Melbourne performer Jon Bennett believes in the power of the phallus like no other.
As the star of his show, Pretending Things Are A Cock, it’s taken him around the world from the Amazon to the Edinburgh Fringe – all the while pursuing the simple concept of, well, snapping photos of imaginary penises. “Anything can be a pretend cock,” Bennett says, “as long as you believe.”
Bennett’s success shouldn’t be a surprise – humanity’s obsession with stylised cock is as obvious in the columns of Ancient Rome as it is in any high school graffiti – but the man himself is at a loss to explain. “Every time I get picked up by another festival I have to go into my brain [and think], I’m doing this show called Pretending Things Are A Cock … I can’t believe that something so silly is what I’m known for.”
The gag – find a phallus-shaped object, building or animal; stand astride it, pull a proud face of empowerment and let it protrude from your groin – started out in humble surrounds. “I grew up in a small community in South Australia with lots of rough, bogan-type men, and I was kind of making fun of them.” A popular internet page became a book, then a live show at Urban Cow Studio in Adelaide. “I dressed in a tux and I would take people for tours of the gallery,” says Bennett. “I was trying to point out the artistic merit of some of the cocks.”
Of course, you (probably) can’t write an internationally celebrated comedy show on the basis of one juvenile idea. Bennett considers himself a storyteller, not a comedian; he talks about using the penis as a vehicle for a coming-of-age – and not as literally as you might expect. “I meet all these people from around the world through the cocks,” he deadpans. “[It’s] become this really nice thing that helps me meet and talk to people. [In the show] I talk about my travels throughout the States and South America and Africa – it’s a bit of a family backstory followed by the developmental process of me travelling around the world doing something as stupid as this.”
Bennett – whose father is a Christian minister – is pleased to report that his audiences are rarely embarrassed by the subject matter. “People get very enthused – lots of audiences after the show want to go out and pretend things are a cock, or get me to do it with them … See, this is the whole thing. People don’t know what to expect from this show; some people think it’s going to be this really bawdy, base humour, and then people get shocked when they realise actually it’s quite nice. There’s nothing disgusting about it.”
BY CHRIS MARTIN
Chris Martin deliversPretending Things Are A Cock at The Factory Theatre on April 24.