’s not just guys submitting these photos – girls do as well, along with a girl who enjoyed it so much that she is creating a photo series of the female equivalent to Pretending Things Are A Cock. Bennett even admits that he was shocked to hear that his deeply religious mother has made a “cock” of her own with a fish she had caught.
The phenomenon has snowballed into something much larger than Bennett could have ever expected. In his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, he would even be stopped and recognized as “the cock guy”. Because he has been growing old of this kind of attention, he has devised a plan to end his growing collection of “cocks”. Bennett says that it has been suggested that only way he could finish it would be to use his own member as a “cock”— which Bennett argued against for a number of reasons. “Now I’ve decided,” he explains, “that the only way to end it is to make enough money from the book and the shows to make $250,000, and then go on the Virgin flight to the moon and make an Earth cock. That’s the only way to finish it.”
If you are interested in helping Bennett achieve his Earth cock goal, Pretending Things Are A Cock will be playing at the Fringe Festival from September 9 to 19.
A Likely Story
By Mel Campbell on March 24th, 2010 at 1:19 pm
This woman rushed to see her doctor, looking very much worried and all strung out. A man and a friend are playing golf one day at their local golf course. A woman gets on a bus with her baby. Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses.
These intriguing, action-packed sentences are all great ways to start a story. They’re also the opening lines of jokes. In 2001, the University of Hertfordshire conducted a research project called LaughLab to determine the funniest joke in the world, and the sentences you just read were, in order: the funniest joke to Australians; to Americans; to Britons; and the overall funniest joke.
Storytelling is clearly a keystone of even the most punchline-laden stand-up set. And, as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) kicks off today, many of its shows aren’t just strings of pearlers but foreground the imaginative practice of storytelling. Whether they’re drawing on personal experiences, creating characters with back stories or even sketching completely imaginary worlds, comedians are also expert spinners of tales. At last year’s festival – but, sadly, not this one – the London comedy room Storytellers Club set up shop at Trades Hall, where a mixed bunch of comedians from around the world flexed their narrative muscles.
But even when it’s not festival time, performance storytelling flourishes in Melbourne. An Evening With David Sedaris sold out in January as audiences flocked to hear the American anecdotist. The same month, master storyteller Daniel Kitson played the Arts Centre with 66A Church Road, an elegy to the house he rented for six years. The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas opened in February with a gala night of storytelling and, inspired by popular storytelling events overseas, Melburnians are discovering the pleasure of a good old-fashioned yarn.
Chris Flynn publishes the literary journal Torpedo and, with his next-door neighbour, writer Josephine Rowe, recently began curating the St Kilda Storytelling night at the Dog’s Bar. “We’d both been fans of The Moth in New York and seemed to know a lot of people who were comfortable on stage yet weren’t necessarily comedians or spoken word artists,” Flynn tells The Enthusiast. “Every kid in the world loves storytime, and I suspect every adult does too,” says Flynn. “We just forget that, even though we tell each other stories every day.”
Each St Kilda Storytelling night features two Melbourne writers and commentators – an established and an emerging voice – plus two open mic spots for audience members. “Eventually we’d like to have people from all walks of life,” Flynn says – “musicians, comedians, bricklayers…”
At last week’s opener, Ronnie Scott revealed his obsession with Alanis Morissette, then Michaela McGuire shared the anal sex and Liberal party references that hadn’t made it into her recent book, Apply Within. The atmosphere was “very interactive and funny,” Flynn says. “We had two great readings from the open mic people too, so it was a lot of fun.”
Tomorrow’s event stars Lisa Dempster and Kalinda Ashton. Dempster was introduced to the art of storytelling while publicising her book Neon Pilgrim, and it took a few goes for her to get into the swing of it. “The first time I did it was at Ashfield Library in Sydney, and one of the oldies in the audience fell asleep!” she laughs. “Which wasn’t great for my ego.”
Dempster believes that everyone has their own way of telling a killer story. “What really works for me is using the a traditional hero narrative, telling a story about a journey and beating the odds. But for someone else it might be sharing something really intimate, and being able to get a crowd hanging off every word by having a very quiet delivery.”
Jon Bennett has come a long way from his deeply religious upbringing in rural South Australia to his show in this year’s MICF, Pretending Things Are A Cock. Part storytelling event, part art exhibition, it takes audiences around the world in Bennett’s quest to take strategically phallic photos.
While Bennett has been a writer and comedian for a decade, he’s one of Melbourne storytelling’s most passionate advocates. While in New York in 2009 he performed to a sold-out room at The Moth, and with Dan Lee he hosted a night called Northcote Storytellers – now continuing as Willow Tales under the stewardship of Simon Godfrey and Dan Alleman.
“Our rationale was the idea that everyone has stories to tell but they don’t always have the opportunity to share them with an audience,” Bennett tells The Enthusiast. Like St Kilda Storytelling, Northcote Storytellers aimed to attract non-professional narrators and to include audience members. On themed nights such as Love, Sex, Drugs or Travel, people could send stories to Bennett for him to read out on the night, “as they were often too shy.”
Often, the best storytellers were “characters” of Bennett’s and Lee’s acquaintance. “My most memorable was a lady I knew named Pinky, the daughter of a wealthy chocolate factory owner,” Bennett recalls. “She grew up in the ’60s in San Francisco, going to all of the major festivals. She spent her teen years pretending to be a hippie in an attempt to fit in and see all of the music she loved. She also lived across from a studio where Jefferson Airplane would rehearse.”
Kirsten Law, who’ll be appearing in Bennett’s MICF show as well as her own show Prolifia, has performed at Willow Tales and runs her own work-in-progress performance night, Self-Cultivation. She’s inspired by New York’s proliferation of storytelling nights – “the most compelling of which I saw whilst there being Kevin Allison’s Risk Show” – and the podcasts that make them available to an international audience.
“In New York, though, the lines between storytelling and comedy are a bit more blurred, as are the lines between stand-up and improv, cabaret and storytelling and comedy and burlesque,” Law explains. “It’s a bit more synergistic – that would be nice to see here.”
With an unsettling sound design by Rob Mayson, formerly of Grey Daturas, and video art by Catherine Dwyer, Prolifia is one of the more conceptual offerings in this year’s MICF. “I enjoy comedy that might challenge established formats,” Law says. The show unites a collection of characters who seem a bit like losers, “so I decided to base the show on this idea – questioning the purpose of futile activities, but also celebrating the fact that something that is seemingly futile can have a larger purpose and function in people’s lives.”
But it’s still very funny. “Even in ‘heavier’ themed tales, the audience needs some lightness to balance the dark. Yin and yang!” Law says, pointing to the humorous undercurrent of TV shows such as Six Feet Under. “Sometimes you hear really tragic and beautiful stories of survival or resilience – especially on The Moth and This American Life – but my personal preference is for stories with at least a smattering of humour.”
Part of storytelling’s appeal is its sense of intimacy and spontaneity. “There’s more of a convivial atmosphere, like you’re being let in on a secret,” offers Flynn. “My girlfriend doesn’t like spoken word nights at all, but she loves the storytelling. So I guess it’s about the relaxed delivery and not trying to impress the audience with your ‘performance skills’.”
Dempster rates herself “a much better conversationalist than a storyteller,” and says her stories are rarely spontaneous. “I’ve never sat down in front of an audience unprepared and just started talking – I have the story ready and I know how I’ll tell it.” But Bennett thrives on speaking off-the-cuff.
“Most storytelling is done without notes; to me it feels like a once-only show,” he says. “I have told the same stories to different audiences, and each time the experience and the energy changes… I remember something different and sometimes I add something new.” He adds that storytelling forges connections between audience and narrator, “and a sense of comfort that helps break down the barrier between them.”
Storytelling also favours the personal anecdote – after all, what better narrator than the protagonist? Dempster prefers fictional storytelling, because “spinning a yarn is a great skill and when it’s done well it’s wonderful. I think it’s much harder than simply talking about yourself!” However, this year’s MICF program reveals that confessional comedy is more popular than ever.
Law’s storytelling is all done in character. She portrays a university lecturer who’s unhealthily obsessed with early-’90s ‘positive rap’, a home-schooled herb enthusiast in love with her brother, and former D-grade celebrity Ailsa, telling her life story to an unsuspecting charity door-knocker. “The character was inspired by Bette Davis’s character in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” Law reveals.
Then there’s bourgeois mum Marie, her possibly autistic son and her cruel teenage daughter. Marie “is a familiar type to anyone who’s ever worked in a cafe – she must have her caffe latte very weak and very hot,” says Law. “She’s a certain type of outwardly ‘polite’ person who has difficulties concealing her inner rage.”
Lisa-Skye Ioannidis, who told hilarious stories about her Greek grandmother in last year’s Goth V Nerd: Disenchantment Lane, reunites with comedic partner Nick Rasche this MICF for Supermanchild, another show drawing heavily on personal anecdote. Ioannidis credits blogging, the popularity of confessional essayists Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, and “the rise of bloody raunch culture” for making confessional performances less controversial.
“There have always been showponies and exhibitionists, but it’s all about the degree,” she says. “In the ’70s and ’80s, you’d have comedians like Richard Pryor talking about their families, their sex life, and the honesty was shocking to the audience. Hilarious, but confronting.”
In Supermanchild, she delves further into the antics of her often outrageous family. “Everything I say is true. Not a word of exaggeration or lie,” Ioannidis insists. “And it wasn’t until I performed it that I realised, ‘Wow, this… truly isn’t a normal upbringing, is it?’ Which is just so odd, since I think my childhood was completely conventional. It’s a brick house with fluoro pink nougat mortar: normal, but weird in the gaps.”
Her parents and family friends regularly attend Ioannidis’s shows and have a whale of a time. “They think, ‘Ho, ho, that’s so true. We’re awesome. Now, where’s my drink?’” But, she hastens to add, that’s because she turned out okay in the end. “If I reframed my whole act into a tragic tell-all of how I came to be a junkie doing anal for coins, it might be different.”
For Bennett, storytelling offers comedians a way to create humour and evoke deep emotions without relying on punchlines. “Hearing silence from an audience in a joke means the comedian has failed. Silence in a story means they’re listening,” he explains. “Silence after a story has been told can be just as fulfilling as raucous laughter after a joke.”
Ioannidis agrees. “I think deliberately unfunny stories at a comedy show tend to get a stronger reaction. It’s the shock of the unexpected,” she says. “Also, it’s easy to make someone laugh. It’s harder to make them cry, or reflect.” Ioannidis is full of praise for Daniel Kitson – whom she calls “the world’s greatest working comedian” – and his story shows that “take you through the gamut of emotions. In an hour, he’ll have me laughing, crying, and feeling so intensely that afterwards I’m left in gaping awe of his genius.
“Most of us mere mortals can just get away with telling a story that’s worth a few chuckles, but when you can get to that level of taking your audience on an entirely unexpected and multi-faceted journey, that’s when storytelling is at its best. Also, when there’s some tits in it.”
St Kilda Storytelling is at the Dog’s Bar, 54 Acland Street St Kilda, every Thursday at 8pm.
Supermanchild is at Chloe’s Bar, Young & Jackson’s Hotel, from 25 March – 16 April, Thu-Sat at 6pm.
Pretending Things Are A Cock is at the Grace Darling Hotel, 114 Smith Street Collingwood, from 25 March – 18 April, Thu-Sun at 7pm.
Prolifia is also at the Grace Darling Hotel from 25 March – 18 April, Thu-Sun at 8:30pm.