Licensed Tour Guide is Standup Comic and Performed at Comedy Festival
by Aaron Tabackman
After being a double decker tour guide for over seven and half years and training meticilously for nearly as long in order to produce a first rate, world class tour, I feel as if one key ingredient is missing and that would be...comedy. This is interesting because I have a lot of training in comedy. For several years I took many comedy improv classes and have performed in comedy improv troupes. Maybe I took the tours—and tour guiding—too seriously?
On a cold, blustery fall evening last weekend, I boarded a Grayline double-decker bus to hear a professional standup comic give a one hour bus tour as part of the 2017 New York Comedy Festival. It would be the third consecutive sell-out for Standup comic Tim Dillon who previously worked “a day job” as a double decker guide for both Grayline and Big Bus.
The tour started about fifteen minutes late at Columbus Circle. With the upper deck nearly full, Mr. Dillion started, as most adept Standup comics do, with a little crowd work. He intermingled with the first two rows and then went into his narration.
He started off funny, discussing real estate and the Time Warner building, remarking that most of the owners of the luxury apartments are not people but shell companies. Eighty percent to be precise. And money laundering has been the means of acquiring these apartments. It looks like there might be a social justice component to this tour which excites me early on. As one who gives double decker tours for a living, the excitement of New York double decker tour wore off years ago.
The ironic description of Columbus as a man who came in peace and sat down with Native Americans to “work things out” was hilarious and not lost on the audience. A little Italian-American humor afterwards should have been left out seeing how the previous joke delivered.
Afterwards, when we passed by Trump International Hotel & Tower, Dillon remarked "....rooms are now available as low as $200! The race war has been costly." Again funny. Off to a good start and back to real estate. I've been on the double deckers for over seven years and I did learn quite a bit on his tour in terms of facts especially about Manhattan real estate. For instance, I never knew that 15 Central Park West cost one billion to build. At that point Dillon described how multi-millionaires like their indoor pools. Hint: Like most people like their revenge.
There would definitely be a voice of condescension of the gentry on this tour. Class warfare would be in full force.
I was pleased when Dillon talked about the tenement on West 62nd Street that I often point out on the Uptown Tour. Now I was waiting for his joke about it.
“On your left is Lincoln Center. By the time they're 14 most ballerinas are over the hill there. They are on a steady diet--of their own vomit,”. barked the comic unafraid of performing blue for the younger crowd. Talking about WNET, Dillon was perplexed that Sesame Street could be sponsored by the military industrial complex.
"Sesame Street was brought to you by Haliburton."
“Real Estate is the biggest industry in New York.
There is over 950 million of taxable income of real estate. Nearly a trillion dollars. Of the 5,700 condos in Manhattan, fully sixty percent are owned by foreign nationals" was the sober statistic cited making you feel rather empathetic of Dillon's angry working class persona.
"On your right is Gray's Papaya where they serve human meat in the hot dogs". I never thought of that one. I'm usually too busy explaining the Ansonia building which Dillion conveniently ommited from his narration.
He gave a big buildup prior to reaching the Dakota. "This building was built in 1882 when nothing was here. This is the hardest building to gain admittance to in America (don't think that's right) and they 'don't have sex on the kitchen countertops'." And yes, Yoko Ono still live at the top.
Further along on Central Park West, the comic talked about the Bereford. "The average apartment is 20 thousand square feet. Celebrities that live there include John McEnroe, Jerry Seinfeld, Former Citibank head Vikram Pandit and Glenn Close. They had to get Glenn Close out of there and move her to Hollywood," he remarked.
"My agent is trying to get me on Broadway.” The comic performed an act out of his agent. A vocally-challenged man with little graces. An act-out is when a comedian acts what they discuss in their monologue. "Hey I booked you an audition for SpongeBob SquarePants The Musical. " Dillon responded that he couldn't even do the voice of SpongeBob
The comic added that the Upper West Side is filled with actors, musicians and playwrights. New money as opposed to the old money of the Upper East Side. He said that Broadway is at an all time low and really sucked. I would be to differ with some really good shows selling out like Hamilton, Book of Mormon and Clockwork Orange now on Broadway!
Going further up CPW past 96th Street, Dillon seemed to ease into his narration that I’m sure he used when he worked for the double deckers. "70 percent of New Yorkers rent. People from the Long Island and New Jersey are pigs. They take commuter rails.”
He informed the audience that most New Yorkers send their kids to private schools. It costs upwards of one million dollars to send a New York child to private school, K-12. "The Dwight School is an acronym. It stands for Dumb White Kids Getting High” he said to uproaras laughter.
Dillon improvised too. He cited people on the street, either doormen or passersby and tried to engage in a conversation with them. "Where ya from?" Notice the doorman doesn't even acknowledge us. He knows he's on camera."
When the bus arrived towards 98th Street, Dillon remarked in his ironic voice, "this is where the people who don't matter" live. The teachers and the guidance counselors. The expendable people. Including waiters. However, the caveat being that most waiters in Manhattan make upwards of 50 thousand dollars a year. As a matter of fact, he added, that his cousin is the head waiter at Smith & Wolensky and earns close to 180K a year.
Dillon was clear to point out that New York is a much safer city today than it was decades ago. "Twenty five years ago there were 3,500 murders per year. Now there are 350. The police are rather aggressive however. They shot a pregnant woman. They thought she had a bomb."
He briefly mentioned about Harlem interestingly talking about the Dutch. "Smoking weed, looking for a place to farm."
But perhaps Dillon really reached his stride when approaching Fifth Avenue.
"Fifth Avenue is one of the wealthiest streets in the world." Said the guide. He gave some key ingredients into living on Fifth Avenue. "People on Fifth Avenue control their emotions, don't put up any holiday decorations and don't marry people they love."
Sometimes Dillon sounded perplexed.
He called the Guggenheim "a nothing burger.” "Five paintings in the whole museum. Mostly just Asian people visit it."
The Duke Mansion costs about 65 million dollars. Most of that money came from cancer and slavery. That's the sound of generational wealth strangling you."
Dillon didn’t leave many targets on Fifth Avenue. “Vicious, violent beasts. That’s where the Emir of Qatar lived.
At the Frick Museum, Dillon actually invited a friend to discuss the Pinkerton guards busting the Homestead strike and the attempted assassination of Henry Clay Fricke. In seven plus years I never did that before. Maybe that’s why tour guides are so self-centered.
Some useful information for tour guides like myself to take away. At 834 Fifth Avenue the average apartment sells for 26 million and at 820 Fifth Avenue the average apartment sells for 34 million. GANYC members were fortunate enough to have been in one of those 20k square foot apartments at the Belgian Consulate Residence.
A funny anectodote was when going by the Sherry-Netherland and mentioning that Tory Burch lived there. One time during his tour guides days, the comic went into the lobby and said he was Tory Burch's son and that's when the doorman immediately called the police and had him arrested.
He essentially ended his tour talking about the Plaza Hotel.
I was interested in how he compares performing on a bus versus doing comedy on a stage inside a theater. He responded that you need to improvise more on the bus because you're not sure what's around you at the current time. Gesticulating more helps to draw attention to what's going on on the street as well.
All in all, I think it was a pretty good tour that lasted one hour and personified "infotainment"--part information, part entertainment. Not every joke hit but the attempts at humor were admirable for let’s face it—often dry topics. The character was consistent from beginning to end. And what better inspiration for double decker guides to inject some humor into our tours.
If you around next year during the New York Comedy Festival, I say pluck down the $45 and check out Tim Dillon's New York Comedy Bus Tour.
GANYC Member Aaron Tabackman is an employee of Grayline CitySightseeing New York and is running for the GANYC Board as a Member-at-Large in the upcoming GANYC elections.