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Q&A with Jaguar Bennett: Actor/Comedian/Rogue Performer

IN THE February 24 ISSUE

FROM THE 2018 Articles,
andLorie Lewis Ham,
andTheatre
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by Lorie Lewis Ham

We always enjoy the opportunity to get to know members of the arts and entertainment community better, whether it be through local actor/director/artist/musician profiles or q and a’s. It is fun and interesting to get to know each performer as more than just some person on a stage entertaining us.

This week we have one of the more unique ones that we have done, as Jaguar Bennett wears many hats-actor, director, writer, comedian-and he has been involved with the Rogue Festival both as a performer and behind the scenes for many years. Just before this year’s Rogue Festival opens seemed like the perfect time to sit down and chat with Jaguar.

KRL: Are you from Fresno?

Jaguar: I am a Fresnan born and bred. I have lived here all my life and I plan on dying here, too.

KRL: What is your current day job? And other jobs you have had?

Jaguar: I am the marketing director of a book publishing company based in Fresno. I have also worked as an advertising copywriter, a technical writer, and a journalist.

KRL: What schools has you attended?

Jaguar: Clovis West and Fresno State.

KRL: When did you first get involved in acting and why? How and when did you get into doing the one man comedy shows?

Jaguar: I actually started out wanting to write fiction, but in college, I found out Fresno State had a course in stand-up comedy. Humor had always been an important part of my life. Most of my writing had elements of humor, and I had always been the kind of guy who makes a lot of wisecracks in conversation, so of course, I was interested in taking this class. And as a philosophy major, I can tell you that that stand-up comedy class is the only part of my education that has earned me a penny.

I started doing stand-up semi-regularly in the Fresno area while I was still in college. After college, I started to get invited to take roles in plays because directors felt my stand-up comedy skills would work for comic parts.

Around 1995, I started writing and producing sketch comedy shows which got me a lot more involved with theater people in general. From writing and producing sketch comedy, I went to writing and producing plays.

By this point, I was fully embedded in the theater community, so I started acting in all kinds of parts. But I’ve always thought of myself as a writer and a comedian who happens to act — I had been acting for about 15 years before I ever started thinking of myself as an actor. But I have done hardly any acting in the last few years. I last was in a play in 2013 in The New Ensemble’s production of Gross Indecency. Since 2014, my sole artistic focus has been writing and performing one-man comedy shows.

KRL: What was your first part?

Jaguar: I played a Sodomite soldier in a production of Charles M. Busch’s Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

KRL: What are some of the shows you have been in, the companies, and the parts you have played?

Jaguar: For a while, I was probably best known to Fresno audiences for my roles with the Woodward Shakespeare Festival. In 2006, I played Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I’m still proud of the rather original take on the character. Bottom is usually played as just a bumpkin, but it occurred to me that Bottom is really a community theater actor just like me and my friends. So I based my portrayal of Bottom on some of the more arrogant community theater actors I had known, plus liberal applications of William Shatner.

At WSF, I also played Richard III and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, two roles I had always wanted to play. For a while I was always typecast as a villain.

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Left to right: Shannon Brewington, GJ Thelin, Suzanne Gra?yna, Jaguar Bennett, Elizabeth Drione, Patricia Fretwell, and Erica Riggs, “Richard III”, Woodward Shakespeare Festival, 2009

I’ve also done several shows with The New Ensemble, the company founded by my wife, Heather Parish. With TNE, I played Tupolski, the secret policeman in The Pillowman (my all-time favorite part), Pablo Picasso in A Picasso, physicist Werner Heisenberg in Copenhagen, and Claudius in TNE’s production of Hamlet.

Pablo Picasso (Jaguar Bennett) & Miss Fischer (Chelsea Bonilla) in A Picasso

One of my other favorite parts was Don, the language instructor in The Universal Language, part of David Ives’ All in the Timing collection of short plays. Don teaches an imaginary artificial language called Unamunda, “da linkwa het oonidivairsify da voooorld.” In real life, I’m a speaker of and enthusiast for the artificial international auxiliary languages Esperanto and Interlingua, so I got a big kick of that part.

But my greatest pride and joy have been my original shows that I have written for the Rogue Festival: Crime Doesn’t Pay Enough (2002), Pain, Guilt and Humiliation (2005), Sanitized for Your Protection (2006), Bullet Point: A Tragedy Told in the Form of a PowerPoint Presentation (2007), The Agony of Living (2014), How to Be Wicked (2015), Bullshit Is My Native Language (2016), Start Your Own Religious Cult for Fun and Profit (2017), and now my new show, Mansplaining, which will premiere at the 2018 Rogue Festival.

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Jaguar Bennett performing in “Start Your Own Religious Cult for Fun and Profit” at the 2017 Rogue Festival

KRL: Have you also done some directing?

Jaguar: I’ve only directed shows that I have written. I’m at heart a control freak and an egomaniac. I don’t trust other directors to interpret my scripts, and I have no interest interpreting other people’s ideas. This is why I’ve increasingly focused on doing one-man shows; I’m the writer, the director, the producer, the actor — it’s all Jaguar, all the time.

KRL: What is your favorite type of show to be in and/or direct?

Jaguar: To me, the most interesting questions are ethical and political. What defines a just action? What is a legitimate use of power? When is conventional morality simply a cover for power relations? When is it right to violate conventional morality? I’m interested in plays that address these kind of questions. Plays that are merely about personal happiness bore me.

KRL: What is the hardest part about acting?

Jaguar: To be a good actor, you have to think consciously about a lot of things that no one thinks about too much in real life. What does your character want? Why does he want it? What stands in his way? What does he not know, and how does his ignorance hinder him? How do you translate all that into how a character stands, walks, talks? Good acting is about behaving authentically as a different person in an imaginary situation.

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James Walton (l) and Jaguar Bennett in “The Pillowman”, The New Ensemble, 2011

KRL: What do you like best about acting?

Jaguar: The great thing about theater is the immediate effect one has on an audience. It may sound weird, but actors can feel how the audience reacts to what’s on stage. Actors call it “the energy from the audience,” and while it sounds like New Age nonsense, it’s a very real phenomenon.

What I particularly like about my stand-up comedy shows is that it gives me a chance to present ideas to an audience and know that I’m making them think about them. My last five shows have all been about big ideas: The Agony of Living was about aging and failure, How to Be Wicked was about the nature of morality, Bullshit Is My Native Language was about the nature of truth and reality, Start Your Own Religious Cult was about whether religion is ethical, and Mansplaining is about power relations between the sexes. I don’t know of a better way to make an audience engage with difficult ideas.

KRL: What are your future goals and dreams?

Jaguar: In my wildest dreams, I would like to profoundly alter American culture. Americans are too sentimental, too anti-intellectual, too self-praising, and too easy on themselves. I’d like to remake an American culture that embraces difficulty and seriousness.

But for right now, I enjoy what I’m doing.

KRL: What advice would you have for someone wanting to get involved in theatre?

Jaguar: Accept that you have a lot to learn. No one is naturally good at this. Get as much training as you can. See lots of plays. Read lots of plays. Take theater seriously and not as a pastime.

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Jaguar Bennett as Shylock in The “Merchant of Venice,” Woodward Shakespeare Festival 2010

KRL: Do you have any funny and/or inspirational stories to share?

Jaguar: I have a moral objection to inspiration. Inspirational stories always have the message: “You can do it!” But the truth is, you can’t do it, not without a lot of work, study, and failure. I prefer de-inspirational stories about how people do their best and still fail miserably.

KRL: What is your dream role? Is there a dream show to direct?

Jaguar: I am really enjoying what I’m doing now with my comedy shows. People pay me to lecture them at length about their moral failings, and because I throw in a few dick jokes, they think it’s entertainment. Really, I’m running the perfect scam!

KRL: Do you have any hobbies?

Jaguar: I like to teach myself things. I always have some kind of nerd project going on where I’m trying to figure out some trivial question, like the history of car dashboards or the decimalization of British currency.

KRL: I believe you have performed outside of Fresno. Where else have you performed and how does that compare to performing here?

Jaguar: I haven’t really performed that much outside of Fresno. In 2017, I performed in the San Diego Fringe Festival, and in 2015, I did a brief run in a theater in North Hollywood. Back in the 90s, I used to do some stand-up in the Bay Area. Audiences are pretty much the same everywhere. I have an established audience here in Fresno, who are wonderfully supportive of my work, and it’s a challenge to introduce yourself to a new audience. But I have found that, wherever I’ve gone, people are willing to engage with what I’m doing.

KRL: Can you briefly share for anyone who doesn’t know, what is the Rogue Festival?

Jaguar: The Rogue Festival is Fresno’s annual fringe festival of independent theater, music, dance, and performing arts. The festival packs over 250 performances by nearly fifty different performing groups in ten venues for eight days. The Rogue is a non-curated festival — no one selects what shows go into the Rogue, instead applicants are selected through random lottery. Shows run in continuous rotation at all venues, so in one day you can see multiple shows. No Rogue show costs more than $12, and 100 percent of all box office proceeds go directly to the performer.

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The 2018 Rogue Festival Muse

For full details on the 2018 Rogue Festival, visit the Rogue Festival website.

KRL: Please tell us about your upcoming Rogue show.

Jaguar: My new show is called Mansplaining, and it’s all about trying to fathom that mysterious creature, the American male, specifically on the questions of “Why are men such pigs?” and “Can men be redeemed?” I will reveal all the inner secrets of how men think that men don’t want women to know. I won’t talk about men’s emotions, since men don’t really quite have emotions in the sense that women do, but I will tell the truth about the brute animal instincts that men have instead of emotions.

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“Mansplaining”

KRL: How did you come up with the idea for this one?


Jaguar:
This show has been growing for several years, starting from conversations I’ve had with my wife. She would have questions about male thinking or behavior; I’d explain why men behave as they do; she would find the answer just appalling; and I would figure out some way of explaining male behavior that could make kinda sorta sense from a woman’s perspective.

Heather has been telling me to turn these conversations into a show for some years now, but what made me decide to do it now is the #MeToo movement and the revelations about sexual assault, abuse, and harassment by Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, and other prominent men.

It’s clear that there is a crisis in how men behave toward women. But I’ve also been concerned for years about how men are slipping behind in higher education and professional employment. Men these days also suffer from a spiritual crisis — too many of us have no idea who we are or how we want to be as men.

Men are not just failing the women in our lives; we’re also failing ourselves and each other. And we’re not just failing at feminine touchy-feely stuff, but in some of the basics of healthy masculinity and healthy adulthood: taking responsibility for oneself, working and being self-supporting; not being a physical threat to the people around you.

I’m both a feminist and an old-school traditional man. I believe it is men’s first duty to protect the safety of women, and in the modern world, that means not getting in women’s way as women take an equal share of power. The best thing men can do today to act like real men is to eliminate sexual violence — which is to say, to protect women from ourselves.

I think there is hope for men, but we have to work a lot harder.

KRL: Where and when will you be performing?

Jaguar: I’m performing Mansplaining at the 2018 Rogue Festival. All my shows will be at Veni Vidi Vici, 1116 N. Fulton St., in the Fresno’s Tower District.

Showtimes are:
Saturday, March 3, 9:15 p.m.
Sunday, March 4, 4:15 p.m.
Thursday, March 8, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday March 10, 6:45 p.m.

Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at the door from 30 minutes before showtime or in advance online at Rogue Festival Ticket Leap Jaguar Bennett.

For more information about the show, visit my Jaguar Bennett website.

KRL: What is your other role behind the scenes with the Rogue Festival this year, and in past years?

Jaguar: I am the Rogue Festival’s publicity director, a job I have had off an on since the Rogue began in 2002.

KRL: Why do you believe that the Rogue Festival is important?

Jaguar: The two most important things about the Rogue Festival are that it’s completely uncensored with no gatekeepers saying what the audience should or should not see, and it encourages artists to take charge of the business side of their own work.

For the audience, the Rogue Festival is a place to get a totally unmediated artistic experience where you see exactly what the artists want to present. And for artists, the Rogue Festival is a chance to be totally in charge of one’s own art, marketing, costs, and profits.

KRL: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Jaguar: I think this interview makes me sound like a pompous douchebag. But in fact, I am a pompous douchebag, and I have come to embrace this about myself.

Editor’s Note: I highly recommend seeing Jaguar’s show at this year’s Rogue Festival. I have see several of them, and they are hilarious and unique.

The Rogue Festival will be upon us soon! Check out our Rogue Festival performer preview articles, with still more to come between now and the Festival and more that have already been published this month in our A & E section. We also have an article about this year’s Rogue Festival Muse, and once Rogue begins, watch for reviews and video interviews. For more information on the Festival itself check out their website and keep an eye on KRL’s Rogue Festival Event Page.

You can find more theatre articles, and other entertainment articles, in our Arts & Entertainment section.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.

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