Jon Santos: the country mouse

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JonSantos fidgets momentarily on his living room sofa, a long cushioned woodenseat that was inspired by the pews he saw at the Forbes Park church. "Hindi ako sanay as myself," says Jon ashe poses for the camera and smiles. When the set-up is finished, he adds in awhisper, "It's been easier to slip in and out of characters. People don't knowwho you really are. I'd like to keep the mystique that way." (YES!


Among the personalities Jon impersonates are Senators JuanFlavier and Loi Ejercito, former Presidents Cory Aquino and FidelRamos, producer Charo Santos-Concio, TV host Kris Aquino, and—for his mostrequested act—movie star and governor Vilma Santos.

Told he is very good at what he does, hemakes sure to say: "I never work alone."

Then he proceedsto enumerate the craftsmen he collaborates with. "I have a team of writers. Ihave a team of designers. I sub-contract my special effects, my ears, myprosthetics, my costumes. I have a voice coach and a personal trainer. I workwith musical directors all the time. One of the most important lessons I learned is to collaborate withpeople who do what they do very well."

Another important lesson, he says, is to get yourself a goodtalent manager. In the 17 years thatJon has been entertaining people as a comic-impersonator, he's never beenwithout one. And in all that time, he'shad only two.

First, it was Luigi Tabuena, brother of Martin Nievera, who,however, let go of Jon when other concerns came up. And second, Butch Dans ofThird Line, also manager of the APO and the Eraserheads. Jon says: "Ang manager ang ka-strategize ko sa pag-balance ngprivate life with life in media at pag-take care ng savings at finances, kasisanay sila diyan."

So every year, he sits with his manager to set a financialgoal that they then both work hard to meet. Jon reveals that during the fouryears he's been with Third Line: "That quota has always been met. Andnaka-allot na doon 'yung pang-savings, personal na overhead and pang-invest."

One can only imagine the busy, disciplined life Jon leads.Aside from TV appearances, he also gets bookings for—name it—corporate shows,lounge acts, book launches, Christmas parties, concerts! There was a wholeperiod when Jon's work schedule was so rigorous, he couldn't remember having ahomemade meal. He was living in a condominium then.

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"'Pag mag-isa ka pala din, it's too much trouble to evenmake coffee when you could sleep an extra 15 minutes and just eat sa studio. ...Minsan hindi ka na rin kakain," he says.

Those were the days he was moving in and out of barelyfurnished flats. Peripatetic comes to mind: he once moved in and out of fourplaces in the inside of a year!

Says Jon, "When I was renting I always go for six-monthcontracts only. I must have gone through so many condo units, rented and ownedcombined. Lipat ako nang lipat!"

His possessions—a two-seater baby sofa that doubled as a bed, a portable stove, a blanket,utensils, and clothes—could fit into a tiny two-door Honda Civic, making thetransfers much quicker for him. Headds with a laugh: "Siyempre, I also had lots of underwear kasi hindi akomalaba!"

Jon describes the places he's rented as sterileenvironments. "No garden, no nothing, just a view, and no household help. Very,very low maintenance. In one hour nalilinis ko 'yung bahay."

But after more than 10 years of changing addressesconstantly, he got very tired.

"Feeling ko, since puwede ko namang balikan yung pagtira sacondominium, try ko na rin ang ibang buhay, 'di ba?"

In one corporate show he hosted for a real-estate developer,he found out about a new subdivision in Silang, Cavite. He got excited. He toldhis parents and brothers about it. They told him to go ahead and build.

"Nagkayayaan na," he relates. "O siya, siya, siya...Nagpa-peer pressure ako. Nagtayo na rin."

In 2001, Jon finally moved into a lovely two-story homewith a charming front lawn and atranquil backyard. Built in a short period of four months, he calls it "thehouse that high heels built," in reference to the many female characters he hasimpersonated for a living.

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The house has three rooms: a master's bedroom, a guest room, and an office, aside from quarters for Jon's four helpers. He put potted plants(African violets, San Francisco) in the living room and on the stairs. Theadjacent lot, also part of his property, has been turned into a vegetable garden (pechay, mustasa,papaya).

Of his new life's rhythm, he says: "Try ko namang magpalakad ng household. Mag-try magkaroon ngpets. Mag-try mag-entertain."

And looking over his spacious backyard, he muses: "I thinksomeday, gusto ko namang i-try mag-garden party, 'yung with musicians, 'di ba?With dancing and good food..."

Why Cavite?

Jon answers: "My country mouse and city mouse mode, theyswitch, 'di ba? I'll still be happy because I'm not really, really out of thecity and then I'm not really, really inthe city, 'di ba?"

In true Jon Santos form, he says his house was not his doingalone. "It is a collaboration between my architect dash aunt, and my parentswho build talaga, and my friends na mahilig sa antique-antique na, throughosmosis, na-impluwensyahan ako ng kanilang taste. Nahawa rin ako sa friend kona mahilig sa halaman."

Inspiration for the house came from the old-style homes of New Manila and whathe calls the spirit of Tuscan, Italy. "Trying to be Tuscan," he says sheepishly.

He therefore gave away to a brother the Ikea-type furniturehe acquired through years of condo living. In their place, he's picked up religious-inspired objects such as thekneeler in his bedroom, church pews for seats, and several small pieces of"lalagyan ng agua bendita" which he positioned near the doors of the rooms.

Even better, Jon has gathered his family's heirlooms. Apiano that belonged to a great grandmother occupies a prominent place in thesala. One half of his grandmother's matrimonial bed has become his personalbed.

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"Mambubulok nga ang tawag sa amin. Hindi kami marunongmagtapon ng gamit. If you will notice, wala kaming basurahan sa loob ng bahay.Meron lang isa and only because we have visitors today. ‘Pag walang ibang tao,wala rin yung basurahan."

And the fellow does not just fritter away his showbiz money.He looks ahead. He rents out property through a real-estate agent. He's not anEconomics graduate for nothing.

"Alam naman natin na napaka-limiting ng showbiz income ifnot handled well. You always think of what to do with the showbiz money outsideof showbiz."

Says Jon, "I've always had very cautious parents. Nungnalaman nila na hindi ko gagamitin ang aking degree, na hindi ako mag-a-applyng quote, unquote, real job, I've always found a need to reassure them that Idid not make a mistake."

And now they believe him.

But like his exciting character sketches, Jon Santos pulls asurprise by revealing that, in fact, "things" don't really mean that much tohim. "If there was a fire, I'd chooseto save the lives of the staff, the dog, and the plants. Despite the care I putinto these material things, kung gaano ko sila ine-enjoy ngayon, ganoon din akoka-detached. If there was a fire, I'd probably choose to walk away."

He adds: "Kung gaano ako kasinop mag-memorabilia atmagpaka-sentimental, I can detach very, very quickly from anything! Live inanother country? Kaya ko! But I have no desire. Kaya ko lang. Siguro I havebecome so worried I would be used to the comfort of this lifestyle. I couldlose it all tomorrow and still I would be king. Because of the uncertainty ofmy job, natuto akong mag-enjoy to the fullest and then detach. You can't holdon forever."

Is there anything else?

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"Another thing you should detach yourself from is your youth," he says."Buti na lang comedian ako because comedians come in any shape, any size, andany age!"


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