Among the personalities Jon impersonates are Senators Juan Flavier and Loi Ejercito, former Presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos, producer Charo Santos-Concio, TV host Kris Aquino, and—for his most requested act—movie star and governor Vilma Santos.
Told he is very good at what he does, he makes sure to say: "I never work alone."
Then he proceeds to enumerate the craftsmen he collaborates with. "I have a team of writers. I have a team of designers. I sub-contract my special effects, my ears, my prosthetics, my costumes. I have a voice coach and a personal trainer. I work with musical directors all the time. One of the most important lessons I learned is to collaborate with people who do what they do very well."
Another important lesson, he says, is to get yourself a good talent manager. In the 17 years that Jon has been entertaining people as a comic-impersonator, he's never been without one. And in all that time, he's had 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 of Third Line, also manager of the APO and the Eraserheads. Jon says: "Ang manager ang ka-strategize ko sa pag-balance ng private life with life in media at pag-take care ng savings at finances, kasi sanay sila diyan."
So every year, he sits with his manager to set a financial goal that they then both work hard to meet. Jon reveals that during the four years he's been with Third Line: "That quota has always been met. And naka-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 whole period when Jon's work schedule was so rigorous, he couldn't remember having a homemade meal. He was living in a condominium then.
"'Pag mag-isa ka pala din, it's too much trouble to even make 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 barely furnished flats. Peripatetic comes to mind: he once moved in and out of four places in the inside of a year!
Says Jon, "When I was renting I always go for six-month contracts only. I must have gone through so many condo units, rented and owned combined. 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 the transfers much quicker for him. He adds with a laugh: "Siyempre, I also had lots of underwear kasi hindi ako malaba!"
Jon describes the places he's rented as sterile environments. "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 addresses constantly, he got very tired.
"Feeling ko, since puwede ko namang balikan yung pagtira sa condominium, 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 told his 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 home with a charming front lawn and a tranquil backyard. Built in a short period of four months, he calls it "the house that high heels built," in reference to the many female characters he has impersonated for a living.
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. The adjacent 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 ng pets. Mag-try mag-entertain."
And looking over his spacious backyard, he muses: "I think someday, gusto ko namang i-try mag-garden party, 'yung with musicians, 'di ba? With dancing and good food..."
Jon answers: "My country mouse and city mouse mode, they switch, 'di ba? I'll still be happy because I'm not really, really out of the city and then I'm not really, really in the city, 'di ba?"
In true Jon Santos form, he says his house was not his doing alone. "It is a collaboration between my architect dash aunt, and my parents who build talaga, and my friends na mahilig sa antique-antique na, through osmosis, na-impluwensyahan ako ng kanilang taste. Nahawa rin ako sa friend ko na mahilig sa halaman."
Inspiration for the house came from the old-style homes of New Manila and what he calls the spirit of Tuscan, Italy. "Trying to be Tuscan," he says sheepishly.
He therefore gave away to a brother the Ikea-type furniture he acquired through years of condo living. In their place, he's picked up religious-inspired objects such as the kneeler 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. A piano that belonged to a great grandmother occupies a prominent place in the sala. One half of his grandmother's matrimonial bed has become his personal bed.
"Mambubulok nga ang tawag sa amin. Hindi kami marunong magtapon 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 an Economics graduate for nothing.
"Alam naman natin na napaka-limiting ng showbiz income if not handled well. You always think of what to do with the showbiz money outside of showbiz."
Says Jon, "I've always had very cautious parents. Nung nalaman nila na hindi ko gagamitin ang aking degree, na hindi ako mag-a-apply ng quote, unquote, real job, I've always found a need to reassure them that I did not make a mistake."
And now they believe him.
But like his exciting character sketches, Jon Santos pulls a surprise by revealing that, in fact, "things" don't really mean that much to him. "If there was a fire, I'd choose to save the lives of the staff, the dog, and the plants. Despite the care I put into these material things, kung gaano ko sila ine-enjoy ngayon, ganoon din ako ka-detached. If there was a fire, I'd probably choose to walk away."
He adds: "Kung gaano ako kasinop mag-memorabilia at magpaka-sentimental, I can detach very, very quickly from anything! Live in another country? Kaya ko! But I have no desire. Kaya ko lang. Siguro I have become so worried I would be used to the comfort of this lifestyle. I could lose it all tomorrow and still I would be king. Because of the uncertainty of my job, natuto akong mag-enjoy to the fullest and then detach. You can't hold on forever."
Is there anything else?
"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, and any age!"