Interview: Jon Bennett Gets A Green Card

Jon Bennett. Playing With Men. Fringe Festival. 2016. Photo Rachel Levine Jon Bennett. Playing With Men. Fringe Festival. 2016. Photo Rachel Levine

When Jon Bennett returned home to rural Australia during COVID after two weeks stuck in a COVID lockdown hotel, the first thing his father said to him was, “My penis hurts.”

“He had a UTI,” says Bennett, “But that’s what he said to me.”

Just weeks prior, Bennett had been touring the globe with his seven award winning storytelling shows. He’d appeared on the Moth main stage over 12 times, won multiple awards at Fringe Festivals (including the Just for Laughs Award in Montreal), and had spent 14 years appearing in over 135 different festivals. But as borders closed, he found himself back on his family’s pig farm “in the middle of nowhere, Australia,” wondering if a world held hostage to a global pandemic with a deadly new disease still had a place for artists like himself.

“My family wanted me to get a forklift license,” he says. “Because it was something I could still do.”

Bennett’s experience of how he had to cancel his tour, return home at his most depressed, and claw his way back to being a performer again is the subject of his newest show, Ameri-can’t. In it, Bennett recounts how he had to do things that he never would have thought possible, such as moving to America.

“It’s also a love story,” he adds. “And it’s my most personal show. It’s about reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in 14 years and being forced back to childhood. I was back in Australia talking to my dad who is weird as hell.”

Bennett recounts how he faced an identity crisis during COVID. He says how being an artist was considered “the number one un-essential job. I was being told everything you do is not worth it and not valuable anymore. The three things I do, touring, live performance, and traveling were gone. I was sent back in time to be with my family. I’d spent maybe a day or two with them every year for the last 14 years, and now had to be with them 24-7.”

He says he was happy to hang out with his nieces, nephews, and family, but in all the years he’d been away, “their lives hardly changed. They’re in the middle of nowhere in the Outback. None of them were worried or vaccinated. Everything for them was the same, but it was a massive change for me.”

“They were really happy to have me there,” Bennett says. “They were happy because I was there, while I was at my most depressed time.”

Bennett notes how many artists during COVID’s most restrictive period and even now shared in “a collective trauma.” Not only were their professional lives halted and they were told they were non-essential workers, but there was the irony in that while under lockdown, art was the very thing people were consuming en masse whether by watching Netflix or YouTube.

“Being creative, performing,” Bennett says, “It’s not a job, it’s your identity. They’re rejecting your identity. It was a strange thing to be around.”

But Bennett was “stubborn,” and he found ways to continue to perform. He went to the few festivals he could in Australia, sometimes racing against the clock to get out of town before a region went into imminent lockdown following the appearance of a COVID case. “The lockdowns were intense in Australia. I was performing at the Perth Fringe. I flew to Darwin and spent two weeks in Darwin which is hot as hell, and just crazy Outback, but I had to go there first because Perth only allowed people from Darwin. When I got to Perth, I did a run of one of my shows and it was like being on another planet where COVID never happened. It hadn’t hit Perth yet. Then they got one case and I had two days to get out before they shut down the entire state. I got on plane quick and flew back to south Australia. That happened a few times to me.”

Bennett eventually was able to line up work in America, and for the rest of the story and how he became a resident, you’ll have to check out his show Ameri-can’t.

Now that he is a resident of the US, Bennett has some sanguine observations on how America contrasts with Australia.

“The main thing I found out by living in America is that it’s not defined by all of the shit the media says. Even the hardcore right wingers, when they find out I’m from Australia, they’re quite nice. The people are nice and positive and their patriotism is screwed up, but they truly believe it. Their sense of belief in their country and themselves is fascinating. They believe they’re in the best country. Australians don’t think they’re the best. When our football team plays Ireland in a game, most Australians will go for the Irish team because they’re plumbers who play on the weekend. We like to root for the underdog.”

“America is too big to know how to govern itself. They can’t even change their gun laws or daylight savings. Governments everywhere, they can’t change anything bigger than that either though.”

He recounts how when staying with his family, he wanted to show how difficult it was to get people to agree on things and chose daylight savings time as an example. “Everyone hates daylight savings time, so I just changed it. I said it no longer exists, but my dad went nuts,” he laughs. “Everyone wanted to change it, but my dad said, ‘I like it. You’re not changing it.'” He laughs again, “It proves my point. There’s always one person like my dad.”

Welcome back to Canada, Jon Bennett.

Ameri-can’t is at the Montreal Fringe Festival with shows on June 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16 at Cafe Campus (57 Prince Arthur). To learn more about Jon Bennett’s shows, click HERE. To get tickets to Ameri-can’t at the Montreal Fringe, click HERE. For more information about the Montreal Fringe festival, click HERE.

About Rachel Levine

Rachel Levine is the big cheese around here. Contact: Website | More Posts