By I. smiley G. Calderón | firstname.lastname@example.org
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jaguar Bennet, “Fresno’s most offensive comedian,” at Revue Coffee Bar in the Tower District this past week for a post-production chat about his well-received “Jaguar Saves America” Rogue Festival performances this past March 1-9. I had seen his Thursday night show – my first Rogue experience.
The show was a real treat. Jaguar, a polished performer who touches on difficult subjects like politics, is a shock comedian who loves to be hated. And he understands the real problem in America: the “Average American” – someone who he has carefully and jokingly identified as a White woman, age 52, with a Bachelor’s degree, making some $45K a year (and, incidentally, who is also on her “45th husband”) – you know, your everyday neighborhood friend “from Visalia”: Karen. And although this “Karen” seems benign enough on the outside, Jaguar carefully describes how scary and influential she really is in American politics.
“A joke is only funny if you can tell the truth,” Jaguar tells me as we sip our coffee outside, wind gently blowing against our faces. And it’s no secret that current American politics is a polemic mess. Of course, he acknowledges that the Right Wing has a serious problem right now across America in the era of Trump, and his message to Conservatives is simple: “Clean up your act.” But Jaguar also sees the danger brewing in the Left in their apparent quest to censor and silence all opposing voices and viewpoints. “Bad ideas only fester in dark corners – when you try to push them underground.”
Jaguar reminds me: “Tell the truth about both sides.”
He tells me that the real work in politics needs to be done at the community level in the neighborhood in which we live. He explains how America has a lot of self-inflicted wounds with tension between the intentions of the rich and the poor, but its only hope is in its people – in democracy. “I don’t think this country is democratic enough,” he challenges. “People don’t vote.” And he’s right: only about half of the people who are eligible to vote actually exercise this crucial American privilege and right. Even All-American, Central Valley “Karen” has issues when it comes to voting. According to Jaguar, she’s the kind who will vote Democrat when she feels financially threatened, Republican when she feels culturally threatened, but won’t even take a step inside a voting booth when she doesn’t feel personally threatened at all. So much for democracy, right!
But this is why Jaguar is so passionate about education and civic engagement here in the Central Valley. (And, with a name like Jaguar, it’s hard not to get passionate!) Born and raised here in Fresno County, there is no other place he’d rather be – a special place where, if you want it, you got to go out and build it yourself. A place where you lift yourself up by your own bootstraps – a real “Do it Yourself” special kind of place. The Central Valley is a site of active creation and renovation – something that Jaguar admires. He sees Fresno as a kind of “fixer-upper” kind of place with an ever-growing and vital entrepreneurial spirit. Now, if only we can get Fresnans out to vote…