Pam Ann had James Bond for a father and a bottle of sake for a mother. She sprang into being with malevolent glee 17 years ago in Melbourne, Australia. Ever since, she’s been a quandary to Qantas, put Singapore Air in a sling, been a hell gal to El Al and pulled the whiskers on the lion of British aviation – which makes her role as a spokeswoman for British Airways quite bizarre.
But “bizarre” is the right adjective for Pam and her airbound siblings, all created by comedian Caroline Reid. Reid makes her Charlotte debut Friday on the Pam Ann Cockpit 2013 tour; if I can trust our phone conversation, at least three-quarters of which was printable, McGlohon Theater had better be ready for takeoff.
“When I get into the zone, I have no concept of time onstage,” she said, battling jet leg in Los Angeles. “I can go on and on. It’s almost a hijack situation; I’m sure people want to leave, but I delusionally think they’re having a great time.” She laughs. “I like the idea of torturing an audience.
“People are easily offended, and I celebrate when some walk out. My show gets really blue and filthy, and drugs are involved. In Darwin, Australia, a family sat in the front row with a daughter and son. I said, ‘I think you think you’re in a different show. I’m giving you a pass: Go and get your money back right now.’ The wife said, ‘No! We know why we’re here!’ The more they didn’t go, the more wild I got. They ended up walking out when I turned around to get a trolley.”
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Reid told the Huffington Post that “I left home when I was 17. Ran away, pretty much. The gays – the trannys, actually – took me under their wing. ... I was groomed from a very young age; my world was the gay world. It was something that I felt drawn to, because I felt free. ... Growing up in the gay bars, it was the drag queens that were the ones who inspired me to do shows. I’m straight, but I relate to the gays because I'm more like them.”
That explains her huge LGBT following and her admiration for Australian comedian Barry Humphries, whose cross-dressing character Dame Edna Everage has been speaking her extraordinarily frank mind for more than half a century. (“He was sharp: Knew everyone’s name in the audience, never used plants in the crowd, totally ad-libbed.”) But Reid wasn’t inspired to follow his path until a famously drunken night in the 1990s.
“I wanted to be a fashion designer, but I couldn’t draw. I dropped out of art school and worked in a store, but I still wanted to be creative. On my 26th birthday, we had a James Bond party. He flew Pan Am in the early movies, so I went as a Pan Am air hostess. My lesbian friend with a knife and a bikini was Ursula Andress. It was in a Japanese restaurant, and the sake was flowing. So instead of ‘Pan Am,’ I started mumbling, ‘Pam Ann, Pam Ann.’
“In the beginning, she was chic and didn’t swear, but she became a ferocious character. There are so many gay bars where you tell people to shut the ---- up that it slipped into the show. I had a strange moment once where (former) Pan Am crew members came, women in their 50s who still looked glamorous. Afterward, one said, ‘We used to do that! We used to snort cocaine!’”
Reid had seen Sandra Bernhard and Steven Berkoff do one-person shows and thought she’d be up to it. She experimented with more traditional standup: “I did do myself for a while, and I didn’t like it. It was too revealing of my real life. I prefer to play characters.”
She hopes to turn Pam Ann into the lead in a feature film; she approached her favorite director, she says, but John Waters turned her down because he won’t adapt others’ scripts.
“I could see myself (someday) as a 75-year-old Pam Ann who got really angry and randy,” she says, laughing again. “Someone told me years ago that she’s a one-trick pony. But the trick has lasted 16 years.”