On the wings of A-holes

Posted on 17 May 2013 at 8:30am

Pam Ann takes airline humor from economy to first class with her drag-influenced comedy act

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DAME EDNA IN REVERSE | Like her fellow Aussie Barry Humphries, Caroline Reid (aka airline hostess Pam Ann) uses a drag sensibility in her comedy act, which raises the bar for airline humor. For tickets to Pam Ann, go here.

JONANNA WIDNER  | Contributing Writer

Screen shot 2013-05-17 at 12.37.59 PMMaking fun of modern airline culture is easy to do: You make a joke or two about the food, complain about the guy farting away in the seat next to you, maybe get a little edgy with a terrorism one-liner, and boom! You’re done.

If only it were that simple.

That formula’s probably why airline humor has been mostly relegated to dingy comedy clubs with names like The Laugh Attack — it’s neither particularly thoughtful nor particularly funny.

Not so with Australian comedian Caroline Reid. Reid — better known for her stewardess alter ego Pam Ann — has spent years cultivating an act that revolves solely around airline humor.

It’s not just standup: Reid crafts different characters and scenarios, and her act is campy and conceptual.

But most of all it’s funny.

When Reid brings her latest stage show, Cockpit, to Dallas this week, audiences can expect a raunchy ride hosted by Pam Ann, a Pucci-clad air-hostess straight out of the Mad Men era.

Part of Reid’s appeal to the gay audience is her glamorous portrayal of the past eras of travel. While she may spoof it, she also loves it.

“I like that time in the airline industry when hostesses were so passionate about flying, and about their brand,” she says. “We’ve kind of lost that along the way. Some of the crews today could give a shit who they fly for.”

Many of Reid’s comedy bits riff on the apathy of the modern flight attendant (her beverage cart goof has become a favorite), but she also likes to push the aesthetic limits to drag queen proportions. Her look — which includes costumes based on classic vintage flight attendant uniforms — has evolved into something of a spectacle.

“I’m surrounded by a gaggle of gays,” she notes. “I’ve been kind of like a doll to them. They’re always saying, ‘Bigger! Bigger! More sequins! Higher heels!’ So I’m taking it on. I’ve got really huuuge hair on this tour, which of course will relate to Dallas.”

Part of Reid’s genius is her ability to use airline references as cultural shorthand, in a way that’s humorous rather than insider-y.

“I just love Dallas,” she says. “The accent, it’s so glamorous. In my mind’s eye, when I think of Dallas, I think of women from Braniff Airlines, with their hair so big it hits the overhead bin.”

Reid’s pedigree may be edgy, but that hasn’t stopped her from making a commercial success of herself as well as a comedic one. Pam Ann has been the centerpoint of advertising and training videos for British Airways; her live DVD Come Fly With Me is part of Qantas Airlines’ in-flight entertainment; and she is the face of Heathrow Airport’s SkyTeam Terminal. Reid was hired by Elton John to provide the entertainment on his private jet.

While much of her life is glamorous, it’s clear that Reid’s entire concept is still rooted in the fact that she’s an aviation geek.

“I’m very influenced by the ’60s and ’70s [airline] era,” she says. “Everyone was just so passionate about flying. We’ve kind of lost that today.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 17, 2013.

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