Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Aussie fringe performer has cock-eyed way of imagining things

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Anyone notice a visitor from Australia circling local landmarks that he photographs to make look like his um, down under?

Jon Bennett, in from Melbourne to perform at the fringe festival, has been touring the city, hoping to add to his collection of over 300 photographs collectively called Pretending Things Are a Cock, which is also the name of his Winnipeg debut monologue/travelogue.

For the last four years he has roamed the world strategically placing himself in front of famous monuments and objects so that they appear to be protruding from his groin area. So his show title is exactly what it says it is.

"We tried the Golden Boy but it was too hard," says Bennett, during a recent interview in a coffee shop in Osborne Village. "We tried one of the polar bears. I really wanted to get one of the women (depicted in the Famous Five Statue). There's lots of trail and error."

He has two new keepers. One was a no-brainer with the Esplanade Riel and the other featured John Hirsch's arm from the statue in front of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

While many might dismiss it all as an exhibition in adolescent foolishness, audiences in Winnipeg have swelled to a near sellout of 230 Sunday evening. That's more people than have ever come to see Pretending anywhere else.

"Every now and then I think this is the stupidest thing," Bennett said. "Other times I look at these beautiful photos I have."

In fact, it all started with the photos, the first of which was taken in 2008 by his housemate in Melbourne of Bennett using his toothbrush as his willie. That was followed by a series of household goods photographed similarly, all of which were posted on Facebook. Before long he had a local following and the snaps became more artful for a fanpage.

"It's supposed to be ironic and stupid," he said. "The more ridiculous the cocks can be, the better cock it is."

The budding standup comedian and storyteller then went on a global walkabout with a friend and his camera. He came home with 300 photos that were displayed in galleries in Adelaide and Melbourne for a show he called Pretending Things Are a Cock. He had a female cello player serenade patrons before adding himself to explain his intentions to the throngs of visitors.

"I enjoy doing it," he said. "It's not a live Puppetry of the Penis. I use it to get the audience in and tell them my stories. They will know me as the cock guy and see my other shows like My Dad's Deaths (which he performed in Montreal last month).

Puppetry of the Penis, which features genital origami, was also created an Aussie whom Bennett knows.

"We always talk and I say mine is the artistic version and his is dick tricks," he said. "They are very different. They are pretending their cocks are things where I'm pretending things are my cock."

Bennett will joke that his show is a kind of rebellion from his religious upbringing, which included being spoken to in tongues and viewing an exorcism. His father, while not enamoured by his son's signature show, understands that it is considered funny, although he doesn't find it amusing. His mother, in some kind of solidarity with his son, shocked Bennett by taking a couple of her own photos, including one with a fish she caught. Neither think he has sullied the family name. That might have already happened with his older brother Tim, who is in jail.

"I can do whatever I want; I'm never going to be as bad as Tim," said Bennett, who is headed for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next month "He blew up his house that was a (crystal) meth lab. I could get away with whatever I wanted to do. It's almost like I'm the successful one."

There are four performances of Pretending left, including tonight at 11 p.m. in Venue 10.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2012 C5

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