“FATHER FRENCHIE COMES TO LEWISTON”

May 30, 2007

FATHER FRENCHIE COMES TO LEWISTON

***** for immediate release *****

Father Frenchie
(photo credit:  Marjorie Vaughan)

Father Frenchie is coming to Lewiston on Sunday, June 10, and will be gracing the stage of The Franco-American Heritage Center with his unique brand of comedy and stories.

Father Frenchie is a character developed and portrayed by Louis Philippe, a well-known entertainer who spent much of his early years in Lewiston.  A graduate of St. Dom’s Regional HS, he performed in many area bands and made his acting debut at LACT.  He later worked in NYC and returned to the Portland area, where he continues to sing, act, and produce records and shows.

Louis Philippe (Gagne III) is also the grandson of former Lewiston Mayor and Franco-American advocate Louis Philippe Gagne, and cousin to Michael Gagne who created the original role of Frenchie in 1985 and developed it into a popular radio personality heard on WBLM.

Controversy ensued in 1993 when a non-French-Canadian attorney traveling through town heard one of Frenchie’s radio bits and felt it was making fun of Frenchman.  He filed a complaint with The Maine Human Rights Commission, who contacted WBLM.  The station rightfully maintained the character was not making fun of Frenchmen, that he was a fictional person who occasionally called in to the station speaking with a broken-French accent–a well-known and loved part of the Franco culture as Canadian immigrants of the early 1900s adapted to the American way.

Nonetheless, news of the complaint hit the media which prompted a ripple of angry response from letter-writers to politicians—most of whom didn’t listen to WBLM and never even heard the comedy bits—calling for PC justice, radio station boycotts and Frenchie’s removal.

Louis Philippe then launched a Francos For Frenchie campaign to counter the misguided rumors and also to defend a performer’s creative freedoms.  FFF rapidly garnered worldwide attention and support from coast-to-coast, Florida to Canada, and in Europe—in major newspapers as well as radio and tv talk shows.  Despite the wave of support for Frenchie, Michael Gagne voluntarily removed his character from the airwaves.

To keep the legendary character alive, Louis Philippe (who owns independent record label Reindeer Records) collaborated efforts with Gagne and WBLM to release a cassette called Frenchie’s Greatest Bits , a souvenir of the hometown fun-loving sometime-irreverent character. The product sold out.

Shortly thereafter, Louis Philippe was asked to host an annual volunteer banquet at St. Patrick’s Church in Portland.  With cleric garb borrowed from then-Pastor Coleman O’Toole, and material he adapted from his cousin’s stock supply, Louis Philippe hosted what was to be a one-time event as Father Frenchie.

“A new character was born and Father O’Toole refused to take the shirt back telling me, ‘I have a feeling you’ll need it again.’  I did indeed,” explains the entertainer.

About 15 years have gone by since then and Father Frenchie continues to bring his comedy mostly to senior citizen groups, church halls and private functions throughout the state.

Father Frenchie is a self-proclaimed Ambassador of Goodwill who brings his message of peace and love to everyone of all denominations.  Complete with broken accent, mis-used language, double entendres and colorful characters, he shares typical everyday lifetime experiences as a traveling Catholic priest.  Philippe readily admits that the bulk of his material is jokes adapted from the same bunch of comedy emails that everyone reads, forwards and deletes…although Father Frenchie will tell you they’re all stories he heard in the confessional booth.

“In all my years of portraying this character, I recall one woman who clearly did not care it.  By comparison, Father Frenchie has made many people cry simply because of the accent that brings people back to childhood, to simpler and safer times.  Some have told me that I make the vocation of priesthood a positive and accessible reality.  Others are devastated to learn I’m not a real priest…I just play one on stage.”

Father Frenchie Comes to Lewiston starts at 1:30 PM and is open to all ages.  Admission is $8, Seniors and Students are $6.  For reservations, call 689-2000.

The show is being recorded live for a CD release by the same name in the fall. Reindeer Records is also planning to re-release the original Frenchie’s Greatest Bits on CD at the same time.

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