by Charles C. Bales · August 12, 2014
According to 2014—When We Were Idiots, the world conquered poverty, disease, hunger, prejudice, greed, and other ills by the year 2114, resulting in a new utopia for mankind. Certain animals, such as penguins, evolved into fully sentient, talking beings with intellectual capabilities that equal our own.
One such penguin from 2114 now acts as a tour guide on the streets of New York City, which has become a time capsule of sorts of one hundred years ago, when it was perfectly preserved underneath a glut of discarded coffee cups, used cupcake wrappers, dead hipsters, and other trash.
On this interactive comedy walking tour of the Lower East Side, Australian comic Xavier Toby as the aforementioned penguin mixes historical factoids about the area with biting cultural commentary on the excesses and foolishness of our present day. The hour or so spent walking around FringeCentral with Mr. Toby as your guide is equal parts guffaws, giggles, and groans, depending on the jokes.
Since ticketholders don neon-yellow high-visibility vests, they are thrust into a role that many may be unfamiliar with in their own city: tourist. But this is no open bus tour, sightseeing safely away from the throngs in the security of a double-decker. Anything can happen at any time — and that experience is both exciting and eye opening because of its uncertainty.
According to Xavier the penguin, New York has been populated with thousands of “actors” who now wander the streets as part of the tour. Therefore, patrons at the local pizza joint welcome your applause as the penguin asserts from his ever-present megaphone that the cheese-covered slices and sugary drinks being consumed are giving them heart disease and diabetes. In addition, those garbage cans on the corner are actually stockpiled with tasty food for the taking. Want to try some?
Many of the laughs of When We Were Idiots are dependent on not only Mr. Toby’s considerable improvisational skills and charm, but also the encounters the tour has with strangers on the street and passersby, who either seem completely disinterested in the whole ordeal or terrified of some kind of Punk’d or Candid Camera prank.
Interestingly, the of-the-moment energy and unpredictability of the tour solidifies the idea that theater and spectacle are all around us on the streets of the Big Apple. A man in a penguin suit shepherding a conspicuously dressed herd around the Lower East Side while cracking jokes through a megaphone? All of New York City’s a stage. And the men and women who live here are merely players.