Rogue Performer Preview: "Jaguar Is a Liar"

By Lorie Lewis Ham

The Rogue Festival is almost upon us again and this year it will be in person. This is the second of our Rogue Performer Preview articles, with a few more going up over this next week. This time we are interviewing local performer Jaguar Bennett about his Rogue show this year entitled, Jaguar Is a Liar: What I Saw During the Fight for the Tower Theatre.

For the time being, all our Rogue articles will be here on KRL News as KRL is undergoing a redesign. You can find all of the other Rogue articles up so far this year by clicking here. We have a Rogue Festival event page here on KRL News as well, and you can learn more on the Rogue Festival website. Hopefully by the time Rogue opens we will be back on our main website.

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KRL: What is your new show about?

Jaguar: It is an idiosyncratic, personal, and extremely biased account of the protest movement against Adventure Church’s illegal occupation of the Tower Theatre, which has kept the Tower District in turmoil for the past 15 months.

KRL: Why did you feel this was an important topic?

Jaguar: There’s a local reason and a national reason. The local reason is that the Tower District is the foundation of the arts in Fresno. If the Tower District and the Tower District arts scene dies, all the arts of Fresno will die with it.

The national reason is that Adventure Church’s takeover of the Tower Theatre is one more battleground between the forces of right-wing Christian nationalism and the forces of America, democracy, the First Amendment, and common decency. Adventure Church wants to destroy a pro-gay Bohemian neighborhood just to show that there is no part of the United States that is safe from right-wing Christian nationalism.

KRL: For any who might not be aware, can you briefly share about the situation with the Tower Theatre and how long it has been going on?

Jaguar: In January 2021, the Tower District community discovered that Laurence Abbate, the owner of the Tower Theatre, intended to sell the theatre to Adventure Church, a Fresno Foursquare Church, so that they could convert the theater to a church building. The neighborhood erupted. First, the rezoning of the Tower Theatre for use as a church will threaten the liquor licenses of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, which are the foundation of the Tower District economy and the arts scene. Second, Foursquare Church is a homophobic, non-gay-affirming denomination that just isn’t a good fit with the community values of the pro-gay Tower District.

The sale of the Tower Theatre has been suspended since February, when Sequoia Brewing Company, a tenant of the Tower Theatre, sued Laurence Abbate and accused him of violating Sequoia’s rental contract, which guarantees Sequoia the first right of refusal if the theater is sold. The sale is probably permanently halted, but Abbate continues to rent the theater to Adventure Church for Sunday services, which is in violation of the zoning of the Tower Theatre.

The city of Fresno initially cited Adventure Church for zoning violations, but since May 2021, the city has declined to cite Adventure Church, probably because of Adventure’s frequent threats to sue the city for religious discrimination.

I am part of a movement that has held weekly protests outside the Tower Theatre since January 10, 2021 — the longest protest in Fresno history. We demand that the city enforce zoning laws and protect local businesses.

KRL: Despite the seriousness of your topics, you always manage to make your shows funny, how do you balance those two things?

Jaguar: I never try to make anything funny. I just tell the truth, and the truth horrifies people so much they laugh out of pure nervousness.

Humor is about taboo violation. The audience doesn’t laugh because they’re amused; the audience laughs to purge their discomfort at witnessing the slaughter of a sacred cow.

Before the Sexual Revolution, sex was the ultimate taboo topic, and people loved sex jokes. Today, I have found that audiences are most shocked, titillated, and scandalized by hearing someone speak the plain truth. Why is the truth so taboo? It’s because Americans are not used to hearing the truth. Americans love to be hypocrites. We love to be lied to by politicians, advertisers, and preachers. We lie to each other and ourselves all the time. Lying is comforting. Lying creates the pleasing illusion that we can shape reality more to our liking.

So when I tell the truth on stage, it violates so many taboos — it destroys so many social norms — it’s so shocking — that you laugh just to relieve the tension. Afterwards, you tell yourself that because you laughed, I must have been funny, but I wasn’t, really. All I did was tell the truth.

KRL: Anything you would like to add?

Jaguar: Adventure Church claims that the only reason why people are opposed to them  is that the Tower District is prejudiced against Christians. That is simply not true. There are 28 churches within two miles of the Tower Theatre. Tower District people are live and let live. Many of the people in our protest movement are Christian, and a group of Christian ministers held a prayer vigil in support of our cause. If Adventure Church bought the Tower Theatre and operated it as a theater, we wouldn’t have an issue. If they bought a building anywhere in the Tower District that was zoned for religious assembly and operated that building as a church, we wouldn’t have an issue. The problem is converting the Tower Theatre into a church, and what a change in zoning will mean for local businesses.

KRL: Dates, times, and place for your show?

Jaguar: Saturday March 5 at 8 p.m.; Sunday March 6 at 6:30 p.m.; Thursday March 10 at 7 p.m.; and Friday March 11 at 7 p.m. All shows are at the back patio of Veni Vidi Vici, 1116 N. Fulton St., Fresno, CA 93728

KRL: How do people get tickets?

Jaguar: Tickets are $8 and can be bought at the door or in advance at And be sure to check out the other great shows at the 2022 Rogue Festival!

 If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat's Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie's mystery writing at Mysteryrat's Closet.