You think you get bitchy about air travel?
“I was coming up from London once and this [Air Canada] flight attendant kept touching my hand and my arm and giving me warm cookies,” says comedian Caroline Reid, aka Pam Ann. “I was like, ‘Lesbian! Stop it.’ But I quite liked it. I like to be touched inappropriately.”
Reid, a New York-based Aussie, has perfected her over-sexed, over-stimulated, over-stepping flight attendant character over the last 10 years. Her live shows revolve around air travel and the humorous faults, foibles and follies of some of the world’s biggest international airlines. Some of Pam Ann’s over-the-top comments and out-of-control subject matter would bring down a 7-47. Or at least leave it stalled on the tarmac. Having played to sold-out audiences around the world in 2009, she is taking her show on the road once again, landing back in Toronto this week. And why not? With all her travelling, she can always find something new about the airlines to bitch about.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” says Reid says of her first show back in Sydney almost 15 years ago. “I was just reading an airplane safety manual on stage with a couple drag queens. I never knew it would get to this level.”
Crass, campy and rude her representations of flight attendants have developed a cult-like following. The gays love her. Her language and style is a cross between the eloquently distant Dame Edna Everage and the dead-panned vulgarity of Chelsey Handler.
But what came first, the name or the act? For Reid, it was the name and the imagery associated with it. “I was very passionate about the whole jet-set era, the style of the ’60s. Pan Am the airline was something that I’ve always thought of as being very chic and iconic of the time. That came first and then I built the show around it.”
As a child Reid was very surprisingly shy so her mother put her in acting classes to help her get over her fears. Acting though proved difficult — she was dyslectic and reading scripts was problematic. Her solution was to create her own ideas, pieces and productions so she wouldn’t have to memorize or audition. Or stress. And so Pam Ann was born. Her big hair, drag queen-esque makeup, and blinding sequined uniforms are so larger than life, she crosses over into the realm of gender confusion. Some who come to her show are unsure whether she is a man or a woman. A few leave still scratching their heads.
“I went to the school of drag and tranny arts,” Reid laughs. “I was taken under the wings of Miss Candy, Hot Cocoa, Paris, all the drag queens [of Sydney]. They and all the gays taught me everything I know. They would tell me to get bigger hair, put more sequins on. They moulded me into the Pam Ann you see today.
“I’ve never been to a straight club in my life,” she says. “My life has just been gay.”
Perhaps that candid gay quality is a reason why her cable variety show, The Pam Ann Show, on Australia’s FoxTell never got picked up. “You live in this totally open place, this gay world where you can say whatever you like,” Reid says. “But then you go into the straight world and you forget that they don’t talk like that. “
Eight filthy episodes were filmed and aired and for those who haven’t seen it, don’t worry, Reid will be uploading one new episode a month on her website (pamann.com).
As she tackles different airlines she creates new flight attendants. All are horribly stereotypical. Like for Singapore Airlines, Reid created Lily, a Singapore Chinese-flight attendant who would sacrifice passenger safety for her Gucci handbag. While many airlines including Delta, KLM and Lufthansa have embraced the comical critiques and have formed alliances with her, a few have taken offence. Like Emirates airlines, who at one point wanted to sue her for comments she made about their poor safety record.
The crews however love her. Front rows to her shows are usually filled with flight attendants and ticket agents. It’s the corporate side of the airline industry that is sometimes a little bit uncomfortable with what she’s doing.
“I would never tailor something to gain money or fans,” Reid says. “I always stay true to what is real. I never got into this to become the Lady Gaga of the comedy world. If it does get bigger, it gets bigger because it reaches a demographic naturally. I am very content with where it is. I have ambitions but not unless it’s truthful. It has to be authentic. I’ve had people come along who say [my act] is too gay. I’ve had that. I’ve had that all my life in several aspects of my life. And I’m like, ‘Fuck off!’ I think as with anything in life if you do what’s in your heart then whatever will be, will be.”
Que sera,sera. But she ain’t no Doris Day.
PAM ANN $35-$55. 8pm. Thu, June 21-23. Panasonic Theatre. 651Yonge St. (416) 872-1212. ticketking.com. The official afterparty with Pam in attendance, is Sat, June 23 at Fly Nightclub. 7 Gloucester St. 10pm doors. Free admittance with your Pam Ann ticket stub.