All this revelry is in keeping with the motto printed on a Phunny Phorty Phellows 1896 bulletin: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the best of men!” The Phunny Phorty Phellows first appeared on Fat Tuesday, 1878, when they began the tratition of following the Rex parade. Since that time, the Phunny Phorty Phellows have made distinguished themselves as one of the liveliest additions to Mardi Gras with their hijinks and well-meaning mockery of the day’s events (one 1881 float depicted Rex’s traditional symbol, the Boeuf Gras, as a heifer). The original Phunny Phorty ceased parading and ultimately disbanded in 1885.In 1982 the Phunny Phorty Phellows became the official heralds of Mardi Gras with their Twelfth Night ride in a traditional New Orleans streetcar announcing that, at last, the pre-Lenten season of “phun and phrivolity” had arrived.
Humor and whimsy are still very much a part of the Phunny Phorty tradition with some members favoring costumes inspired by current events and the peculiarities of local culture. Masked revelers gather at the streetcar barn in Uptown New Orleans for the Twelfth Night ride and get into the spirit of the event by carrying signs and banners with humorous slogans and messages. There are champagne toasts and second line dancing as the sounds of the famous Storyville Stompers New Orleans Brass Band fill the air; the Phellows, after cutting a ribbon and announcing, “It’s Carnival Time!” then board a decked-out party streetcar.
While on their merry way, the Phellows and other revelers sip champagne, eat King Cake, dance and let fly with the very first beads of the Mardi Gras season. There are two King Cakes used for this phirst night phrolic, one for the female members and one for the gents. Custom dictates that whoever takes the slices containing the plastic Carnival babies are declared Queen and Boss Phellow for the year.
Mardi Gras 2010 will mark the 29th year that the Phellows have kept up this Mardi Gras tradition. Phellows and revelers will board at the RTA streetcar barn, located on Willow Street, at 6:30 p.m. on Twelfth Night, Wednesday, January 6th, 2010. The Phunny ride will begin at 7:00 p.m. sharp The streetcar, which, traditionally, is still bedecked in it’s yuletide dressings, will leave the station for a route that will take the partying Phellowsto the Lee Circle on uptown to Napoleon turnaround and then back to the barn. You can’t miss the streetcar, it’s the one with the really noisy party inside and a big sign hanging from it reading: “It’s Carnival Time!”