Since 1884, the Comic Cowboys of Wragg Swamp have brought political satire and cultural humor to Mobile’s Mardi Gras experience. The group known for taking jabs at local and national politicians, news stories and even restaurants, uses four-by-eight signs to “entertain the public and make people laugh.” Members range in age from early 20s to late 80s. MB spoke with one 57-year-old Cowboy who has been with the organization for more than 33 years. In the true spirit of the group’s dedication to secrecy and mystery, he asked that his identity remain confidential.
Who are the Comic Cowboys?
We’re a melting pot of Mobile business-men who like to poke fun at politicians and anything that comes into the public light. Our main job is to entertain the public during Mardi Gras with our satirical signs. We want to be humorous without being offensive, cruel or mean. It’s all in jest. We say things that the community wants to say, but can’t for lack of a communication platform.
How did you become involved with this Mardi Gras organization?
I’ve known about the Comic Cowboys since I was a child. I was asked to ride a float in 1980 and became a member soon thereafter. This will be my 33rd parade with the group.
What inspires the satirical writings?
Our organization breaks up into 10 committees, and each one deals with a specific public interest, such as national news, local news, politics and sports. We have to keep our thumb on the pulse of the community for our inspiration. If we’re not attuned to what is going on, it does us no good.
What goes on at the organization’s planning meetings?
A couple months before Mardi Gras, we hold three general design committee meetings, and each committee meets several times prior to that. This gives us time to get our sign boards painted. We present our signs to the organization as a whole. Each is either accepted or rejected. In the event of a disagreement over the content, the final decision is up to our dictator.
Do the Cowboys have their own floats?
Yes, we actually have 12. We start the parade with our emblem float, a 150-year-old wagon, bearing our crest. The second is our queen’s float, followed by a miniature covered wagon carrying the organization’s Cowboy-of-the-year. Finally, nine 100-year-old steel wheel wagons serve as our signboard floats. These occasionally require repair, but we are one of the few organizations still in possession of the original steel wheels. So, we haven’t had a flat tire in 120 years.
Has the group ever been threatened with a lawsuit?
No. We’ve never been sued at any time in our history. Our motto is “without malice.” There will always be people who are offended, but we receive great write-ups and publicity in the Press-Register, or “Cash Register, ” as we call it. We feel that there is a broad spectrum of people who identify with our satirical sense of humor. Some of the politicians even get such a thrill out of seeing their names on our signs that they ask to keep the sign as a souvenir.
Where can people learn more about the Comic Cowboys?
We save many signs for the Mobile Carnival Museum. We’ve had a room there since it opened. We have archived memorabilia and a silver saddle that was used in the parades several years ago. The museum gives tours, so it’s good publicity for us. This year will be our 129th anniversary.
Catch the Comic Cowboys parade on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 1:30 p.m. in Downtown Mobile.
text by Joshua D. Givens