Dont let the fact that Caroline Reid is a straight woman fool you. Brought up under the collective wing of some of Australias most notorious drag queens, her kitschy, sharp-tongued airhostess alter-ego Pam Ann (a play on the moniker of the now-defunct Pan American Airways) is as crass, acerbic and gleefully gay as you could hope for. Known for her brazenly blunt critique of all things trolley dolly, Pam Ann resonates not only with the jilted pillow-less sojourner, but also with the first-class, private-jet contingent. She counts Madonna and Elton John among her celebrity fans and has opened for Cher at Wembley Stadium. Fresh on the heels of her first (and sold-out) European tour, Pam Ann (along with a slew of characters that poke fun at every airline worth ridiculing) kicks off her inaugural U.S. tour on October 10, 2009 in Boston. Out sat down with Reid to get the real deal on how her kitsch-diva persona was born -- and her plans for taking over America.
Out: Before we get too serious, whats your favorite airline?
Caroline Reid: Pam Ann Airlines, the worlds most experienced airline! The fact is that we dont make the same mistake more than three times maybe four.
[Laughs] Okay, so tell us a little about how the Pam Ann character was born.
She was born out of a birthday party. I dressed up as a [Pan American Airlines] airhostess and I woke up and thought someone had slurred Pam Ann and I thought, I like that. I like all the jet set, the logos, the style, the posters -- and the whole airline thing. I loved the theme of it. That was 10 years ago.
And the rest is history?
Well, a lot of people thought it would be a one hit wonder - I mean, how long could an airhostess last? But with all the changes in travel, theres so much material. No one was really prepared for that. [Laughs]
One of the real appeals of the show, especially to your gay fans, is the drag component.
I didnt go to the school of dramatic arts, darling, I went to the school of drag-atic arts. All the drag queens and trannies that I worked with when I was doing the bars in Melbourne and Sydney, theyre all my sisters. Theyre the ones that showed me the ropes. They took me under their wing.
The outfits in your show are amazing. Some of them are vintage, right?
Ive got two original uniforms from Braniff [the U.S. airline that went under in 1982]. The Braniff Pucci Ive got the original Pucci tights and the top and another one -- the one with the umbrella, the Pucci umbrella. It was on Ebay and my brother emailed me and said, Youve got to check this out -- its amazing. So I bought it off this woman in Argentina and she saw my email address and she said, Are you Pam Ann? She said, My brother said hed pay for the FedEx to get it to you because hes a big fan.
Are you a bit of an airline buff?
It comes with the job now that Ive been doing it for ten years. Ive become a little addicted to it.
So it came as a result of the job or vice versa?
I always liked the jet-set era and the whole graphics and the whole style. But the other stuff -- you know, knowing things like [London Heathrows] T-5 is built on a swamp -- you do get a bit enthralled by it. I love all the statistics.
And you got a private tour of T-5 when it opened?
I did. CNN and Google -- and me. I think the British Airways marketing department was a bit concerned. I was heading off here and there and everywhere trying to figure out what they were all up to.
Your show has brought you all over the world. Do you have a favorite spot that youve been to?
I liked Iceland. I had a really good time in Reykjavik, believe it or not. That was wild. That was really a great experience. Really nice people. It was one of those experiences thats unexpectedI went out on stage kind of Bjrk-like and asked them to turn the lights up. I wanted to know what an Icelandic person looked like.
They looked kind of Danish. A bit Scandinavian, but not as hot, I guess. Dont tell Icelandic people that! [laughs] But a lot of them on Iceland Air are ex-beauty queens so there are some very beautiful people there. And, now that I think of it, I think it was Wallpaper magazine that did a survey and the hottest route was New York to Iceland on Iceland Air -- the hottest crew and passengers.
Any other hot spots?
In Phuket [Thailand], we were at a bar that Kate Moss turned up at. Shes hot. She was great. My friend passed out at the bar and she and her boyfriend were helping him. My friend said, Im so sorry about this drama and she said, Thats not drama; Im drama. [Laughs]
Any airlines youre afraid of?
Im nervous if Im not on a carrier I know. Its a bit of a control thing for me. On BA, you know, those pilots have had rigorous training -- or American -- rather than getting on Air China or Nigerian Air. Some of my friends do that shit to save money. Im like, screw you guys. [Laughs]
I have to ask. There was a story I read about when you were working in a hair salon in Melbourne
And I was tripping on acid?
Thats the one.
Yeah, that was horrible, but it was funny at the time.
But looking back, not so funny?
Looking back I can say that it wasnt fun having a wedding party coming in when I was tripping on acid. I had to run out and throw up out in back Oh, God. That wedding party. I mean, it was not fun.
You opened for Cher at [Londons] Wembley Stadium. What was that like?
Amazing. Something that you dont think about when you say yes to it: suddenly on the night, youre like, Why the fuck did I say yes to this? I paced so much that the dancers that were with me said, Youre going to put holes in the ground. But that was amazing. I was really thrilled that someone like her was open to it.
How did that come about?
Her manager is Australian and he saw me in Sydney and suggested me to Cher. And I followed them up and said Id really like to do it.
Tell me a little bit about your comedic influences.
Sandra Bernhard was a really big influence when I first startedI loved her Without You Im Nothing show. I saw her and thought that Id love to do a one-woman thing. I was sort of doing amateur stuff at the time and thought that I was never going to get anywhere. I hated auditioning... I wasnt very good at it. I was thinking along the lines of doing my own thing. I had to create something.
Who else influenced you?
I love Joan Rivers. I think shes iconic and has amazing stamina. I love Kathy Griffin. I just fucking love her; shes hysterical. I love Margaret Cho. I like Jon Stewart. And Lisa Lampanelli. I love her; shes fucking mental. But Sandra Bernhard is the first one.
So Sandra Bernhard is the one person that really influenced the direction you took with Pam Ann?
Absolutely and Steven Soderbergh with Sex, Lies and Videotape. He wrote a diary about Sex, Lies and Videotape and about his struggles with that film and when I read that I got very inspired by it. I approached him about doing that book as a play and he actually wrote back Steven Soderbergh to me and said, Your photo is very arresting.
Yeah, but for a whole two years, I was like, What does arresting mean? Is that good? Is it, Im hot? And that was a real inspiration. It was nice to get that. I always thought in the back of my head, One day Im going to work with you. He was a very big inspiration. To know that if you put it out there, it comes back to you. That was a real test.
Speaking of tests, what have been some of the harder moments for you?
Ive suffered a little bit of stage fright -- thats through stress. And theres nothing worse. That can eat you up. I was touring a 45-date tour through the U.K. That was hard; that was lonely. It can get very lonely doing comedy every night.
One of things that Id assume is difficult is trying to portray and project humor when youre not feeling particularly good. Is that the case?
That can be shit, actually. But it also can be amazing because if Ive had a fight with boyfriend or something you go out on stage, for that hour you can just block yourself out so actually its actually nice, you get out there and go Ah Its a relief.
You just finished up your first European tour any surprises on that tour?
In Germany, I opened in Hamburg we sold out 19,000 tickets before we even got there. I was gob-smacked. It was amazing. I felt like a rock star. You just dont expect it. There were people screaming and rows of people who had made T-shirts.
What sort of new material will you work in for the U.S. run?
Ive never traveled like this throughout America I had some cabin crew email me from, I think Frontier [Airlines]? So Im going to put some classic things into the show, but the first part will be really about the airlines that are based in each destination. Ill talk about Denver, and the gays -- and what the gays do in Denver, because fuck knows what the gays do in Denver. And Los Angeles is a whole different bag. I mean, they turned away the [double-decker Airbus] A380 because it was too fat. MD-80s only Thats so Los Angeles. And then Miami, Ive never performed there Pam is just going to be really naughty there. Thats going to be hot.
Whoever planned the cities on U.S. tour made a smart move.
Yeah, we are trying to hit the hubs. We want to hit the hubs for cabin crew. Although, I couldnt see myself doing something in Utah Id like to try some difficult places for the next tour.
Is there a city that youre looking forward to in particular?
Im really looking forward to San Francisco. Thats the Mecca. The Castro -- its iconic. Its very exciting.
The theme and the character are such a cool concept -- but is it a surprise to you that its taken off to this extent?
Its a surprise, but, you know, you work and you work, and if you work hard enoughWhat Steven Soderbergh said was, he said, Talent plus perseverance equals success. And that always stayed in my head. I thought, if I keep doing it long enough, somethings going to happen.
With that in mind, where do you see the character going?
My ultimate dream would be a Hollywood movie, an Austin Powers sort of thing an homage to the old 1970s movies and mix a bit of comedy in. Take Pam and put her in a real feature film. Maybe Quentin Tarantino could direct it? [Laughs]
Pam Anns first-ever U.S. tour kicks off in Boston on October 10, 2009 with scheduled layovers in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. For tour dates and tickets, head to Pam Anns website. For clips of her comedy, head here.