FRINGE 2016: Jon Bennett - AUSSIE RULES (Playing With Men)

2hoot Production’s Jon Bennett is no stranger to the international Fringe festival circuit. The five-time Just For Laughs award nominee is a consistent crowd favourite for works that include "Fire in the meth lab" and "Pretending things are a cock." Shows as such are seemingly tailored for the “anything goes” of alternative theatre.

Last year’s critics’ pick, "It’s Rabbit Night!!!", polarised audiences in a Lynchian performance where the rabbit suit adorned comedian ecstatically proclaimed the shows’ title whilst throwing carrots into the crowd. Jon Bennett: AUSSIE RULES (Playing With Men) -- aka AUSSIE RULES, just like last years’ performance, is a show that cannot exist in a vacuum, but is profoundly reliant on audience engagement.

This time around, Bennett’s comical antagonisation of an audience being pelted with carrots for “failing the rabbit meetup”, is replaced with a comical “pre-game” pep talk to “push through” the performance with him, in an open invitation to figure out together what AUSSIE RULES is actually all about.

Playing at this year's Montreal Fringe, this presentation is a comedy show composed of a stream of conscious anecdotes from his childhood onwards, where the profane and the profound weave endlessly. In his recollections, toilet humour and self-deprecating hilarity seamlessly segues into staggeringly sincere moments of introspection on childhood, memory, aspiration, and loss.

The comedy show is framed within an ongoing metaphor of Australia’s notoriously violent national sport, Australian Rules Football. Jon is our coach, we are his players. Don’t know what the shit Aussie rules is, let alone how to play? No worries, before you even manage to find your seat stumbling in the pitch black of Petit Campus, an instructional video opens the show, matter of factly explaining to you that “Yes, you may use one another as springboards, and hit one another indiscriminate of who has the ball”. “I guess this is a story about sport” he tells us.

The First Half begins. A loose narrative unwinds about Bennett’s time (playing with men) as a professional athlete and touring performer candidly revealing formative moments of his youth, evoking laughter with his clumsy power points, and home videos.

The gifted story teller engaged the crowd so skillfully, within moments of the show starting you had the impression that you had known Jon since childhood. I couldn’t shake the disarming feeling of intimacy for the entire duration of the show, particularly the Second Half, where tragedy strikes, crystallising the seemingly unrelated stories told up until that point.

Whether Jon was aware of it or not, as AUSSIE RULES reaches the final whistle, the show inadvertently ends on a highly philosophical tone. Is there a take away message to be taken from Jon’s performance? Our coach himself isn’t too sure, this is left entirely us (his players). In the short hour running time, Bennett prompts us to on our own aspirations through his relatable hilarious stores.  His comedy show not only demonstrating that humour is found in the everyday, but shows insight into how we conceive of past, future and present.

In the numbing wake of the Orlando tragedy, perhaps this is all that is needed. An opportunity to take stock of our lives, of our experiences, our memories, loved ones and partake in a joyous celebration of the present moment in a room full of strangers at a fringe show.

Jon Bennett’s AUSSIE RULES has a lasting effect on spectators. A show that decisively and unashamedly recognises that it’s not about the destination, whether in life, in a football match or in the performance itself, but the journey and always the present moment.

Jon Bennett: AUSSIE RULES (Playing With Men) is brought to you by 2HOOTS Productions, and continues to play at the Petit Campus, located at 57 Prince-Arthur E., at the following times:

- Saturday, June 18 from 20:30


Danilo Bulatovic is part of CJLO’s Official Fringe Team covering the sights and sounds from the 2016 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. He also hosts Computer Sourire every Tuesday afternoon from 4pm – 5pm, only on 1690AM in Montreal and online at Follow his Mixcloud for more of his amazing curations.