Dom Joly: My close encounter with American gorillas

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The Independent Online

I'm off on my travels again. I'm flying to Mexico on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 - should be a breeze. I'm sure that there won't be any excessive security ramming inquisitive medical gloves up where the sun don't shine. I'm off to do another programme on alcohol. In this one I'm going to get a PhD in Tequila Studies - honest! It's lucky that I checked the costumes for the shoot in the office. We're headed for the desert, the Wild West of Mexico, and there are two cowboy costumes for Pete, my best friend who accompanies me on these taxing work outings. I was just checking the quality of the costumes (I recently had an unfortunate incident with a shoddy morris dancing costume in Russia) when I discovered two holsters complete with imitation revolvers in the bag. No one seemed to have thought that these might present something of a problem at airport security.

It reminded me of having to take the Big Mobile Phone from Trigger Happy through customs into New York not long after 9/11. The gorilla at JFK security pulled the two-foot-long phone out of the bag and stared at it for quite some time.

"Is this some kind of cellphone?" he asked, glaring at me.

"Yes, it's a prop for my comedy show," I replied.

"Could you turn it on and show me that it functions, sir?" asked the gorilla, putting enough emphasis on the "sir" to show me how little he meant this as an indication of respect.

"I can't turn it on. It's not a real cellphone. It's a prop for a television show."

"You are trying to tell me that you're travelling around with a two-foot cellular telephone that does not function? Does that not seem a little odd to you, sir?" The gorilla was now moving up and down on his toes like some crazed American Dixon of Dock Green.

"No, it's not suspicious to me as I know that it's a prop for a comedy show on television. I shout loudly into it in public places." I tried to look insouciant but amusing.

"Let me get this right, sir. This cellphone does not work at all and yet you shout into it in public places? Do you consider that to be normal behaviour, sir?" I saw the gorilla press a little red button at his side and a red light started winking above his booth.

"No, it's not normal behaviour, that's why it's a comedy show because it's looking at everyday situations in a slightly askew manner." As soon as I'd said it, I knew that I shouldn't have used the word askew. I didn't know precisely why, but I could sense that this word had upset the gorilla.

Two more gorillas turned up and Gorilla One asked me to follow them to some inner sanctum for further questioning. I behaved maturely:

"Listen, do you think that if I was a terrorist and I was planning to bomb something I'd think, I know! I'll put it in a two-foot mobile phone, no one will suspect me then!" Gorilla One indicated to the other two that I should be removed from his personal space ASAP. I continued to complain:

"When Rod Hull comes through here with Emu, do you ask him why Emu can't walk or squawk? Do you check Emu for bird flu? This is honestly how you're keeping America safe?" But Gorilla One had turned away to size up the next dangerous traveller. One of the gorillas that were now manhandling me down a long corridor said: "Who's Rod Hull?"

For a moment I thought about explaining that Rod Hull was a comedian who'd made his living sticking his hand up Emu's arse while doing some bad ventriloquism. I thought about it and then decided it was probably best not to.

The visa application for Mexico asks you to describe the shape of your moustache, the size of your forehead and the thickness of your eyebrows. I gave it my best shot. I hope to God they don't find the fake moustaches and sombreros or I'll really be in trouble.