Jon Bennett’s How I Learned to Hug is an exceptional fusion of comedy, music, multi-media and peculiar physical portrayals. Returning home to this year’s Fringe Festival, the award-winning comedian can be seen at Gluttony’s The Piglet. Such a venue offers a quaint space for Bennett to stand before audiences and discuss his experiences of love, sex, and intimacy. Bennett offers us a highly intelligent piece of work that is engaging in its writing and entertaining in its performance.
Comedy is often revealing and exposing, with How I Learned to Hug being no exception; I have never seen a performance quite so heart-warming and simultaneously confronting in its honesty. I will tell you straight up that this comedy is for the open-minded, as very few stones are left unturned in the discussion of sex and relationships. You will find yourself laughing because the artist in front of you – who looks very pretty in pink – gifts you with frank perceptions of human intimacy and sexual explorations. Half of the humour comes from the fact that Bennett’s thoughts and experiences are embarrassingly accurate, and his ideas hold a certain truth to them which is difficult to dispute and often awkward to discuss. Although you may relate to Bennett’s narratives, these stories can be told by Bennett alone, as his material and fast-paced, almost chaotic delivery suits the subject matter to a ‘T’.
At the beginning of this show, our vibrant storyteller anchors us at one point in time. However, expect to be led on an intricately structured journey, moving back and forth between this anchor and Bennett’s memories from the past. The progression keeps you on your toes as the show is ultimately Bennett telling us a story about how he told a memorable airport security guard, ‘Bey-Z’, the details of his relationship history.
To enhance the comedy, Bennett draws on common behavioural tropes that are shared by many of his audience members – ‘Forrest Gumping’ away your problems and being ‘wasted’ for many of your early intimate experiences are two notable examples. Such recurring moments, and the physicality Bennett applies to them, aren’t simply comical, but a perceptive reflection of the way we handle our relationship dilemmas.
What made this show have such an impact was Bennett’s transition between humour and sensitivity. As the majority of the show is delivered in a hyped and speedy fashion, Bennett’s contrast in tone and pace when discussing themes of deeper sentiment bring you to a halt. Bennett befriends his audience, drawing us in with his humour, before striking with a moment of emotional appeal – pathos as described so well by my friend – in order to persuade us to recognise the significance of the feelings behind each experience.
In summary, Bennett highlights the carnage that accompanies a broken heart, and how the people we love play an intrinsic role in shaping the people we become. He urges us to laugh at these moments and acknowledge their ridiculousness as a way of making them palatable. Shows such as How I Learned to Hug contribute to our wider understandings of our most important relationships, whether they be romantic, platonic or familial.
When seeing this show, I encourage you to approach it willing to embrace the obscurity that comes with Bennett’s storytelling. If you resist it or expect the conventional you will be closing yourself off to a spectacular and refreshing exploration of love.
Finally, see this piece of work with someone who will laugh with you. It will immediately make it all the more comfortable and enjoyable.
You can catch Jon Bennett: How I Learned to Hug until March 3rd. Details and tickets here.
Review by Michelle Wakim