by Antonio Sergi
“You’re going to get very few chances in your life to follow around an Arch Penguin with a megaphone who shouts at strangers,” says writer and comedian Xavier Toby, who plays tour guide in his fictional, but possible, Sydney Fringe Festival show 2013- when we were idiots. The tour takes “participants” on a journey around Newtown in the year 2113, with Xavier, dressed as a penguin, reflecting on the consumerism and ignorance of society as it was in 2013.
The year is 2113 and participants are gathered outside a shop formerly known as “the Pin Tin” waiting to follow a penguin with a megaphone. This walking tour looks back over the past 100 years during which time society crumbled and this inner west suburb was buried under a ton of coffee cups and hipsters.
Walking through the suburb’s ruins, it is hard to believe that this place, “back in the 1700s”, was a farming community for Indigenous Australians.
“Newtown was an Aboriginal farming community where they used to brew Kangaroo grass and farm Kangaroos,” Xavier says.
Things have drastically changed since then, and it is not until this tour of the “buried suburb” that one sees how far Australia has come over the last century. Found underneath the rubble was an At The Moment (ATM) machine; such machines have become obsolete over the last 100 years.
“What an ATM does is take a snapshot of your life at that moment and then print it out on coloured pieces of paper that you carry around with you,” Xavier says.
It is hard to believe that a century ago the role of an artist was not as respected as it is today. Instead, artists were forced to paint on walls and on the sides of buildings, such as the Martin Luther King mural on King Street, because of a lack of funding for the arts.
“If you look back in history, you remember the artists; no-one talks about the accountants or lawyers, which is why in 2113 artists are the most revered people,” Xavier says.
The walking tour also exposed the mystery behind Australia’s “downfall” and the reason why even uttering the word “Abbott” can strike fear into any Australian.
According to Xavier Toby, “Abbott’s name has now taken on a Voldemort-type persona of he-who-shall-not-be-named; children are afraid of the Abbott underneath their beds and are scared the lizard man in speedos is going to hunt and eat them.”
He says the political state in Australia went into a decline after the Abbott election of 2013 with people becoming even more influenced by the media, resulting in the election of Prime Minister Shane Warne in 2017, followed by the election of Prime Minister Bindi Irwin in 2022.
“People then weren’t electing intellectuals, they were too focused on sports and celebrity, paying attention to the wrong things,” Xavier says.
It was a time where same-sex marriage was illegal and people of the opposite sex were forced to marry each other and live “miserably”.
“In 2113, marriage is strictly between a man and a man or a woman and a woman; statistically it has lowered the divorce rate, relationships last much longer, and people are a lot happier,” Xavier says “A lot of marriages are still sexless, but back in 2013 a lot of those marriages were sexless as well, so not much difference there.”
While coming up with the concept of the walking tour, Xavier Toby wanted to create a world where participants would feel comfortable about laughing at themselves instead of being confronted, which is why he chose to set the tour in the year 2113.
“By setting the tour 100 years in the future, after we have survived all of society’s problems, people feel a bit safer to laugh at them,” he says.
Having previously enjoyed participating in walking tours in cities around the world, Xavier wanted to incorporate that experience into his stand-up shows.
“I wanted to take comedy outside the venue, so I could show people the jokes and be on the same level as them and engage with them,” he says.