You might have come across the phrase 'Go you big red fire engine!'. After all, it found its way on to signature files in emails and forum postings around the world. However, if you don't know where it comes from, you probably don't really know what it means.
The phrase was popularised by an Australian stand-up comedian called Adam Hills. It was coined in 1999 during his show My Own Little World in Melbourne, Australia, by a member of the audience whom Hills invited onstage. The 'victim' was supposed to come out from the wings to the sort of reception a rock star might expect, and shout his name (let's call him 'Bob') and occupation (a fireman) to more cheers and applause.
Instead he strode on, punched the air and shouted 'Go you big red fire engine!'. Initially the audience didn't react, but after 'Bob' repeated it uncertainly, they began to chant along. Within minutes the whole crowd were on their feet, shouting it out and clapping. Hills couldn't believe it.
He took the phrase around the world, inducing as many people to say it as possible. To him, he claimed, it was a testament to the power of stupidity and optimism over reality. Naturally, it spread like wildfire. Pilots on Qantas Airlines were reported to say it in their post-landing announcement. Even politicians were heard saying it. Websites sprung up to promote awareness of the phrase.
Hills toured a one-hour stand-up comedy show built around this event in 2001, and named it after said phrase. The show Go You Big Red Fire Engine was nominated for the prestigious Perrier Comedy Award at the 2001 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.