Being accosted verbally by Pam Ann isn’t a source of shame for her global audiences. The abuse hurled by the world’s most glamorous flight attendant, alter ego of Australian comedian Caroline Reid, is one of the reasons they keep coming back.
The savage wit of the stuck-in-the-’60s air hostess from hell is some sort of innoculation against the cruelty we suffer in pursuit of air travel.
As an international verbal terrorist, Pam Ann’s comedy knows no borders. At a show in Edinburgh, she mercilessly derided British Airways flight attendants as horse-faced killjoys, and American Airlines flight attendants as loud, lumbering centenarians. At a show in Toronto, the French-Canadians of Montreal were, nice, lovely (“I got fingered walking through your city”), while the actual French were “Cunt French.” “You hate me right now, don’t you?” she asks, getting into the face of a paying ticketholder from France.
“But when I go Paris, the French love me,” Reid says on the phone Tuesday from New York as she preps for the tour that launches tonight in Palm Springs, Calif. Though she says she doesn’t utter a word in French in her act, the audiences eat it up; even if she’s forced to ask the same people, once she’s offstage and un-wigged, “Why don’t you fucking understand me on the street then?”
Since 2009 Reid has lived in New York City, but she’s originally from suburban Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. “Travel was always a dream for someone like me,” says Reid. “London was 26 hours away! I hadn’t really traveled, even in 1996 when I started Pam Ann. It was early days — not a lot of low-cost carriers, and travel was something not available to a lot of us.”
The travel aspect of Pam Ann’s persona was a product of the isolation of Australia coupled with a fascination for fashion, including the Emilio Pucci-designed flight attendant uniforms for Braniff in the mid-1960s. And the name? “In the ’60s James Bond always flew Pan Am in his movies,” she says, then as if she’s not sure that it’s true, “I don’t know where I got that idea.”
But Pam Ann is big-time now, and she’s traveled the world over. She has been featured in an advertising campaign and promotions for British Airways, KLM/Air France, JetBLue, Lufthansa, Qantas, and SAS, and British carrier EasyJet uses her videos in their training. She’s on the in-flight programming for Qantas and is the face of London’s Heathrow SkyTeam Terminal. Between sellout tours around the globe she performed on the first JetBlue JetPride flight, was hired for a private flight for Elton John, and toured with Cher as the opening act on her 2004 farewell tour. (The Sonny and Cher Show—specifically Cher’s five-plus costume changes each episode — provided the inspiration for Pam Ann’s Australian TV talker, The Pam Ann Show on the national Foxtel comedy channel.)
“I get nervous before every single show. I’m a mess. People are like, ‘Come out to lunch,’ and I have to tell them I can’t. I lock myself away. It’s a process. I like to focus on each show. When people say you should live in the moment, the closest thing I’ve got is being on stage.”
The show is camp, ridiculous, and raunchy, and audiences generally delight in it. But occasionally Pam’s frank talk rubs an audience member the wrong way. At a show a few years ago in New York, Pam didn’t like the displeased look on the face of a front-row sitter — “Katie, from HBO. I told her ‘Katie’ was short for ‘cunt,’” Reid says. Katie walked out, and the audience — mostly urbanite gay men — roared with approval.
“New Yorkers were so thrilled that someone walked out!” she says. If you’re cute, she might pull you from “economy,” the seats at the rear of the venue, and give you a seat up front, displacing a “first class” patron. Be prepared to follow all your flight attendant’s instructions. “Some queens, they don’t want to move. Too bad.”
“Someone tried to sue me for throwing glitter at them,” she says about another show. “I think she was more pissed off at me saying, ‘When your boyfriend fucks you tonight, he’s going to think of me.’ I kind of like the idea of going to court for glitter bombing. It’s ridiculous what this world’s come to. It makes me want to set myself on fire, these people who ruin the party.” She continues, “And I don’t want to fuck your boyfriend anyway. I’d rather fuck the gay guys next to you, the power top bears.” She sighs. “I hate straight people.”
“My world is 99% gay,” she says. “Two bears propositioned me on an Atlantis cruise, but I couldn’t take them up on it. I wasn’t high enough. If I were gay I’d be a power bottom, big old fat bear and have all the money to entice all the hot cubs, and I’d sit in my cave.”
Reid describes herself as single and straight, but she’s hardly narrow. And not just for the fascination with bears: “I did have a girlfriend many years ago. We had some really nice times. I have a thing for diesel dykes, big truck-driving, punk rock lesbians.”
“I had an affair with a high-profile lesbian for several years. It started in 2002. She is amazing, not only as a lover, but as an incredible artist. There was such a strong connection, like with these women I’ve been with. I’ve honestly not found a connection that strong with a man. My father tried to get me to come out. I think [my parents] have been trying for years. My mother is dying to get up on that parade float, for parents and supporters of gays and lesbians. Sexually, I really like cock, but maybe later in life I’ll just retire to lesbianism.” (“I’ve never told anyone this stuff before,” she added.)
Straight suitors in her life have a lot to contend with. “My world is 99% gay,” she says. “If they can’t cope with it—”
Verbal abuse and tickets for Pam Ann: Cockpit are available now at ReactionShows.com.