The Best Medicine

Art courtesy of Peter Bagge (cartoonish second line poster)

“Katrina killed my mom,” says New Orleans comedian/musician P.H. Fred’s MySpace page. In fact, his mother died of natural causes in an old folks’ home shortly before the levees gave way. What Katrina did do was send him on a month-and-a-half-long odyssey to find her body.

“Every day we were told, ‘We have no idea who Mrs. Catherine Schneider is,’” Fred remembers. “Six weeks into it, I got a phone call [from FEMA]. They said, ‘We have your mother’s body.’” It turns out they had her body all along but said they couldn’t tell him because “it was a matter of national security.”

This bit of lunacy and the more well known screw-ups that will always be associated with the storm have become the subject matter for P.H. “Freddy” Fred’s shows, which took on a new life this past spring after he was talked into performing on the West Bank. He hadn’t done any comedy since Katrina, but when he told a FEMA joke, “The crowd went crazy,” he says. “They were so frustrated that they needed to step back and laugh, and I needed to laugh. At that moment, I knew that people were ready.”

He decided afterwards to put on a year’s worth of comedy shows, often musical, financed by his late mother’s inheritance. To assist him in this endeavor, he enlisted the use of social networking web site,

“I friended every comedian I knew, then every comedian in cities I like, such as Toronto, L.A., Chicago,” Fred says. “Then I started hitting musicians in those cities. Then I sent out a bulk email saying New Orleans needs your help.”

Some offered to perform in New Orleans, while others asked Fred to leave town and perform abroad. This left the problem of promoting the shows, and he turned once again to MySpace, asking comic artists from around the country to compose poster art.

“As of today I have about 50 artists—Colleen Coover, Christy Roads; I got Peter Bagge, who’s considered one of the top underground artists in the country.”

The result is a slew of shows in New Orleans over the next few months, including one October 14 at the Go-Go Gourmet in Gretna and Freddy Fred Sideshow BBQ October 19 at Chickie Wah Wah. Each show is handsomely advertised and loosely grouped under the moniker Comedy-a-Go-Go, and features guest comics such as Jennifer Kober and Monique Marvez as well as local acts. But Fred wants to do more than provide comic relief to those remaining in New Orleans. He hopes to form a tight-knit act capable of leaving town and spreading the word.

“We’re out to raise awareness. I’d like to get it to the point where we go to Los Angeles or New York or London, and we’re putting out a product that makes people say New Orleans kicks ass.”

Published October 2006, OffBeat Louisiana Music & Culture Magazine, Volume 19, No. 10.