Jon Bennett – My Dad’s Deaths
Jon Bennett @ The Tuxedo Cat – Blue Room
8:30pm, Tue 19 Feb 2013
Way back in 2010 – on the 11th of March, to be exact – I did a bit of a softcore ArtWalk… I mean, it only took in a lazy seven exhibits, but it was the tail end of the Fringe (and the day when some of the Visual Arts judges were venue-hopping in an attempt to do their judging). Anyhoo, I wound up in Urban Cow to check out an photography exhibit called Pretending Things Are A Cock, which apparently already had a bit of Internet notoriety… most of which was lost on me, I have to admit, but I had to give the exhibitor – Jon Bennett – props for providing a perfectly descriptive title for his collection of photos.
So when I saw a Pretending Things Are A Cock comedy show in The Garden this year, I was pretty dismissive – just how much could a man milk that one (admittedly amusing, in a puerile way) idea? But when I saw the précis for Jon Bennett’s other show, I contemplated the emotional turmoil of my own fathers’ current health jaunts – and promptly bought a ticket.
Bennett leaps into his set, quickly painting a vivid picture of his Dad’s character (in particular, the fabulous way in which he plainly announces his feelings: “I’m angry,” Bennett flatly intoned in demonstration, and it was hilarious). The relationship between them is also quickly established: the long list of parental disappointments (including video footage of the first time Jon’s father ever saw him perform his comedy), and the sole source of parental pride (buying a house). And then, with the emotional foundations established, Bennett starts listing a subset of the occurrences when his Dad has nearly (or, indeed, technically) died.
And there’s a flood of them. Falling off ladders, fires, fainting on packed trains, choking on soda bubbles… Bennett somehow paints his father as a loveable blunderer with little regard for his own wellbeing, and manages to deliver each tale with equal parts tempered rage, incredulity, love, and humour. In between these recollections of his Dad’s deaths, Jon tries to honour his father’s wish for him to become a writer by indulging in poetry (When I First Had Sex I Tried To Put My Balls In is, almost by necessity, a letdown after the glorious title, but the “Happy Birthday” poem is wall-to-wall gold), throwing in a few non-sequiters (the baby-sized dildo reference was a cracker), and trotted out some home-town Facebook status updates for good measure.
Above all, though, My Dad’s Deaths is a really well crafted set of jokes and stories. Bennett’s sense of storytelling is impeccable: he’s not afraid to use suspense, and the balance of sober- to jokey-material is nigh-on perfect. It’s fair to say that, even if Jon’s Dad doesn’t think much of his son’s work as a comedian, he has every reason to be proud of his efforts as a raconteur.