Where in the united states these days would you least expect to find the deft use of humor? (Other than this column.) The airport, right?
It's not as though, in the past, you could jovially saunter up to a ticket counter like Wile E. Coyote, carrying a black bowling ball labeled "BOMB," with a burning fuse. Airports have always frowned on that sort of thing. But I do recall a time when you could enjoy a laugh at the airport beyond just seeing someone's big toe sticking out of a hole in his sock.
So I couldn't help noticing the other day when I heard a recorded flight safety message for Independence Air. The announcement told you what to do "in the event of a water landing," and then said, "Hey, shouldn't 'landing' be in quotation marks?"
That got my attention. Then the announcement went on to suggest -- I repeat, this is an official, FAA-approved, recorded flight safety message -- that, when you are bobbing in the ocean in your life vests, it might be fun to play "Marco Polo."
It turns out that Independence Air -- in a bid to improve the flying experience that is either foolhardy or brilliant, or both -- has given someone what might just be the greatest job on Earth: basically, being an enormous jackass. And they picked the right guy!
Dave George, 36, is a professional comedian; I first met him a couple of years ago when I judged a local stand-up comedy contest, which he won. He's since appeared in Vegas, New York, Atlantic City and many lesser venues, sometimes earning as much as $20 a night; this pretty much explains why his main paycheck comes from Independence Air, where he performs as "The FLYi Guy."
Dave let me tag along with him recently, as he did his thing with a mike at Gate A3 at Dulles Airport:
"This is a public service announcement for all colorblind customers who are reading their complimentary hotel-edition copies of USA Today. The gray section is Sports. The gray section is Life. And the gray section is Money."
"Independence Air is paging the passenger who valet-parked his Corvette Sting Ray . . . Congratulations. Your car just won the drag race in the employee parking lot!"
"The weather in Newark is calm, 72 degrees. The weather in Syracuse is calm, 72 degrees. The weather in Hartford is calm, 72 degrees. Oh, wait, I'm sorry, I'm looking at the weather here in the terminal."
Dave has had a number of ordinary airline jobs, from which, he says, he has learned valuable lessons. I asked him what he learned from emptying the lavatories on the planes, and he said, "Blue and yellow make green." Think about it.
If you're not understanding how weird this all is, you either have not flown recently, or you have never seen what passes for humor in most of button-down corporate America. Humor is inherently risky. And Dave has been specifically encouraged to take risks.
In a promotional video for Independence Air, he does spontaneous interviews with passengers at Dulles. At one point, he encounters a very attractive young woman and asks her what she does for a living. She says she is a model and an actress.
Dave asks: "Have you done any pilots?"
She says: "No, not yet."
Dave says: "Well, I can introduce you to some."
There are advantages and disadvantages to this gig, Dave says, compared with doing standup in comedy clubs. "The upside here is that people's expectations are so low. The downside is that most of them haven't been drinking."
He grabs the mike again.
"Independence Air is paging customer Alycia Oaklander. Please be advised that I am over you. I have moved on. And I want my CDs back."
"We have an important announcement for all United and USAirways employees: Your anger management classes begin in five minutes. And, please, go this time . . ."
Watching the crowd reaction to this is instructive: Generally, people don't laugh at the first joke they hear. They start laughing at the second or third. It's as though they have to be snapped out of the airport trance.
I ask Dave if there are any limits on what material he can use.
"Only the obvious one of clean language," he says. "And, ah, well, one other thing. I think of what I do as sort of sneak humor attacks. Guerrilla comedy, I call it, which is not the term I'd like to use."
And that would be?
Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.