Jon Santos Faces Sydney
Caricature of Jon (above) where I used a ballpoint pen, scanned and brought to PhotoShop.
Apo Jim Paredes, friend and neighbour excitedly broke the news.
-Hey Edd, I’m bringing Jon Santos to Sydney! He’s good! Really good!
-Good on yer Jim, that’s awesome!
Being such a good neighbour like Jim, we’ll help spread the word to welcome to Sydney impersonator-comedian Jon Santos, who, I confess, I’m not too familiar with. But I trust Jim...and his daughter Ala who saw Jon live in Manila and really loved it. They need not convince me for I trust the taste of creative people... : )
For us who haven’t seen Jon live on stage, aren’t we jealous yet, fellow Pinoy Sydneysiders? This time Jim’s Handog is specifically for our Fil-Aus community. Point is, good entertainment for homesick Pinoys is a rare gift, quality of which enhanced by rare and gifted entertainers who come to Sydney.
I’ve spent half of my life in Australia and I can’t help but be cynical when the little imp in me murmurs “It’s about time our mutilated, Van Gogh-eared community is weaned away from professional “karaokists” (it’s just mic abuse:-) and beat up themes of a stand-up faux pax pugilist. And don’t you poke your wang at me nor laugh if I define ai-ai as a pair of three-toed sloths. There were times I couldn’t escape from a fine-woven straitjacket of mediocrity if I had to watch another Pinoy comedian do a clinical, chocolate-covered, nightsoil humour.
One need not be a sociologist to acknowledge that a community’s evolution relies on the community’s perceived intelligence, hence it’s a two-way affair. It would have been funnier if we were still in the days of Charlie Chaplin when we could slap the stick on ourselves and roar out laughing (and they called it the Silent Movies!).
I love impersonators. Don’t we? Why is that? Well I think our brains were trained early to identify familiar people (along with objects; e.g. props) and if our grey matter are able to polarize all the information presented to us by the mimic aka impersonator and then we’re taken hook, line and sinker; then we think it’s funny. We laugh at ourselves as we vicariously connect and adore the performer who has perfected his craft, a fine art of fleeting camouflage. Reality takes a beating from clever people! It’s like a magic performance; the miracle of transformation that catches our attention; and like a trompe l’oeil (trick-of-the-eye) painting, it’s the seeming realism of the illusion that gives us joy.
Since the seventies Filipinos had a few, good impersonators. Well there’s good, ol’ Willie Nepumoceno who had performed in Australia a number of times, and Gary Bautista who for me is just a blur owing to my exodus to Australia, where impersonators like Sir Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage) are endemic. Comedy as social phenomenon is universal..err..more of global, but it could only effectively serve well local humor for culture and language vary.
Wonder how hard it is to be an impersonator and be funny. Have you tried impersonating your teacher in high school? Did you get a good score from your schoolmates? I tried in my younger days but I didn’t think I had the courage to stand up on stage and make people laugh as a mimic. ..and that’s why I chose to do comic strips for newspapers instead. So how hard is the process of impersonation and trying to make people laugh?
What if they don’t buy your joke? What if they throw their shoes at me? Unimaginable! So let’s just leave it to the professionals and ask Jon about it before he lands in Sydney this April.
EA: 19 years you’ve been making people laugh! Is it hard?
JS: Anyone who has attempted to do professional comedy will tell you it is harder than drama, action, horror, or any other entertainment expression. Woody Allen called comedy ‘tragedy plus time’. An Italian saying claimed, people laughed ‘so they wouldn’t have to cry’. The paradox is that comedy is almost always about pain. On the physical side, one immediately notices 19 years worth of ‘stress lines’ on my face, as this particular ‘branch’ of comedy is dependent on so much make-up and sometimes prosthetics. Next to them, though, are ‘laugh lines” . The work is intensely rewarding as it is tough.
EA: I learned you worked with Willie Nepomuceno before (this author’s friend and colleague in the student movement against the Marcos dictatorship). How was it?
JS: Willie Nepomuceno is a legend in a way that I can only dream. I was lucky to belong to the last post-Marcos socio-political stand-up generation spawned by Willie and Tessie Tomas. After us came the Comedy Club batch. And the local comedy generations continue in ever-changing ways.
EA: Do Filipinos mock or love Filipino stereotyped personalities you might be prone to lampoon?
JS: As oxygen is to combustion, comedy can never happen without love. It is simply impossible to make people laugh on the basis of pure bile. Even in the darkest of Marcos underground comedy, it was never about condemning them as much as it was about exposing their folly to the light, to diminish its power. Nowadays, comedy club ad-libs seem to focus on deriving punch lines from the audience, but it serves its live audience well. Imagine, after a whole workday of political correctness, and sucking-it-all-in, at least everyone gets to laugh, at themselves, and with each other, without restraint.
EA: What type of audience challenges you? (e.g. insular or insolent?:)
JS: All audiences are equally, if not unpredictably, challenging. Sometimes I can have worse jitters tickling salesmen than presidents. The insolent customer is just as dissatisfied as the insular customer, and the challenge to the performer is to think quickly, and, with everything he’s got, work on restoring that connection.
EA: Stand-up comedy is quite a fearsome career. I admire your courage. Were you born or made?
JS: The unthreatening face with genes of expressiveness, the good memory, verbal speed – definitely born with it. But the rest: The childhood pains that drove one to compensate through laughter, the effort to sponge up all comic devices and styles by working with the best mentors– definitely made. But the fact that one survives, one does not faint or crumble in front of a grim crowd, the laughter and applause – miracle, pure miracle.
EA: How can humour contribute to society’s ills?
JS: Mitch (a lot of people remember her as Maya) Valdes, a colleague I truly admire, believes that the Pinoy humour saves us from killing ourselves, and each other. The Pinoy comic has also been compared with the boy in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ – the one who says what we all really want to say, but couldn’t, because we, as a people, are very non-confrontational by nature. I have to verify if we really do have low suicide rates, but one thing’s for sure- we are the best looking Asians. Many believe that it’s a double-edged-sword-situation, though. Our propensity for using laughter as relief , as escape, prevents us from acting on our country’s problems.
EA: Gender preference is not an issue, but does it play a significant part in your performance?
JS: Everything that can be an issue plays a part in a comic performance. Laughter is a reaction to the absurd, the uncomfortable, the taboo, the things that may not be spoken. A laughing man is the universal metaphor for subversion.
EA: What makes you happy and at peace?
JS: Whew! At last, a question that I did not have to sweat for. Of course, family, friends, love and what else, laughter!
EA: What do Filipino-Australians like me expect to remember after watching a night of your performance?
JS: You mean, aside from remembering to invite me again? Seriously, rather than remember, I rather you forget. I hope you forget for a while the tough times we are experiencing. Forget for a moment that some of you may be far from home and family. Or that it had been a rough day, week or year. Forget awhile, and laugh. Laugh out loud , but better yet, laugh quietly from the heart. And afterwards, remember that life is beautiful.
EA: Any kind words for (them) us?
JS: In our heart of hearts, we are all Pinoys. Kami ay panauhin ninyo at may utang na loob sa inyo na na- anyaya sa amin. We are honored to be standing in front of you and be accorded the attention. Even greater honor is the fact that we are performing to the modern heroes of our country, keeping our country vibrant with your spirit of enterprise, your hard work and your courage, bringing the Philippines to another spot on the globe, staking your claim for us Filipinos. I can only speak with admiration for you guys.
EA: Salamat Jon. Looking forward to see you in Sydney!
JS: Salamat din. See you all.
More about Jon (from the net)
“Nineteen years ago, Tessie Tomas was invited as guest speaker for Jon’s Junior Marketing Association in UP. He went up for an autograph and upon the cajoling of friends, impersonated the master impersonator herself. Entertained, Tessie invited him to join her group.
He had just accepted a teaching post (Economics. Yikes!), when, again, Tessie urged him to try the comic circuit for a year, and he never stopped. He has since campaigned with Ralph Recto for Ate Vi, exchanged small talk with former president Fidel Ramos over cigars, made Charo Santos realize that having been impersonated by Jon, She Has Arrived. And after doing countless personalities, Jon Santos has been busy more often as himself, setting up a little bed and breakfast on Boracay Island and taking his “characters” along with him for special comedy shows abroad.
In the Philippine scene, nobody is anybody until he or she is done by Jon Santos. Having perfected the art of costume and make-up, Jon becomes the person; a better version in fact, because it’s a much, much funnier version. Even bureaucratic bores who somehow land on the news become hilarious, endearing creatures in the hands of Jon Santos (Actually, in the hands, face, body and voice of Jon). So just think what a riot he creates with the already colourful or absurd……
Jon has been impersonating and imitating people for nineteen (19) years now. His material thrives on who’s hot at the moment, but some of his best-loved characters are the classics: “Ate Vi”, “Basana Roces”, “Armida Sigyon-Makareyna”, “Sherap Espada (& his wife, “Sen. Lhoy”) Shawie”, “Bro. Mike Volare”, “Tita Kory”, “Sen. Juan Flavor”, “Sen. Meeryam”, “Pres. Gloring”, “Krissy Anino”, “Ara”, “Joyce”, “Mawee Tailor-ing” and the latest addition to the repertoire, “Okrah Weenfree”.
But these are samples of Jon on paper – and don’t even capture half the adlibs, the brilliant spur-of-the-moment remarks that add tons to the character that he is at the moment. We don’t see the costume, the make-up nor hear the voice and the delivery that keep audiences laughing for 30 or so minutes non-stop. As they say, everybody in the Philippines is a comedian.”
HA-NEP! (Check out my interview with Willie Nepomuceno)